Two recent incidents of lasers being pointed at U.S. Coast Guard boats while in operation on the Great Lakes are currently under investigation. The Coast Guard is emphasizing the serious danger and potential for injury while highlighting that it is considered a felony crime punishable by imprisonment and or a fine. They are asking for the public to report anything they see or provide tips on the recent incidents.

“The laser, which comes in various colors, illuminated the small boats numerous times, striking the crew in the eyes,” the Coast Guard reported. “Although no injuries were sustained, these types of actions are illegal and can cause severe effects to the crew’s safety and missions the U.S. Coast Guard conducts on a daily basis.”

The Coast Guard did not say if the incidents involved one of their smaller patrol boats (seen in the photo) or a larger vessel but reported that the crafts involved were operating on Lake Ontario. One of the laser strikes was reported to originate offshore from a residential area of Moon Beach, New York on June 11. The latest incident occurred late last week on July 21 in the vicinity of Lakeside Park, located in Oswego, New York, from an unidentified vehicle. 

In both of the instances, the Coast Guard said vessels from District 9 with its headquarters in Buffalo, New York were conducting search and rescue operations on the lake. The Coast Guard Investigative Service Special Agents are working in an ongoing effort with local law enforcement to investigate the incidents and locate the suspects.

“In every instance that a U.S. Coast Guard small boat is observed on the water, they are either performing a mission, training, or transiting,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Mark Kuperman, Commander, Sector Buffalo. “As with all emergency responders, the work they do is in the best interests of the public. When struck by a laser, they cannot perform their job, and may in fact have suffered eye injuries.”

They emphasized that laser pointers can cause great danger to small boat crews and aircrews due to glare, afterimage, flash blindness, or temporary loss of night vision. If a laser is shined in the eyes of any crew member on a Coast Guard vessel or aircraft, it negatively impacts the search and rescue missions they are conducting.

A new law was passed in 2021 makes it unlawful to “cause the beam of a laser pointer to strike a vessel operating on the navigable waters of the United States.’’ The law was designed to protect mariners from laser strikes and prohibits any person to illuminate a vessel, either public, commercial, or recreational. The offense carries civil and criminal (felony) penalties. Similarly, aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a felony crime. The law states 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 or imprisoned for up to five years.

Source: The Maritime Executive