What Exactly is a MARSEC Level?

Marsec Level sign at Caneel Bay
MARSEC Level sign at Caneel Bay

Ever notice those signs around the island that read:


This facility is currently operating at MARSEC Level 1. (Hopefully that’s what it said)

Entering this facility is deemed valid consent to screening or inspection. All vehicles are subject to inspection. 

Failure to consent or submit to screening or inspection will result in denial or revocation of authorization to board or enter. 

There’s one over on the ferry dock near the Visitor’s Center and a few more over at Caneel Bay. So we were curious – what exactly is a MARSEC Level and what does it mean?

Well, it turns out that the MARSEC Level relates to Homeland Security, so the fact that we here at News of St. John have only seen a MARSEC Level 1 posted around the island is good thing. Here’s what we found on the U.S. Coast Guard’s website:

The Coast Guard employs a three-tiered system of Maritime Security (MARSEC) Levels designed to easily communicate to the Coast Guard and our maritime industry partners pre-planned scalable responses for credible threats. If the Secretary of Homeland Security issues an NTAS Alert, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard will adjust MARSEC Level, if appropriate, based on the commensurate risk, any maritime nexus, and/or Commandant consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security. 

So here’s a quick breakdown of the three levels, according to the Coast Guard:

Level 1: The level for which minimum appropriate security measures shall be maintained at all times.

Level 2: The level for which appropriate additional protective security measures shall be maintained for a period of time as a result of heightened risk of a transportation security incident.

Level 3: The level for which further specific protective security measures shall be maintained for a limited period of time when a transportation security incident is probable, imminent, or has occurred, although it may not be possible to identify the specific target.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution breaks it down in simpler terms. Here’s what they had to say:

Level 1: The threat of an unlawful act against a terminal or vessel is, though possible, not likely.

Level 2: An unlawful act against a vessel or terminal is possible, and intelligence indicates that terrorists are likely to be active within a specific area, or against a type of vessel or terminal.

Level 3: An unlawful act against a vessel or terminal is probable or imminent and intelligence indicates that terrorists have chosen specific targets.

Here are a couple more images from around the island:

Another sign at Caneel
Another sign at Cannel
Marsec sign 2
A sign in Cruz Bay

News you can use. News of St. John.


4 thoughts on “What Exactly is a MARSEC Level?”

  1. “Signs Signs everywhere signs, do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs?” Homeland Security? I like the part where you CAN’T go through the gate on the Cruz Bay dock to help your arriving family or guests with their luggage, or help them board the ferry, but you CAN jump into the water and just swim out / wade out/or swim in or wade in anywhereon the other miles of coast around the entire island !

  2. The point of the MARSEC Level 1 signs is that HS and the Coast Guard aren’t mind readers. So, if they’re at Level 1 and they see something that COULD be the initial steps in a terrorist act (e.g. blowing up a dock with a boatload of “filthy rich tourists”) they have the stated right to take precautionary and hopefully preventative steps “valid consent to screening or inspection”. In other words, “you’ve been warned, so if you give us cause to worry, we’ll screen or inspect you to remove the worry”. And, lest anyone take offense, my wife and I are among the ranks of the “filthy rich tourists” as often as we can afford it – which isn’t nearly as often as we would like.

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