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Prepare To Be Boarded

Old 02-20-2019, 04:49 AM
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PREPARE TO BE BOARDED

If it has not yet happened to you, it eventually will. You are going to see that Coast Guard boat approaching. The blue light comes on. The patrol boat comes along side, and the officer announces that they are coming aboard.

If you are like me, any law enforcement encounter will find you a bit nervous or apprehensive. Do your best to relax. Unlike on the road where law enforcement must see you do something wrong to pull you over, on the water probable cause is not necessary for the Coast Guard to come aboard your boat. The purpose of this article is not to get into the details of the law that empowers the Coast Guard or the associated legalities. If you are interested in doing some research, it is 14 U.S.C. 89 (you can run that through a search engine) that provides the basis of their authority to come on board.

What I want to do here is to tell you what to expect when they come on board. You can expect the officer to be well trained, professional and polite. You'll probably hear the officer say something like this "The Coast Guard is here today to make sure you are in compliance with all applicable federal laws." One of the first things the officer may do is ask if there are weapons on board. They like to identify the location of the weapons and may want to render them safe before continuing with the boarding.

With those formalities out of the way they will probably ask for ID and your State Certificate of Numbers (Most of us call it the boat registration card) or your federal Certificate of Documentation. They have some paperwork to fill out, so they will use your ID and your registration card to do that. They may run your name through "the system" to see if there are any outstanding wants or warrants. I well remember the very first boat I boarded after going through the Coast Guard's law enforcement certification program. I was stationed in Pascagoula Mississippi. I boarded a shrimp boat in the Mississippi Sound. When I ran the information through "the system" one of the passengers had an outstanding arrest warrant in Texas for cattle rustling of all things.

The Coast Guard will check all of the required equipment on board to make sure that it's present and in good and serviceable condition. While they are doing this check they will be constantly evaluating the operator for any behavioral indications that they may be impaired. If everything is in order the officers will thank you for your time and cooperation and give you a copy of the boarding report. If there were any equipment deficiencies, the officer will issue a notice of violation.

If you get a notice of violation, here's the way that process plays out. The Coast Guard puts the information into their network to notify the Violations Case Coordination Center (VCCC) of the violation. VCCC will look into your vessel's history, and if there are no previous violations, they will send you a letter a month or so later that tells you what the maximum fine is. It's always a scary high amount. The letter will tell you that you can correct the deficiencies to mitigate or eliminate any possible penalties. The letter will explain what you have to do to prove you corrected the deficiencies. If you have previous offenses or if the offenses are severe (like BUI or negligent operations) you won't be afforded an easy way out.

That's the short of it. During the course of the boarding, the officer may chat with you about safety. Many mariners actually find the experience to be educational, and in some cases they enjoy getting to know the Coast Guard members. As with all law enforcement encounters, your actions and attitude will have an effect on the whole of the experience.
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Old 02-20-2019, 04:58 AM
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Thanks for the low down
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:02 AM
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Good information. Thank you.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:04 AM
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This is exactly as a USCG boarding played out for me. The officers were courteous and professional and once they saw that both my boat and I were in substantial compliance the process went quickly and smoothly. I say substantial because I had two items that were not in compliance and that was the lack of an Oil Discharge and Garbage Discharge placard. IMO these placards are absolute nonsense. I NEVER throw anything overboard or allow any of my passengers to throw garbage overboard and if I were to ever discharge oil it would indicate that I had a serious engine malfunction in my twin Yamaha outboards. I agree 100% with the need to do safety and compliance inspections but USCG let's use a little bit of common sense.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:07 AM
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I have been boarded a few times by the USCG in the Great Lakes, always a positive experience. Thank you for your service.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:07 AM
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Great read sir!
i remember when I was a kid and fortunate enough to have a new Albemarle 24. I was so anal about the boat I kept asking the coastie, politely, to remove his black sole boots, as they would (and still do) mark up my cockpit floor. This one also one of the first years of the Volvo duoprop outdrive. I was eager to demonstrate the boats ability to back and maneuver. As he sat on the transom, I hit another small passing boat wake while backing in reverse, soaked him pretty good to the point he had to remove and clean his glasses that got drenched in salt. I apologized and everything was good, he was really more amazed at how that little boat handled in reverse. But he never did take of his boots, and I did have to scrub black marks off the floor..... no offense meant, I guess it was good, clean and fun karma, as I did see what was gonna happen as I gave her more throttle into that small wake
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:10 AM
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Should the user name not read “USCG Safe Boating DB?”

really wish all of yall would push back on the glaring 4th amendment issues involved with this BS.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:11 AM
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Unfortunately the 4th Amendment might as well not exist nowadays.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:15 AM
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I always enjoy having everything in perfect order so they can't ticket me on anything, then while my 4th amendment rights are being violated, I usually try to lighten the mood by asking if I really have to go 200 miles to intl waters to dump my used oil out or can I just dump it in my head and have it pumped out at the marina, from the earth, back to the earth is my motto I say.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:23 AM
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Originally Posted by tarpononecharter View Post
This is exactly as a USCG boarding played out for me. The officers were courteous and professional and once they saw that both my boat and I were in substantial compliance the process went quickly and smoothly. I say substantial because I had two items that were not in compliance and that was the lack of an Oil Discharge and Garbage Discharge placard. IMO these placards are absolute nonsense. I NEVER throw anything overboard or allow any of my passengers to throw garbage overboard and if I were to ever discharge oil it would indicate that I had a serious engine malfunction in my twin Yamaha outboards. I agree 100% with the need to do safety and compliance inspections but USCG let's use a little bit of common sense.
I used to carry adhesive placards in my boarding kit. It took less time to hand those out than it did to write a violation for not having them. I never could figure out if I did that as a service or because I was lazy!
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:24 AM
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Yea scary amount of power they have to board and inspect with no probable cause.


