Coast Guard Boardings and Your Fourth Amendment Rights, Part 4: Longer and Legaler

30 Jul


…continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The Coast Guard Boardings and Your 4th Amendment Rights posts have been spawning some lively discussion ever since I wrote them, nearly two years ago. Most recently I hear a Coast Guard Facebook page linked to the posts, so there’s been a renewed boost of comments from the Coast Guard side of things. Thanks to all who commented. I’ve been largely silent because I already had my say, but of course I’ve read what all of you had to say, most of which was constructive, and I investigated where I could.

Here I’ll revisit the topic, make some corrections and clarifications, and add what I’ve learned through relentless research of case law and law review articles, which contained many words I had to look up.

First of all, the point of the posts was not to criticize the Coast Guard, but to inform boaters and to question Title 14 section 89 of the United States Code (and associated laws, more on this later). Many boaters, at least many I’ve spoken with, simply aren’t aware that they can be boarded at any time. It’s safer for all involved if we’re informed and on the same sheet of music.

It’s hard to separate the message from the messengers, and I realize that my posts, from the title on, are guilty of this. The message is the law and the messengers are the US Coast Guard boarding parties. Don’t shoot the messengers! It’s not their doing, and as I’ll point out later, it appears that the Coast Guard’s policy is actually to be less intrusive than the law allows. Many commenters – former Coasties, Coast Guard wives, et al – pointed out the dedication and good intentions of Coast Guard personnel, which certainly isn’t in doubt. “We’re not the Gestapo, man,” was one comment. We know you’re not the Gestapo! The worry is that these laws give the authorities the right to behave like the Gestapo if they want to, and they might want to someday, and certain bad apples might want to behave that way right now, on my boat of all places.


Department of Corrections

I said, “By the way, the average Coast Guard vessel has advanced optical equipment and digital cameras: When you can barely make out individuals aboard their cutter, they’re reading the numbers off your iPhone.”

This was obviously an exaggeration, and perhaps a bad choice of words. I know they can’t actually read the numbers off your iPhone, but I also know that powerful optical equipment, digital cameras with extreme telephoto lenses and image stabilization, and night vision scopes have become fairly cheap, and are common equipment for all law enforcement these days. Every day I look at a photo of a certain vessel that was taken from a Coast Guard cutter on the open sea, at a distance of one mile. You can’t read numbers off an iPhone, but you can see the expressions on people’s faces (worried).

I also said, “They can look through your bedsheets, in your lockers, in your bilges, in your jewelry box, or in your pockets,” and many took issue with this, saying the Coast Guard boarding parties can’t or don’t do this.

The short answer is that under the law they can, but most of the time they don’t…but there are exceptions.

Coast Guard officers are also Customs officers, so in addition to the grant of authority they have under Title 14 Section 89, they also have full powers under Title 19 Section 1581:

“Any officer of the customs may at any time go on board of any vessel of vehicle at any place in the United States or within the customs water of, as he may be authorized, within a customs-enforcement area established under the Anti-Smuggling Act, or at any other authorized place, without as well as within his district, and examine the manifest and other documents and papers and examine, inspect and search the vessel or vehicle and every part thereof and any person, trunk, package, or cargo on board, and to this end may hail and stop such vessel or vehicle, and use all necessary force to compel compliance.”

Did you get that part?: “…examine, inspect and search the vessel or vehicle and every part therof and any person, trunk , package, or cargo on board…” (My italics added).

They also have the full authority of Fisheries officers, Immigration officers, et al, but I think we’ve clearly established that Coast Guarding boarding parties have “one of the most sweeping grants of police authority ever written into US law,” and we don’t need to belabor the point further.


Coast Guard commenters (by which I mean mostly former Coast Guard officers) said that spaces with a “reasonable expectation of privacy” are not searched without probable cause or a warrant, and they said this is the directive from the Commandant. I haven’t seen the directive, which is an internal Coast Guard document and not public, and I probably won’t see it unless somebody wants to be Edward Snowden (ha ha). But I’ve heard about it enough times that I believe it exists, and I applaud the Commandant for respecting our privacy and scaling back from what the law might allow.

Also, several said, essentially, please don’t give us any reason to go beyond a routine search (Hide the weed, people!) because we don’t want to get into your personal spaces. I also applaud this attitude, but unfortunately it’s not the attitude or the Coast Guard policy in question here, but the boundless search and seizure powers they have under current laws, which contradict our Fourth Amendment protections and subject law abiding seafarers to unreasonable searches.

And this reasonable expectation of privacy is sort of moot on a small boat. On a big freighter the boarding team might search the bridge, decks, etc., and check documents and safety gear, but treat staterooms and offices as private. On a small boat like mine everything’s in plain view right from the get-go: The moment the boarding party steps into the cockpit they’ve got a clear view to where we sleep, where we eat and prepare our meals, my wife’s clothes, and our kid’s dirty diapers. If they check the Y-valve on our toilet, then they’re in our bathroom, the holiest of holies. I suppose I could close the hatches and companionway doors before my next boarding, but I’m guessing this would look suspicious and be grounds for further investigation.

