The owners and skippers of Britain's half a million leisure craft are on the whole a fairly law respecting and trustworthy lot. Perhaps they give more weight to COLREGS than to rules about duty-free booze on board but I've yet to meet one who wouldn't aid a fellow boater and those unaware of their legal responsibility to preserve life are few. They will jump down your throat for 'flying' rather than 'wearing' an ensign, yet will guide novices with infinite care and patience. If I were to ascribe a unifying quality I would suggest Independence of Mind. A sometime blog reader with whom I've enjoyed a drink or two related how his 19 yo son asked to borrow his modest boat for a long weekend, and without fuss or bother sailed his girlfriend to the Azores and back. "weren't you worried?" I asked. He shrugged.
So when there's up to £5k a head available to smuggle economic migrants across the channel - a route as familiar to many as that to the local supermarket - our boaters can with no great difficulty follow a British seafaring tradition as old as The Revenue itself.
One aspect of officialdom universally resented by boaters of all types is the heavy handed police marine patrols - masked black armoured thugs whose big clumsy black boots mark pristine GRP hulls and decks, whose rudeness suggests Britain's half a million boaters shouldn't be on the water, and whose mixture of arrogance and marine incompetence is enough to turn any boater from law-respecting to an angry smuggler. Those guys have a serious attitude problem. Their wash flooded and almost capsized my dinghy once as they raced around at full throttle in shallow waters just pissing people off. So whatever the migrant flows through beaches and small ports, any extension of May's Marine Army is not welcome. A quantity surveyor from Surbiton who dresses his family in matching tee-shirts to play at Master on his 25' sloop is unlikely to be an exploding jihadist, and crashing heavily on board his beloved marine kingdom with cocked weapons and gas masks is just anti-public stupidity.
No, I think the answer is to pay Britain's own skilled boaters to police themselves part-time, on government supplied fast patrol boats, with not a shred of black body armour or ski-masks between them. A revival of the Sea Fencibles; a crew in every port, with unrivalled local knowledge and the sense to be respectful and polite - not as a people apart, as the Thugs are, but as fellow boaters with craft moored in the same harbours as those they challenge.