Even free boats come with a soaking

There is an adage in the maritime world: The two greatest days of boat ownership are the day you buy one, and the day you sell it.

Another old saw expresses it thusly:

Question: I’ve been thinking of buying a boat. Would I enjoy boating? Answer: Put on your rain gear and stand under a cold

shower, then take out your wallet and throw your money down the bathtub drain. If you enjoy that, you’ll enjoy boating.

Both maxims speak to the inevitable, costly and sometimes maddening maintenance required to keep a vessel in ship-shape. The prospect of such hidden costs clearly informs the current debate over whether our city should accept a $600,000 federal Homeland Security grant, to pay for a new 33-foot patrol vessel and associated equipment. The grant would replace the police vessel now in service, and is said to be one of just four to be doled out statewide.

At first blush, the gift of a proud new marine vessel is hard to pass up. After all, who wouldn’t want a free boat? (The editor would gladly accept a sailboat of much more modest displacement; inquire within. Something around 25 feet with a good complement of jibs would do nicely.) And our police point out that the Homeland Security vessel would require less maintenance and come with a good warranty. But in this case, as several council members argue, it’s less a question of maintenance costs and more of opportunity cost.

Bainbridge Police say they currently have the busiest marine patrol in West Sound, and are obligated under various “mutual aid” agreements to respond to boating emergencies in other areas. Fine and good, but when exactly did Bainbridge Island become the regional provider for maritime safety? Sure, Bainbridge Island has around 50 miles of shoreline – but Kitsap County has 256. Where’s the county’s marine patrol? Why don’t they get the new boat?

Alluded to at last week’s council meeting, but left tactfully unexplored, is the degree to which the federal grant was awarded based on perceived terrorist threats to the ferry. Which again raises a question: Since when is it Bainbridge Island’s job to guard the ferry? The feds could just as easily use this money to beef up the Coast Guard presence in Puget Sound. They could also give it to the State Patrol to put more bomb-sniffing dogs on the dock (and the dogs would work for kibbles). By offering a free boat to a local agency, but not offering money to operate it, the feds are really trying to get someone else to do their work for them.

Which brings us to “opportunity cost” – what you can’t do because you do something else instead. In this case, Bainbridge officers out on the water are Bainbridge officers not patrolling the roads or answering service calls to island homes and businesses. There’s no question that some police presence is needed offshore – we are an island, and a fair number of us spend our time standing under the figurative cold shower, throwing money down the drain – but you have to think that citizens really want to see scarce police resources used on land.

Consider: With that same $600,000 grant, the feds could put two uniformed police officers on Bainbridge streets for four years. Not as fun as a new boat, but probably better spent.

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