As to the exceptions to respecting personal spaces within the context of Coast Guard policy, my guess is that the main exception is if they’ve received a tip. Once on our family boat we were boarded a mile or two off the backside of Catalina Island. It was just my dad, a friend, and me, and we certainly weren’t doing anything suspicious, but the boarding party looked in drawers and searched our bags, definitely places with a reasonable expectation of privacy. My guess is that they’d received a tip that there was going to be a drug rendezvous on the backside of Catalina, and were shaking down the vessels in the area. If the police received a tip about such activity on land they’d have to convince a judge that the tip was valid enough to issue a search warrant. We’ll never know what happened on the backside of Catalina, and we got the ubiquitous “I’m not at liberty to say,” when we asked.

Coast Guard commenters said that boardings are limited to safety inspections – that’s it – and they won’t do anything but check for safety gear unless indicated otherwise. This is probably the case much of the time, but in the Coast Guard’s own words, “Of particular interest are laws dealing with the 200-mile Fishery Conservation Zone, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, and safety and water pollution.” My boarding a few months ago was strictly an anti-terrorist sweep, and they didn’t do any safety check whatsoever. And of course they’re always interested in your level of sobriety.

Several pointed out that the Coasties don’t like these boardings either, that most of them dread boarding private boats because it’s uncomfortable to intrude on people’s day, and boarding strange vessels is fraught with uncertainty and risk. They don’t like it. We don’t like it. Nobody likes it. We can all agree on that, but what good comes from it?

I still maintain that 90% of what is accomplished through surprise boardings could be accomplished without trammeling our 4th Amendment rights. The other 10%, the surprise safety inspection part, would have to be covered somewhere else, like a scheduled inspection, or my preference, personal responsibility. There is no doubt that these surprise inspections, or the potential for these inspections, keep boaters safer, and reduce the number of distress calls to some extent. To what extent, we don’t know. Some boaters have never been boarded their entire lives, while I’ve been boarded seven or eight times over the years. It’s hard to say what the effects of such random, willy-nilly searches are on the public, much of whom isn’t even aware they can be boarded in the first place.

What is the most dangerous place in America, the place where you are most likely to die from an accidental death? Okay, it’s your car, but second to your car it’s your home, and within your home it’s your bathroom. Many thousands of deaths could be averted by surprise inspections of our homes for proper and up-to-date smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors, safe wiring, adequate railings, grab bars in showers, tripping hazards, etc., but we place a value on privacy in our homes, especially in our bathrooms.

This is something that we’ll never all agree on. Some people believe in safety at all costs; others, like one of the commenters, say “I’ll take my dangerous freedom over your safe slavery any day.”


Now, on to the case law that has brought us to this state of affairs. If, from our courts, you’re hoping for a careful analysis of constitutional law and an even-handed balancing of our freedoms versus the public good, get ready to be disappointed. Some of the comments on these posts could be swapped for the courts’ opinions and nobody would know the difference. The legal opinions are just that, opinions, and don’t seem to be anchored in any cost-benefit analysis. And to establish case law you must have a case, and to have a case you must be a drug smuggler or rum runner (for the case law established during Prohibition).


The law review papers all have pithy titles like “Smugglers Blues or Boater’s Nightmare?,” “Constitutional Barriers to Smooth Sailing,” “Reasonableness Gone Overboard,” and “At Sea with the Fourth Amendment” and they all seem to love the quote about the shield against unreasonable searches not rusting on exposure to salt air, which is attributable to Judge Alvin Benjamin Rubin in his concurring opinion on United States v. Williams (1980). There doesn’t seem to be a single law scholar who supports suspicionless searches. My favorite law scholar, Megan Jaye Kight, even adds in a footnote, “I wish to express my appreciation to the United States Coast Guard for stopping me and my family in the middle of the night in order to search our vessel and sparking my interest in the subject of this Note.”

The Coast Guard says, “The courts have consistently upheld this authority,” but that’s not quite true. (I said it too, in Part 3…oops.) There has been a lot of flip-flopping over the years, and the courts have often found in favor of a defendant on constitutional grounds (the Fourth Amendment litmus test of reasonableness) but again, we’re just dealing with drug smugglers and not the rest of us.

Image Courtesy of US Coast Guard

It troubles me that the constitutional freedoms of 75 million American boaters, and the day-to-day job requirements of innumerable Coasties, are being decided by a small handful of criminals and judges, most of whom probably aren’t seafarers of any flavor. Whether the boardings are a good idea in general has never been the question: The question is always limited to whether the evidence is admissible in a particular bust. Why and how this translates into nationwide policy seems strange and a bit, well, crazy. And supposedly “no act of Congress can authorize a violation of the Constitution,” but here these laws are, in the Federal Code.

In United States v. Villamonte-Marquez a Coast Guard search uncovered 5800 pounds of marijuana on the 40-foot sailboat Henry Morgan II. The defendants’ motion to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment was denied at trial. The decision was reversed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which allowed the motion to suppress, but then the Supreme Court overturned this and the defendants were convicted of too many crimes to list. This happened in Louisiana in 1981.

