I've been told if your vessel is Coast Guard Documented (which is why mine isn't) they have the right to board your vessel at anytime without probable cause.
This article from Soundings brings the question. Given my background and dislike of law enforcement. Where is the line and what or can be done about it. Ya I know this is a sailbote story but whats worse. Combat boots on your newly cleared artwork or the blemished non ship paint of a blowbote. Also given the greater awareness given to performance boats in certain areas I have been a little more than irritated by some enforcement actions.
By Peter Swanson
Tatts and boots: Random boardings are bad for boating because boating really is about freedom
Took a little cruise last week to get the old boat in shape. Nothing compromises a vessel more than disuse, so we headed north from Jacksonville, Fla., knowing full well we would have to deal with our fair share of shakedown hassles.
First, Tropical Storm Andrea forced us to hole up for a couple days in Fernandina. My crew’s 8-year-old vomited colorfully on the cockpit cushions. The steering hydraulics failed off Georgia and we were accused of dragging anchor in Charleston, S.C. (more about that later).
But the lowest moment happened as we were leaving Charleston, southbound on the Intracoastal Waterway. We had just turned off the Ashley River, heading up Wapoo Creek toward the bascule bridge.
Funny thing: The issue of police boardings was already on my mind. Fellow blogger Norm Schultz recently did an excellent job for TradeOnlyToday.com (the website of Soundings sister magazine Trade Only) when he questioned whether random boardings were unconstitutional. He wrote about how the Arkansas Supreme Court recently ruled that random boardings violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Dealer Outlook
Schultz, citing the Arkansas case and legislation in Ohio and Michigan, wondered why the same rationale should not apply to the Coast Guard. “At the very least, isn’t it clearly time for a thorough review of any such policies as we begin another summer of boating?” Schultz asked.
Our boarding occurred at the same time that a national debate had begun because of a fugitive whistleblower’s revelation that the U.S. government had engaged in a massive electronic surveillance of its own citizenry.
As we putted up the creek, Joanne sounded the alarm. “What are they doing so close to us,” she asked. “They” were the group of uniformed people on a Charleston police boat that was creeping up behind us.
I turned around and looked at them crawling toward our stern. I kept up the stare. They keep creeping, finally coming alongside.
“Good morning, sir. Do you remember the last time you were boarded by the Coast Guard, when it was?” asked the lady Coast Guardsman, cloyingly polite.
“No, I do not,” I said. I did not want to be boarded, and there would be no levity in my voice. I would be curt and answer directly. I was not happy.
“Do you mind if we come on board for a safety inspection?” she asked.
I’m sorry that some law enforcement apologists will respond negatively to this blog, but I personally think anyone who doesn’t mind being boarded is an idiot.
“Sure, come on board,” I said. She told me to maintain way. The current was carrying us toward the unopened bridge, and I mentioned that.
“I am aware of that, sir,” she said.
THEM VS. US
On Rio, a 1977 Morgan Out Island 41, there were seven souls: myself and Joanne, two older adult males (a retired British civil servant and a chef), the aforementioned 8-year-old boy, a 40-pound cocker spaniel and a 10-pound Maltese.
On Charleston Police: A Charleston police officer, two Coast Guard ladies, two Customs and Border Protection officers, a South Carolina state policeman and a guy in civvies who may or may not have been in charge of the German shepherd.
So Coast Guard Lady No. 1 comes on board, followed by CBP Officer No. 1. The rest of the smorgasbord shadowed us as we did slow rotations in the creek. In the end, Rio was found in compliance with safety regs once CG Lady 1 dug deep enough in my flare box to find the ones that had not expired.
I was issued the “goldenrod” colored copy of the boarding report, which I could present to any subsequent would-be boarders over the next year — meant to be some consolation.
All’s well that ends well, right?
TATTOOS & COMBAT BOOTS
We were boarded for no reason. We were not operating erratically. There was no outward evidence that anything was illegal or amiss.
We were boarded by a woman wearing tactical police gear — sidearm, mace, Taser, handcuffs, etc. Worst of all, she came on my boat with her CBP colleague wearing combat boots. That just bothers me. Given that we were on a 35-year-old, well-worn production sailboat, I didn’t have the courage or pretentiousness to ask that they take off their footwear, but let me give you some perspective. When officials in the Dominican Republic or Cuba have come to the boat to clear us into those countries, they invariably offer to take their shoes off.
The reason combat boots bother me is this: At any moment, this everything-bagel of law enforcement might find itself as first-responders to a non-criminal emergency call. Black boots laced, not one of them would be ready to jump in the water to save some kid gone under as a result of a PWC accident.
Maybe I’m just old, but aside from being condescendingly polite as she poked through the corners of my boat, CG Lady 1 had arms covered with not so lovely tattoos. Though indecipherable in their totality, one tattoo said “Freedom” in script.
With absolutely no reason to think that anyone aboard had committed a crime, we were all asked to present our passports or driver’s licenses, and our information was compared to the police database. This is nothing but a gratuitous invasion of privacy.
I am so glad, however, that they did not insist on boarding the German shepherd to sniff for whatever. It would have ended badly. The officers would have been forced to shoot our Maltese and cocker spaniel to prevent their hapless shepherd from being mauled.
