Board or Not to Board – -That is the question?
It’s the 30th of January and I am writing a blog on boating and the Joe Root Open on the Bay’s ice has yet to happen. Am I just a bit crazy? The answer is a definite maybe. But after a week of snow shoveling, snow blowers and mucky roads, the temperature this morning is 52 degrees and dreams of perch, summer sun and bikinis suddenly began to dance in my head.
Well, maybe it really started when I read an article in BoatU.S. Magazine about boat sales. (I also noted two really neat new boats) According to the article, recreational boat sales began a slight climb in 2011 and 2012. It also mentioned that one area of boat manufacturing led the way out of the recession – – building boats for government agencies. The fact is that big money contracts to build tough, fast, tactical and even bulletproof boats are flooding manufacturers from the Department of Homeland Security and other on-the-water law enforcement agencies. An example of this is the U.S. Coast Guard which ordered 500 small response boats from Metal Shark Manufacturing. This is a $ 192 million dollar contract.
What does all this hold for the Lake Erie and Presque Isle boater? I would think the now better equipped on-the-water enforcement agencies might decide to board your craft much more often this summer. However, with so many different agencies now on our waters with shared jurisdictions, it is sure to become hard to figure out who can and cannot board your boat.
From a boarding viewpoint, the U.S. Coast Guard has the broadest maritime authority in the country. A Coast Guard Boarding Officer has wide authority to board any recreational vessel at almost any time in order to enforce all applicable federal laws and regulations. As most people know, the Coast Guard is now part of the Homeland Security Agency, so Homeland Security also has broad authority to board your boat at any time.
Something you, as a boater should keep in mind is that federal authorities like the Coast Guard and Border Patrol can and do communicate with each other. However, most state and local marine patrols don’t have systems to record and share information with each other and federal agencies. This is the major reason for repeated redundant stops that we as boaters always complain about. I have found that if you take the time to have your boat inspected and get that little Coast Guard Auxiliary inspection sticker put onto your boat annually, it does make stops easier and less frequent.
What if you are stopped and boarded by a state or local law enforcement agent who doesn’t have that authority? That is a really is difficult call. Of course, you should know the rules about boarding before you leave the dock. In most cases, it is better to allow the boarding, but get all information about the officer, the reason for boarding and the telephone number and address of his supervising office. The place to fight this boarding is not on the water, but in court or at the agency’s main office level. Representative’s office many help.
Many states have been listening to the increasing complaints from boaters, and have passed or introduced “Probable Cause” rules similar to that of those used for traffic stops. Your follow-up after an unauthorized boarding may cause an alert to be sent to the boarding officer of recent changes in rules or policies for boarding. This may help.
But, I hope most boaters realize that these boarding’s can actually help save lives, because many find serious safety problems which the boat owner may have missed. Over the years, I have been boarded occasionally and have found the officers involved very curious almost all the time. Only once did an officer overstep his authority. After being reported a number of times, he retired. So the system does work.
See you on the park!!
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