In United States v. Piner a Coast Guard boarding party found 4000 pounds of marijuana aboard the 43-foot sailboat Delphine. The 9th Circuit Court upheld the defendants’ motion to suppress the evidence under the 4th Amendment, as did district court before that, and the defendants went free. This happened on San Francisco Bay in 1978.

First lesson, if you’re going to get caught with thousands of pounds of pot on your sailboat, do it in San Francisco where you fall under those free-wheeling hippies on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Those 5th Circuit Court of Appeals guys are hangin’ judges! The Circuit Courts of Appeals are regional (The 9th Circuit covers the nine Western states) and they are the second-highest courts in the land, second only to the United States Supreme Court. Usually the buck stops at the Circuit Courts of Appeals, as the US Supreme Court selects only about 100 cases per year to review.

The Piner decision mainly dealt with whether a boarding was more intrusive at night than in the day, which seems like a red herring. Later decisions reversed this, and nighttime boardings are now treated just the same as daytime boardings. But the Piner court opined (per Greg Shelton) that “the law enforcement stop is a “subjective intrusion” that results in a “particularly unsettling effect upon the ordinary person.”

Much of the legal discussion hinges on Delaware v. Prouse, which held that the random stop of an automobile by state police for a driver’s license and registration check was an unreasonable intrusion on the automobile traveler, and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment. Prouse established that police may only stop a motorist if they have “an articulable and reasonable suspicion” that the motorist is in violation of the law.

Comparing Piner to Prouse, the Piner court reasoned: “If the stop of an automobile upon a public highway by an identifiable police car is felt to create such subjective intrusion as to require the use of potentially less intrusive alternatives, surely the stop of an isolated boat after dark, followed by a physical intrusion upon the boat itself, would have an unsettling effect immeasurably greater, placing a far greater demand upon the government to come forward with balancing factors.”

At least somebody’s taking into consideration the “particularly unsettling effects” of surprise searches by armed men.

Back to United States v. Villamonte-Marquez, an often-cited watershed case. In his excellent paper in the St. Johns Law Review, Searching the Parameters of the Fourth Amendment Requirement-Reasonableness Gone Overboard: United States v. Villamonte-Marquez, Lawrence A. Levy provides a complete analysis. Keep in mind that throughout these analyses the terms Coast Guard officer and Customs officer are interchangeable:

“The circuit courts have upheld warrantless boardings that fell within two categories: (1) a border search at the functional equivalent of the border if the officers are reasonably certain that the vessel crossed the border; and (2) an investigatory stop if the customs officers have a reasonable suspicion that there is unlawful activity aboard the vessel. These criteria are not mutually exclusive and the Court could have adopted both, thus affording the necessary protection to fourth amendment rights. Instead, the Court held that the exercise of unlimited authority pursuant to the plain language of the statute was acceptable under the fourth amendment. Creating an exception to the warrant requirement permits customs officers unlimited discretion to stop and board any vessel they choose. The Court may have overlooked the dangers of improper use of such authority as a device to circumvent the protections of the Constitution. Under the facade of a section1581(a) documentation check, overzealous customs officers may board vessels indiscriminately with vague hopes of obtaining evidence of such serious violations as smuggling. Never before has the Court permitted law enforcement officials such unlimited discretion to conduct “fishing expeditions.” Indeed, Villamonte-Marquez represents yet another extension of the recent trend of Burger Court decisions weakening the fourth amendment.”

Levy goes on to say, “As the dissent (in Villamonte-Marquez) observed, a vessel commonly serves as a dwelling for its occupants. Therefore, if a distinction is to be made between automobiles and vessels, it should be recognized that the occupants of a vessel have a greater expectation of privacy than those of an automobile. Although this expectation of privacy must be balanced against the Federal Government’s interest in enforcing the smuggling and vessel documentation laws, it is suggested that the Government’s interest in recreational vessels is less compelling than its interest in commercial vessels. It is further suggested that the correct balancing of interests mandate that the standards employed for the stopping and boarding of pleasure vessels at least be set at the level of those governing automobile stops.”

Judge Anthony Kennedy dissented in Piner: “Vessels are not entitled to the same Fourth Amendment protections as their landlocked counterparts.” It was a dissenting opinion (he lost) but there it is in black and white from a current Supreme Court Justice.

Another watershed case was United States v. Williams, about which Levy says:

United States v. Williams (5th Cir. 1977) involved the boarding of houseboat by customs agents pursuant to section 1581(a). The court held that customs enforcement applied only to vessels which normally carried cargo or persons subject to the customs laws. Indeed, the customs laws maintain a distinction between recreational and commercial vessels. For example, American vessels arriving from a foreign port or place and all foreign vessels are required to make entry at the appropriate customhouse. However, “licensed yachts or un-documented American pleasure vessels not engaged in trade nor in any way violating the customs or navigation laws of the United States” are not required to make entry at the customhouse. Nevertheless, though not required to make entry at the customhouse, pleasure boats now are subject to random boardings by customs officers. With respect to the Federal Government’s interest in assuring compliance with the federal documentation laws, it should be noted that the federal documentation law for pleasure vessels is optional.”