WHY WE BOAT
I don’t know about you, but I did not get into boating to belong to a yacht club. I didn’t do it to become expert on pumps and wiring and other mechanical systems, though that has been an unintended side effect. I got into boating because a good sail is exhilarating, because I associate being on the water with freedom and because many of the very best places in the world can be reached by water.
The opposite of freedom is having armed officers of the state coming on my boat for no reason. To me, this incident raises serious larger issues. This trend in on-the-water law enforcement became even more distorted after 9/11, and, like Norm Schultz, I think it’s time to reappraise the direction. I agree with Ben Franklin, who once said: “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”
Now, I promised to tell the story about a squall that swept through the anchorage at Charleston. A boat that had been well upwind of Rio suddenly appeared a few feet from our bow. The rain was coming down in sheets, and their searchlight was directed at us.
Barry, my longtime delivery partner and a former British law enforcement officer, went forward and pointed out the obvious. “You’re dragging,” he shouted above the din. The response was a torrent of obscenities in a German accent reminiscent of Gen. Burkhalter on “Hogan’s Heroes.”
He then accused us of dragging, even though his transom was nearly touching our bow. “I vas here first,” he insisted.
True, that is an anchoring rule, but it does not apply once one’s anchor begins to drag.
I got on the VHF (low-power, for you radio enforcers) and pointed out to our foreign visitor — Barry was now calling him “Fritz” — that us “dragging forward” violated the laws of logic and physics. By then, the squall was subsiding, and Burkhalter/Fritz seemed to have hauled in some chain, pulling his boat away from us.
The next morning we took a look at our nemesis. No name on the boat, no flag of origin, no courtesy flag.
I was boarded twice before in my boating history: when I happened to be sailing into Boston Harbor the same night a drug-smuggling mother ship had been detected offshore, and when I happened to unintentionally sail well inside an aircraft carrier’s security zone 100 miles off New York. These boardings were entirely understandable, given the circumstances. Not so in Charleston. Bad for American freedom, bad for boating.
But if the Charleston Tactical Team needed to board someone without cause, I would rather they had put their boots on Fritz’s decks, not ours.
I've been told if your vessel is Coast Guard Documented (which is why mine isn't) they have the right to board your vessel at anytime without probable cause.
And then there's that.....
I was under the impression that REGARDLESS of documentation, they have the right to board you. I was safety checked swinging on anchor off Chicago on my first weekend out this year...they did not come aboard.
Funny story about this...was were out on our friend's Sonic early last year and, while running from St. Joseph to New Buffalo, we closely shaved the limit buoys outside of a powerplant. Next think we know, there are flashing lights and an orange hull behind us. We pull up, and they pull alongside. My buddy was NOT excited about them rafting their RIB on his paint, so, after they asked to come aboard, he agreed, but asked if they could just touch off and drop a guy. They complied with this, but, the guy did not take his boots off...we just tried to put towels down where he would step. He was polite and cautious, but did a VERY thorough inspection and questioned all of us about running through the "NO BOAT" zone by the plant. We happily responded that we most definately did NOT run inside the bouys...and if he wanted to check it, we had the whole run on GoPro camera...all we'd have to do is upload it to the laptop. I guess he was convinced by that!
Later on in the summer, my wife and another couple were heading back to our marina just as the sun was going down. My lights were all on, and as I approached the entrance to the breakwall that indicated the start of Indiana waters, I came off plane (Indiana waters are No Wake after sunset). Suddenly, a searchlight was on me, followed by blue flashers. The police boat started by asking a couple simple questions, which I answered...but then my lovely wife, who had consumed a couple adult beverages, yelled to the officer that he would NOT be boarding our boat. :O I'm like...shut UP shut UP!!!! So, she got mad at ME. Lol. The cop responded that he would come aboard if he damn well pleased, and I had to cower in a series of ultra-respectful YES, SIR and NO, SIR responses before he asked me to show him my PFDs and throwable and sent me on my way. So now, any time the authorities are near, I just tell her to let ME do the talking.
Warming the globe 16 cylinders at a time.
I think the next time I'm asked for a courtesy safety inspection by the Coast Guard I'll say no and see what they do.
I agree Brad. My thought is most of these bullies do it "because they can". And most of them get away with absolutely infringing upon OUR RIGHTS as Americans (just because it's a boat,WTF). We, as power boaters, are definately being profiled and some of those assholes are definately on a power trip.
The last time I was stopped I was A DICK. The dude came flying up on my stern (in a no wake) screaming and spitting that I was running past the bouy. I KNEW damn well I was right and stood my ground. After screaming at me he "had witnesses", he asked for my throwable, extinguisher and registration...al of which were produced immediately. He was mumbling to himself as he pulled away.
What a tool. No doubt he was the little fat ass that couldn't make the team and didn't get laid until he had a badge and gun.
(ever wonder about my signature line? LMFAO)
...ridin dirty aboard...
Can Ya Hear Me Now
Badges?.......We Don't Need No Stinkin Badges........