"Where's your papers?"
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:27 AM
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Its a weekly occurrence in Port Canaveral. If it isn't the Coasties its FWC.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:27 AM
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Originally Posted by empty canibal View Post
Great read sir!
i remember when I was a kid and fortunate enough to have a new Albemarle 24. I was so anal about the boat I kept asking the coastie, politely, to remove his black sole boots, as they would (and still do) mark up my cockpit floor. This one also one of the first years of the Volvo duoprop outdrive. I was eager to demonstrate the boats ability to back and maneuver. As he sat on the transom, I hit another small passing boat wake while backing in reverse, soaked him pretty good to the point he had to remove and clean his glasses that got drenched in salt. I apologized and everything was good, he was really more amazed at how that little boat handled in reverse. But he never did take of his boots, and I did have to scrub black marks off the floor..... no offense meant, I guess it was good, clean and fun karma, as I did see what was gonna happen as I gave her more throttle into that small wake
The Coast Guard has long required non-marking boots. With that said, I once bought a pair of non-marking boots that left black rubber skid marks everywhere I slid my feet. After that, I started carrying set of boat shoes in my "coxswain" bag. It was easy to switch back and forth between boat shoes for recreational boats and safety boots for commercial boats.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:37 AM
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All you 4th amendment cheerleaders, when is the last time you had a coastie tear through your boat searching it unreasonably? It's never happened to me and I'm on the water quite a bit.

At most they pull up some fellas or lady hops on, they check paperwork look at safety gear and they are out. I've had them ask to check out the fish or turn scuba cylinders upside down and open valves which seems a little much but I get it. All of the ones I've dealt with were doing their jobs, never seemed like they were over reaching or being jerks about anything.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:37 AM
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Originally Posted by autobaun70 View Post
Should the user name not read “USCG Safe Boating DB?”

really wish all of yall would push back on the glaring 4th amendment issues involved with this BS.

I knew this was coming, and I certainly understand the sentiment. Technically a Coast Guard boarding is not a search. It's an inspection, not unlike the inspections that truckers go through at interstate inspection stations. If the Coast Guard is going to conduct a search once aboard your vessel, then search law and 4th amendment protections apply.

I always got that a boarding could be an uncomfortable situation, and I carried out my duties with respect to that. Centuries ago Alexander Hamilton penned the most wonderful words of guidance I have ever encountered.

HAMILTONLETTER.PDF

"While I recommend in the strongest terms to the respective officers, activity, vigilance and firmness, I feel no less solicitude, that their deportment may be marked with prudence, moderation and good temper. Upon these last qualities, not less that the former, must depend 4 the success, usefulness and consequently continuance of the establishment in which they are included. They cannot be insensible that there are some prepossessions against it, that the charge with which they are intrusted [sic] is a delicate one, and that it is easy by mismanagement, to produce serious and extensive clamour, disgust and odium. They will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and that they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. This reflection, and a regard to the good of the service, will prevent, at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty--by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence."

Those words appear in our Maritime Law Enforcement Manual. I was heavily involved in officer training and the certification process when I was on active duty, and nobody became certified without understanding the spirit of those words.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:38 AM
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I was boarded one morning after dropping my brother in law at the Vineyard. It was early May and I said to my bil as we passed a Coast Guard vessel that I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a safety check on my way back. Sure enough as I exited the harbor the CG vessel approached. They were very nice guys and professional. All was in order and we were done in ten minutes.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:39 AM
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"Without reaching for it, do you have any guns on-board?" - Young CG woman from Sandy Hook NJ station conducting an inspection on my boat.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:42 AM
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Originally Posted by fishinmaniac View Post
All you 4th amendment cheerleaders, when is the last time you had a coastie tear through your boat searching it unreasonably? It's never happened to me and I'm on the water quite a bit.

At most they pull up some fellas or lady hops on, they check paperwork look at safety gear and they are out. I've had them ask to check out the fish or turn scuba cylinders upside down and open valves which seems a little much but I get it. All of the ones I've dealt with were doing their jobs, never seemed like they were over reaching or being jerks about anything.
Any search is unreasonable without probable cause, IMO, and just being on the water shouldn't be probable cause.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:43 AM
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Originally Posted by lyman24 View Post
Its a weekly occurrence in Port Canaveral. If it isn't the Coasties its FWC.
How frequently does the Coast Guard come on your boat?
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:48 AM
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Originally Posted by USCG Safe Boating D8 View Post
I knew this was coming, and I certainly understand the sentiment. Technically a Coast Guard boarding is not a search. It's an inspection, not unlike the inspections that truckers go through at interstate inspection stations. If the Coast Guard is going to conduct a search once aboard your vessel, then search law and 4th amendment protections apply.
You're just doing your job, but those are the semantics that courts have allowed so that this stuff can happen.

Its always funny to me how people get so worked up about the 2nd amendment but don't give a hoot about the rest of the Bill of Rights, specifically the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th
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