Rum Runners vs the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard encounter a rum runner

The Coast Guard had been handed a formidable task—halt the smuggling of liquor into the U.S. In the early years of Prohibition, the U.S. Coast Guard was significantly understaffed and ill equipped with an assortment of patrol boats, launches, harbor tugs and small craft capable of top speed of only about 12 knots (just under 14 mph).

Knowing this, rumrunners ran routes to Florida during the day with virtual impunity. While the Coast Guard added boats, staff and a spotter plane with some effectiveness, nighttime efforts to reel in the smugglers stalled.

To avoid capture, rumrunners were constantly inventing new methods to outsmart and out maneuver the Coast Guard. Initially, they developed “Bimini boats,” large cargo boats with shallow drafts. These boats could easily maneuver in the Florida mangrove swamps and inlets where Coast Guard boats with deeper drafts could not venture.

Another tactic the smugglers used to evade the law was to enhance the boat’s performance by installing Liberty airplane engines. Bird and Wallace King, sons of Edwin Thomas King who established King and Sons Boatyard, the first boatyard in Ft. Lauderdale, were intimately involved in this endeavor. Jimmy Bryan, former supervisor of marine facilities for Ft. Lauderdale, said Bird King used to sell a lot of boats to rumrunners: “They used to put power in them – 450 horse Liberty airplane engines – and for that period of time they were very fast.”

One of the most creative tactics employed by a rummie involved the vessel Louise . . .

Learn more about how rumrunners evaded the law and how the Coast Guard caught some of the most notorious rummies in Run the Rum In.


About Sally J. Ling

Fascinating but little known history is all around us. I write historical fiction and nonfiction about remarkable events in Florida's history. Please join me for a fascinating ride.
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