It seems like there's an exception to the 4th amendment concerning boats. We better be careful what we wish for though....
I think the USCG and the local police use the "safety inspection" as a pretense to see if the operator is DUI. This is despite the fact that they have no reasonable evidence or suspicion other than the fact your on a boat.
I see it from both sides, because of the idiots out there, they have to do these inspections. If they never did the inspections how many would be concious of making sure you have dated flares, PFD's, throwable life rings, charged fire extigushers, trash bags etc.. I know it makes me concious of it to have all that, may save my life or boat one day. I have yet to be boarded in two years in Mississippi, now prob cause most officers are the cousin, brother, brother in law etc of a friend of a friend, and not to many performance boats running around here.. but I do make sure everything is up to date and good to go everytime I go out. Why, cause I want to be safe, two.. I dont want a ticket.
That coast guard woman he wrote about.. may have to save his life one day.... we are to short sighted somtimes.
Welcome to the world of commercial trucking. The DOT can pull over any truck at any time for an"courtesy inspection" whenever they want to. Look through the truck and around the truck and if they want, can always find something wrong with it. I have gotten pulled over and recieved a ticket because the did like where the manufacturer put the rear plate mount, we had to move it. I have heard about trucks that were new, not even having their first service, getting pulled over and recieving a equipment ticket.
it sucks that they own us/you its just part if it. i'm curious, why is it a hassle for a coast guard/law enforcement to board your boat and check you? is it b/c you're embarrassed? doing something illegal.....?? i've never really understood why people get so pissed. i've been boating 25yrs and never had an issue or ticket. i'm always "yes sir" "no sir" and they usually don't keep me more than a few minutes. at the end of the day they are only doing their job .
I was always under the impression that Coasties can board when ever they want...they have totally reign on the water. Local Cops cant board unless they have "probable cause" like you stink of pot....or they see a gun sitting on the floor of the boat......they can pull up and do a safety inspection but can board.....unless you tell them its OK....
I actually was pulled over by Racine WI police about 10yrs ago....they asked to come aboard....I said no...he was taken back by it...but I continued saying that if he took off his combat boots I will let him on...other then that he is not coming on...he stayed on his boat
Most times if you are cool with them they will be cool with you...I Usually have one of the Old timers from the Coast Guard Aux that hang out a the launch ramps do a safety inspection and get the silly sticker for the boat...and most times it enough to keep the Coasties from bothering me
Listen. I am on both sides of this as NAVY 252 is. I guess most of you know I spent over 20 years on active duty in the Coast Guard and I am sure at times a DICK to many boaters. Since I now spend quite a lot of time on the water and have been stopped many many times and belittled, yelled at, swore at by both Coast Guard and LEPO's I have a differnet view and p[perspective of what is happening.
Truthfully most of my bad encounters have been with sheriffs, regular cops, and FWC types. With only a couple of exceptions Coast Guard, CPB, and DEA encounters offshore have been simple. I was approached by customs one day when I was running alone way offshore from Fort Lauderdale they buzzed me with a Blackhawk and then sent a Fountain to intercept. The entire exchange took about 2 minutes and they waved be on.
The problem I have is we are on vacation, recreating on the water and the Coast Guard has the ability to use a law that was originally determined because upon the high seas it was impossible to obtain a search warrant to inspect or examine a ship. This has now been pushed down to being on a dual state country lake like Havasu where one could argue the ability to obtain a search warrant was not unreasonable or delayed because of distance and time offshore.
Think about this and view it in this way. If the RV's of the US who ply the highways and byways on vacation were stopped, questioned and boarded like we are on the water the options may change from political pressure.
I was stopped a couple years back...I was with Ray nonetheless...had my 342 out the weekend I bought it.They stopped me coming out of Party Cove at LOTO because I had no numbers on the boat...again it was 2 days new to me. I did produce a Bill of Sale and we were cool. That was really about it. Now for the record, I always "Yes Sir/Yes Ma'am" any law enforement I encounter. Just always seemed to be the right thing to do. I've not run into the Dickhead cop on the water...on land there was one Michigan State Trooper who just needed a good Bitch Slap...Barney Fife M.F'r. Different story.
But on the water it's been pretty good for me. Now, all of my gear is up to snuff. Do I have some beers when I'm out playing, yep. Do I get blasted or impaired - nope. But I leave nothing to chance. When I pull up anchor, there is a water bottle in my cupholder with an apple next to it. By the time that boat is next to me, half the bottle is gone and I'm leisurely chomping on an apple like I'm "Joe the health nut". Again - I'm not impaired, but if I run into one of those over zealous prop cops, this is what he's going to see.
Coasties have been pretty good but none have stopped me. I've spoken to a few at the launch and eventually we get to me being retired Navy. After that they're not interested in checking me out on the water. As for how I address them, I refer to their rank...as I would prefer they refer to mine. The senior coasties understand this...the younger ones sometimes need a lesson in protocal.
Harassment on the water . I ask them one time if they would like being pulled over by a trooper every time they drive on the highway , one of them replied ( well if I'm doing something wrong I need to be pulled over ) I said thank you for proving my point fifteen times you've pulled me over and not one violation .