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A bill working its way through Congress would make illegal to focus blindingly bright laser pointer beams on boats, just as it’s already illegal to point the devices at aircraft. Over the past few years there have been a spate of incidents involving lasers targetting Coast Guard vessels and merchant shipping.

Laser pointers.

Laser pointers.

In July, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 3409, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019. The bill includes a provision originally introduced as the Boater Protection from Laser Pointers Act by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. 

The provision prohibits causing the beam of a laser pointer to strike a vessel operating on the navigable waters of the United States, excepting authorized federal officials acting in an official capacity. 

The bill is now under consideration by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

“My common-sense bill will ensure the safe operation of all vessels in our waters, including Coast Guard vessels protecting our shores, by prohibiting pointing lasers at vessels operating in the waters of the United States. Interference with Coast Guard operations and the safe operation of any boats on the coast is unacceptable, and should be prohibited by law," Rouda said. 

Penalty for targetting aircraft: Whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title, a maximum of $250,000, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

Petty Officer Brian McCrum, a press officer for its Great Lakes district, was quoted in saying Coast Guard personnel on the lakes had been targetted by laser pointers 28 times since 2012. Similar reports of laser targetting have come from both the East and West coasts. On one night in 2017 four incidents were reported on the Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. Ferry captains on Puget Sound in Washington State have also been targetted.