BoatUS Special Report


Boating Industry Helped By Law Enforcement Purchases

By Chris Landers
Published: February/March 2013

In a slowly recovering boating market, law enforcement and security small craft are strong sellers.

To Board Or Not To Board, Is That The Question?

With so many different law-enforcement agencies having enforcement boats on waters with shared jurisdictions, it can be hard to figure out who can and can't board your boat. From the Federal standpoint, "the U.S. Coast Guard has the broadest maritime authority in the country," said Vann Burgess, Senior Recreational Boating Safety Specialist for the U.S. Coast Guard. "A Coast Guard Boarding Officer has the authority to board any recreational vessel at most any time in order to enforce all applicable federal laws and regulations. The most important thing is to know where you are on the water so that you know who's authority your vessel may fall under," added Burgess.

If you think you may have been stopped and boarded by a state or local law enforcement agent who didn't have that authority, Burgess recommends allowing the boarding. "The place to fight what you believe to be an unlawful stop is in the courtroom, not on the water," said Burgess.

Many states have listened to increasing complaints from boaters, and passed or introduced "Probable Cause" or "Reason to Stop" legislation that would align boat stops and boardings with criteria similar to those for traffic stops. On Lake Erie, for example, reports from boaters about repeated stops and onerous boardings led Ohio State Representatives Rex Damschroder and Dennis Murray to introduce legislation to do just that. In early 2012, the Michigan Legislature passed a similar law.

"Keep in mind that federal authorities like the Coast Guard and Border Patrol can communicate with each other," says BoatUS President Margaret Podlich. "However, most state and local law-enforcement marine patrols don't have systems to record and share with each other, or the federal authorities, which boats have already been stopped and boarded. If they did, it could cut down on redundant stops that boaters increasingly complain about."

Steps in the right direction are being made. The U.S. Coast Guard administers a program called the Vessel Identification System or VIS. States willing to transfer their boat-registration data to the federally run system can utilize VIS at no cost. While VIS offers states a comprehensive vessel database to help with identifying out-of-state boats, currently it's not designed to provide real-time reporting of boat stops and boardings. At press time, 20 states have signed on to the VIS program.End of story marker

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