Levy, continued:

“Today, recreational vessels are the predominant type of boat on the water. When the Legislature enacted section 31 (the predecessor to 14, 89) it could not have envisioned the nature and extent of recreational boating as it is engaged in today; nor would the random search of pleasure crafts have been consistent with the commercial orientation of the statute. Therefore, the historical pedigree of section 1581(a) should extend, at most, only to commercial vessels.”

I pointed this out in Part 3, that the original intent of the Revenue Service Act of 1790 was to collect tariffs from cargo ships, but this argument hasn’t seen the light of day in court since Prohibition. Fish v. Brophy (1931) was illustrative:

Per Levy, “Fish involved the boarding of the plaintiff’s pleasure boat in New York Bay, and a subsequent warrantless search of the vessel. The court held that section 581 of the Tariff Act of 1922 (current version at 19 U.S.C. § 1581(a) (1982) did not apply to pleasure boats. The district court reasoned that manifests were required only in the case of vessels carrying cargo from foreign ports. In addition, the court believed that the Legislature could not have intended to place pleasure boats in the same category as commercial vessels. Two years later, in Olsen v. United States, (2d Cir.1933), the Second Circuit held that the statute applied to pleasure boats as well as to commercial vessels. Although the court acknowledged that pleasure boats were treated as a distinct class under federal law, it held that federal regulation of such vessels mandated that they be subject to examination under section 581. It should be noted, however, that the court’s holding did not address the intent of Congress in enacting the statute.”

Levy concludes, “By subjecting the fundamental rights of boaters to the unlimited discretion of customs officers, the Court has eviscerated the fourth amendment, not only as it applies in the maritime setting, but with respect to inland waters as well.”

It’s hard to say, historically, how this has played out. Most of it was before my time, but several of the law scholars cite increased intensity during Prohibition, and from the start of the War on Drugs:

“The Coast Guard’s emphasis on law enforcement changed dramatically after the end of Prohibition. The onset of World War II, the postwar emergence of the United States as an economic power with increased marine commerce, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam all forced the Coast Guard to focus on missions other than law enforcement until well into the 1970s.”

“The struggle to keep drugs from our streets and homes has fostered a judicial tolerance for the exercise of Coast Guard authority that hardly qualifies as Fourth Amendment analysis. Indeed, the trend in court cases analyzing Coast Guard boardings demonstrates that deference has increased over time. This trend stands in stark contrast to the increase in restrictions upon land-based enforcement methods in this century.” (Greg Shelton, 1993)

I have no personal sense for this, as the War On Drugs has been hot my entire life.


Again, those issues, the case law, and national policy comes from the legal wranglings of a few smugglers. As for the rest of us law-abiding seafarers, I think Shawn Hall’s story, posted as a comment, is representative of the intrusion, inconvenience, and even danger we face with these boardings, no mater how polite and routine they may be:

“Actually, from what I have seen they are boarding to see if someone is drunk or check for drugs. Honestly they endangered my whole family recently. They did it respectfully but it was a waste of time.

They pulled us over nearing dusk, I had 4 miles to go, easy 2 foot waves and sunlight. My father was driving and had had 2 glasses of wine approximately 4 hours beforehand, he is over 60 and not an often drinker.

They were very polite, asked us for all of our paperwork, checked our toilet Y valve? and everything else on the check list of safety. While of course they made a point to look in our bathroom, in our cabin, and in the engine compartment (Checking that Y Valve, or looking for drugs more likely). They then gave my father a sobriety test that took forever, then breathalyzed him, he was well under the legal limit. They also gave me the sobriety test ( I literally asked for one out of curiousity, I could not do tip to tip finger to nose perfectly, that is harder than it looks) They breathalyzed me 0.000.

It was a respectful event but it took over an hour long. The problem being that by this time dusk was to full dark and the cooling of the evening started kicking up the sea (Lake Erie goes from calm to dangerous in a blink) We can of course navigate at night but it is always easier and safer to enter harbor and dock with the sun.

The reality is that they were looking for drugs, looking for someone over the legal limit, looking for anything they could arrest someone for.

So yes, nothing bad happened to us, but I was severely inconvenienced, my family put in danger, and for what purpose? We were on a motor boat, under way, 4 miles from shore in calm waters, lights were on and visible.

Engine runs good and clean. Numbers on side of the boat are professionally done, registration is up to date.

So, how is this helping us? How is this about safety? It is true that if you haven’t done anything wrong, being stopped won’t get you arrested, but what does that matter, why is that any better? What if I just came into your home, asked you questions (you have to answer) very politely of course, but you have to answer me, you have to be polite to me, you have to let me look through all your things.

I walk upstairs in your home go through your wife’s underwear drawer. You pay taxes, you haven’t done anything wrong, you just came home from work and were getting ready for dinner.

