Going boating near the Marine air station? Read this

BEAUFORT -- Boaters cruising by Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on the Intracoastal Waterway needn't worry about being arrested or shot at for getting too close to the base, says the base's anti-terrorism officer.

Signs restricting access to inlets near the air station have raised concerns recently among boaters unsure about what the signs mean and any legal repercussions for violating their instructions, according to the air station's public affairs office.

The office and the base's community liaison have fielded calls about a pair of strongly worded signs warning that passage into the inlets constitutes criminal trespassing punishable under federal law.

Despite the signs' formidable language, the signs are more an extension of the air station's boundaries than a prosecutorial threat, said Gary Rivard, MCAS Beaufort's anti-terrorism officer.

"The Intracoastal Waterway is like the I-95 of the water," he said. "We can't shut it down because it's close to the air station. No one's going to get shot, no one's going to get arrested for going near the air station. The signs aren't manned or monitored. They are more of a deterrent for the bad guys.

"The definition of where the boundaries are on land are pretty clear," he said. "There's a security fence that encloses the base, so this is just an extension of that fence into the water. We just want people to know what the boundaries are. I would tell people that they shouldn't be going past those signs."

Securing the inlets would be key in the event that an attack on the base appeared imminent, Rivard said.

"If we moved into a 'threat condition Charlie,' where we got intelligence that told us that MCAS Beaufort is absolutely going to be attacked, the Coast Guard would commandeer that waterway, and it would be closed," he said.

The base is at "threat condition alpha," which indicates a condition described by the Pentagon as "a general threat of possible terrorist activity against personnel and facilities, the nature and extent of which are unpredictable."