I now politely ask you some more questions, I rummage through your bathroom, your dinner is getting cold.

An hour later I say you’re good to go and I politely leave.

Are you okay with this? Why are you more okay if it is a police officer, a DNR agent, or the Coast Guard?”

Since we recreational boaters use our boats in our leisure time, delays like Shawn’s aren’t often the focus of complaints. If we were were using our boats to get to work or go to appointments these twenty minute to one hour delays would wreak havoc with our schedules and cost us money.

For the foreseeable future, Coast Guard boarding parties will remain “America’s supercops.” It is a great power, and a great responsibility. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely, but incidents of abuse of this power are rare but present. Coast Guard personnel are well-trained, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how little abuse there is. If what’s been said is true, I encourage the Coast Guard to continue to undershoot the scope of what they can do under Title 14 section 89 and associated laws, and respect citizens’ privacy wherever possible. Meanwhile, we’ll hope the law is overturned on constitutional grounds, or by an Act of Congress.

This article was syndicated from The Adventures of the Vessel Condesa


  1. Joey B.

    “We’re not the Gestapo”??? We just follow the rules, we just take orders. That’s what Goering, Hess, Hoess, and the others said at Nuremberg. “We were only following orders”!!!!!

  2. Robert

    Interesting read. You did make one mistake though. You stated at one point

    “our homes and cars aren’t subject to regular safety inspections, planned or unplanned.”

    Actually, many states have annual or semi-annual vehicle safety inspections. Even the states that don’t, almost always have smog certification tests in metro areas.

  3. dave

    I’m tired of being lectured about my safety. I do not consent to outsourcing any aspect of my personal safety or other person responsibilities to anyone else, and that goes double for the organized crime syndicate known as big government. And yes, government and their armed forces are a racket. Just go read Smedley Butler’s informed views on this matter. People laugh at the coast guard, mocking them for not being a real military service. But that might be their biggest point of appeal because Butler says the real armed forces are a racket.

    But back to the “we are here to keep you safe regardless of how you feel about it” line that so many sheeple seem to take. I do not need anyone’s help operating my boat. Ever. If comes a day when I will die without help of the coast guard, let that be the day of my death because the price I have to pay – living with tyranny – is not worth the benefit.

    So STOP lecturing me about my safety because I do not feel safe when armed children posing as a military force board my pitching and rolling boat. Nobody feels safe when the other guy has a gun and you do not. Have government employees every killed anyone on purpose or by mistake? YES. All the time.

    I do not trust government. I think big government is corrupt to the core and the recent events under the Trump presidency show that the FBI, DOJ and CIA are all dirty. I do not think any government entity has ANY moral authority and the only father I have is in Heaven and so I do not need an overlord human daddy on this planet. I do not want to pay their salaries or their pensions. I do not want any part of them. I just want to live peacefully and legally.

    NOW THEN, if they observe me breaking the laws then YES, come board me with righteous authority. But for random suspicious-less searches, especially in the middle of the night at dock when they know you are sleeping, they really deserve to be met with the same deadly force that they are prepared to dish out. Of course none of this matters because might makes right, always has, always will.

  4. Jim Divan

    Not sure if previously mentioned but State and Local Marine law enforcement vessels gain these super search powers when a USCG boarding Officer is on board their vessel and flying the USCG ensign (same for customs agent).

  5. Jason

    The irony: all of the sailors and boaters I know count the freedom on the water as the main draw.

  6. Ian

    Can I make a suggestion? Start a Liveaboard Sailors’ Legal Defense Fund, to help with legal costs of innocent sailors whose homes have been invaded without cause by the Coast Guard. Set up a web site, post news and testimonials, buy ads in all the boat magazines. If we get everyone donating some of their time and money, maybe we can make a real difference. I’ll be the first to contribute, and I’d volunteer some of my time for things like web site management or ad design.

  7. Stephen Sidaras

    Hello All,

    What are the rules on video?

    Does our constitutional law allow the boat owner to video the process above and below decks?



  8. Dom

    If there is a real threat of the fourth amendment rights within a legal search why can’t you go after the individual who broke his oak and did not “bear true faith and allegiance to the same” (the constitution)? Isn’t he solely liable for his inappropriate as defined by the constitution which he swore to uphold?

  9. Jim Grever

    Better than filing suit is to work the system the government has set up.Always file a federal tort claim for any damage, no matter how slight that occurs during a boarding (you could even file for the cost of fuel while you idled). Gum up the system. Make needless boardings as inconvenient for the government as for us. As for the form at the end of the boarding. They are supposed to have federal tort claims forms with them.

  10. Clark Beek

    Hi Dennis, That’s an excellent question, and I have no idea. In Sausalito, CA there is a virtual sea of such houseboats, which sell at about 3/4 the price of a nearby home on land. I wonder if the CG ever boards them? Then the flip side, could the occupant of such a houseboat deny entry to local police, saying that only the CG can board a “vessel.” Then again, local authorities would likely have probably cause or a warrant.


    Thank you for an insightful series of articles. I am curious though. You made a distinction between commercial and recreational boating. There is however another classification that may prove useful in this argument. Living aboard a boat is no longer recreational. It has become a necessary option to many people. They simply have no place else to go. When their boat is in transit close to a border I can understand why the Coast Guard needs access. However these same people whether in a slip, moored or at anchor are simply living in their home.

    Putting aside for a moment, that the Coast Guard is in direct violation of their oath when boarding a non-commercial boat, that the legislature is making laws in direct violation of their constitutional mandate, that judges are upholding laws that they know to be a violation of the Bill of Rights; there is nothing more sacred to a citizen than the sanctity and security of their home – no matter the uniform or office of the invader.

  12. matt

    I live in Alaska and am boarded often… several times a year on average. They provide important services to Alaskans and I guess I would rather have them here than not. The coasties I have know have all been good people. I just think that it would be nice if a bunch of militarized young adults didn’t also have unlimited and unrestrained police powers and scare my wife and kids every 3rd fishing trip. Reading the 4th amendment it seems like they are in clear violation.

  13. Andrew

    I spent 7 years in the Coast Guard and recently separated in the late part of 2016. I was a BM2 and I have probably led 100 or so boardings in that time. I hated every single one of them. I agree wholly with this article. The law must be changed. While on active duty i spoke out regularly on the constitutionality of what we were doing. I got either one of two responses. Either my shipmates didn’t care about the fourth amendment and wanted to bust as many people as possible or they were sympathetic and genuinely there for safety concerns. Either way we had way to much authority than we needed to get the job done. If this was really about “safety” we wouldn’t be looking in peoples bilges and boarding at night with no lights and full auto assault rifles.

  14. Dave Nelson

    This has indeed been a very enlightening article. I have been involved in boarding and training with the USCG. I fully agree that our 4th amendment is being trampled. Reguardles of all the good reasons and intentions it is wrong to violate any constitutional right.
    Another questionable practice by USCG boarding parties involves our 2nd amendment rights. When boardings are made and leagaly owned Firearms are discovered on board the USCG policy is to record serial numbers latitude and longitude of vessel owner of the vessel and owner of the Firearms. This is in my opinion compulsory Firearms registration. Of course if you are above the Mason Dixon Line or in the people’s rebublic of California you are already subjected to unconstitutional gun laws.
    On the subject of USCGAux boating safety stickers preventing boardings they do no good at all. As the author said the visual aids on the USCG vessels are so good that you are actually picked out by the old “eney meney miney mo”method at some distance without any reguard to safety stickers. Cheers🇺🇸

  15. SalorJim

    Terrible comment. If you are actually convinced it’s not the coastguard, and you cooperate and don’t immediately take all defensive measures you have at your disposal, you deserve to die. Starting with, throttling up and making an emergency call.

    The old, better off cooperating with a malicious vessel argument (seems like what you’re stating) is some of the worst advice that kills people every year. It’s literally worse than telling a female person to cooperate with a kidnapper when statistically, the likelihood she’ll end up raped and dead goes up astronomically the moment you fully surrender. You need to be nearly suicidal in your response. You can find many first-hand accounts of people throttling up, swerving, firing flares or weapons, running lines to tangle props etc. etc. and even ramming their boat into a pirate skiff and surviving the incident. And, just as many incidents where a survivor is mutilated, raped, or loved ones killed and situations of course where no one survived after full cooperation and relying on hope that they are good people. Once you’re convinced it isn’t the coasties, cooperation is stupid and BTW – my USCG buddies will back me up on that statement! Just like most cops, they are the good guys and want you to be as safe as possible.

    Any vessel (coast guard or otherwise) not identifying itself and having clearly no identifying markings and tailing you or otherwise harassing your vessel can expect escalating responses at a certain point. You have to decide what that point is… and I see no one responding with a situation where that point was met and it turned out to be coast guard. Seems like mostly a dumb thing to worry about. I agree that they have too much invasive legal power. But at the same point, I have lots of friends who are coast guard work various jobs from harbor patrol to the NSA. They are your typical amazing folks working to protect you and our freedom.

  16. Clark Beek

    Hi Jim, I’ve heard that about commercial trucking. That jibes with the original creation of the Revenue Cutter Service, which was commercial in nature. A lot of the legal opinions about Coast Guard boardings say that because the statute was originally commercial in nature it shouldn’t apply to recreational vessels. On land they can search a commercial truck, but not your motorhome. At sea there’s no differentiation.

  17. Jim

    The 4th amendment rights don’t apply if you are a CDL truck driver. The weigh cops can pull you over anytime with no probable cause. For all the same reasons as the above article. I have had both of these things happen to me, and trust me the USCG was FAR more professional and polite.

  18. Bruce

    Sailor-Jim’s suggestion to shoot a flare at an approaching vessel, regardless of whether or not it is a Coast Guard vessel, seems like it could be interpreted as life threatening and be sufficient cause for the return of live fire especially by the Coast Guard. I can see using a spot light, but would not shoot off a flare.

  19. SalorJim

    Approaching at night, ignoring radio, not identifying your vessel and getting close enough to board? I’d light it up like it was daylight – no law against that which I’m aware of. I’ve been on a fishing charter where the skipper lit up a USCG vessel that had been tailing us for 45 minutes in rough weather. They didn’t seem to care and it was nice to know they were CG. I think they were just watching me barf over the back of the boat. Fine with me… if I fell over at least someone was back there to get me.

    Worst case, if you were really concerned that it wasn’t CG and the vessel had malicious intent, fire a flare at it (right at it). If that doesn’t get some coastie skipper riled up in a fun way, I don’t know what would. Just remember, your defense for your day in court – the vessel was headed right for you and wouldn’t give way, and you were afraid of a collision or thought they didn’t see you.

  20. Ray

    “What if I just came into your home, asked you questions (you have to answer)”

    Who says you have to answer? The fifth amendment still applies, and you don’t have to say a damned thing, except maybe “I want my lawyer”. By saying “lawyer” you can in no way be construed as interfering with an investigation. On the contrary, “lawyer” affords you maximum constitutional protection. You should have a look at this video, and then reach out to its author for more commentary. Part 5, here we come:

    Now you said it yourself – at what point does an hours-long detention become unreasonable? This, IMO (I’m not a lawyer btw) is the key question, as so many supreme court decisions have hinged on whether cops acted reasonably in detaining someone for 10, 20, 45 minutes, etc. while waiting on police K-9 units, breathalyzers, and other investigative tools. But one thing’s for sure, if you say “lawyer” and refuse to talk, the clock is very much ticking, because you’re not having a voluntary conversation. Everything in the last case you cited, with the dueling breathalizers, hinges on the subjects of the investigation singing like a canary.

    One more thing: if you make one wrong move and/or piss these people off, they can detain you for up to 19 days without a charge. This was determined recently by the supreme court, and although I can’t find a direct citation, consider what happened to the guy in the following article:

    19 days in custody, he was never charged/arraigned that we can tell, and it’s clear the agents threw him in the slammer just to mess with him. Reading through the whole thing, his refusal to cooperate (to move his truck to a secondary area) is clearly the basis for this. If he’d complied, stated his opinion that he believed the order to be unlawful, and asked for his attorney, he might not have been jailed. But overall, this highlights another area where we’re clearly lost our rights (to a speedy trial, among others): the federal govt is allowed to jail you without charges for 19 days. In most states, it’s 48 hours. If we’re guaranteed a speedy trial, it should be closer to the latter and not the former.

  21. Clark Beek

    Hi Janis, That sounds like a very distressing experience. There are lots of similar accounts in the comments on these posts, that while polite and routine, the boarding led to a dangerous delay, approach of bad weather, etc. Sorry it’s put you off on cruising.

  22. Clark Beek

    Yeah, that goes for all of us. That business of running at night with no lights and not answering radio calls seems like bad practice, that might lead to a mishap at some point.

  23. Douglas Molina

    I like the Coast Guard. However, I don’t like bureaucrats with badges and weapons trying to collect revenue or fill a quota. I would help them anyway I can, but they should profile. Before you explode I’m not even American born. Relax. Sometimes it gets ridiculous like when at airports they search a blond blue eyes cross wearing American grandmother while ignoring a burkah wearing Man/woman. Who knows what it is? A little common sense will go a long way.

  24. Janis

    It was really a bad experience for us a few weeks ago. The middle of the Mona passage in 7-9′ swells. We are seniors in an older sailing vessel. We both became seasick due to going below digging around in the heat and swells for the paperwork. No one was rude. It took at least an hour, for their dispatch, boarding and inspection.
    Another occassion was crossing the Gulf Stream. Also, We were boarded at 3:00 am when at anchor in the Bahamas…took an hour and was very scary. Three times in three years. I am no longer interested in cruising because of these three events. I become so anxious and frightened and the anxiety lasts for weeks. I don’t like feeling defenseless at sea. It may not be rational anxiety but it is real. Yes, it is training, and yes the USCG is good, but it is creepy since you don’t believe you did anything wrong. Same thing with the TSA….creepy shakedowns. The only thing I have to hide is my anger and anxiety. Not going to be able to live under those terms, it seems invasive and wrong…cruising is over for me.

  25. Snowyegret

    My issue is knowing when it is really the Coast Guard especially being approached at night. Being a woman sailor, approached by an unlit boat, full of strange men, armed to the teeth is more than unnerving. How do I know they are really Coast Guard? I’m not waiting until they are boarded and who knows what happens.

  26. Donald Griffin

    The USCG like local law enforcement risk their lives daily to protect and serve, they are welcome in my home or ship 24-7 as I have nothing to hide. The USCG are my brethern, If they are hungry I will feed them, tired I will shelter them, hurt I will render aid and if under attack I will defend them. They deserve nothing less than they give 110%!

  27. Binderedondat

    The border search is the key to any challenge. Two Hundred years ago, the Automated Information System, Long Range Identification system, heck, even radio telephones didn’t exist. With the technology currently available, is it really necessary to conduct boardings at sea to determine a vessels’ status? Also, the idea that Coasties get valuable training or practice by boarding recreational vessels is laughable – would be like the AIr Force training by bombing houses in the ‘burbs of Cinncinati.

  28. "Lima Charlie"

    As an Oath taking USN defender of the Constitution myself (to the death is implied) it is highly troubling to me that boaters have essentially no 4A rights. I see tea partiers and libertarians galore with 2nd Amendment shirts and bumper stickers, but have yet to see ANYONE with a 4A t shirt and i used to hang out on the National Mall a lot. Where is the outrage? 2A has ironically become detrimental to the cause because it has completely drowned out every other Constitutional issue and hijacked the larger narrative. Same with the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer and millions of idiots who dumped ice on themselves but donated zero. What about all the other cancers and non cancer diseases/what about all the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights like 4A? Servicemembers defend ALL of them for the whole nation and dont cherry pick Amendments or states. Issues like the USCG 4A exemption are insidious. If the conservative/tea party/libertarians wanted to support the troops in a meaningful way, they could start a 4A movement with the same vigor as they dedicate for 2A and same publicity as pink ribbon or ice bucket. But why stop there, the WHOLE Bill of Rights is most under threat not from a foreign enemy and not from an oppressive government, but by legislative erosion and questionable judicial outcomes. Edward Snowden has exposed the objective truth (albeit in an illegal manner). Servicemembers are dying overseas to support and defend the Costitution as per the Oath and this glaring gap in our rights feels like a stab in the back to me, and probably others. It is especially ironic that the USCG Oath of Enlistment is the same as the rest, and they are THE law enforcement branch of the military but 4A doesnt apply to vessel searches. Honestly it puts them in more danger too by escalating the situation right off the bat. I know how important precedence is in case law. However lets face it, it is 2016 now and a 200 year old wrong doesnt make it right. Precedence has clearly not been followed consitently anyway. Both the USN and USCG have internal struggles we deal with because our histories are so long and traditions so deep, yet we want to be the most modern fighting forces possible. This anachronistic law has to go, just like “frocking” in the USN (getting paid many months after you have been promoted). Thank you Mr. Beek so much for bringing this issue to light and doing all the extensive research. Thank you to the commentors who shared their experiences in this forum and thank you USCG servicemembers who carry out your missions dutifully as per the laws currently on the books. Thanks to patient inconvenienced boaters who let green USCG personnel learn the ropes on your vessels. They had to start somewhere and better on yours than El Chapo’s. Our collective anger should really be focused at the El Chapos of the world because the USCG already has 10 other mandated mission areas to deal with, with only 40,000 active duty personnel and <$10 Billion budget.

  29. Real Class

    1st Comment is; “HOW do we KNOW it’s the “Real” Coast Guard instead of some Pirate Organization “Posing As” the Coast Guard? Especially IF we Just Allow them along side & to board? And possibly rob & steal Under the “Color of Law”? The law, as it’s been suggested, OPENS UP a Whole big bucket of dead stinky fish, “Promoting” Criminals (AT Will) to be Pirates of the Sea. With that being said, MAYBE it’s PAST Time for We the People to Mount our Own 50 cal Machine Guns on board with Remote control, Our Grenade Launchers with Heat seeking abilities, carry a Stock Pile of Assault weapons with Plenty of Ammo & a “Visible” sign stating, Boarding is NOT permissible WITHOUT a warrant, Trespassers WILL BE shot on site & This IS Your ONLY Warning”, OR just get the names of EVERYONE on board the Coast Guard Vessel (because 2 or more constitutes Conspiracy), when weapons are pointed that constitutes Threat (Assault Charges), when one (who took the Oath) does Not Stop any &/or all the others from boarding then they’ve become “Responsible” for NOT Upholding their Oath (of the Constitution)-(That 4th Amendment & 1st Amendment) (Result: Possible deportation Under the Law) & just for Good Measure, throw in that $975,000,000.00 Inherited/handed down Great Grandmother ring, Rolex Watch (buy one, keep receipt & take it back), that Tiffany Necklace you got for your sweetie & come to think of it, where did those Expensive Designer Thongs go, that got stolen during the Warrant-less Search & Hold Each & Every One of them, “Personally” Accountable for their Actions. Whatcha Think?

  30. Clark Beek

    Hi Jess, We’ve heard similar commentary from many former coasties, and nobody doubts their dedication and service. The problem isn’t with the average coastie, nor with their training, or guidance from their commanders. Most boarding parties a very professional and polite, and abuse is rare. The problem is that the law allows these boardings in the first place, while everywhere else in civilian life in the US we are protected by the 4th Amendment. There’s really no logical reason for our boats to be any different, just that it’s been this way for over 200 years. Coast Guard boarding parties’ mission could still be carried out while respecting our constitutional rights: Drunk boaters, just like drunk drivers, tend to swerve and do erratic things. No swerving or erratic behavior, then no probable cause to board a boat for suspicion of drunk boating. Likewise with drug smuggling or anything else you mention. While you say your presence isn’t meant to be intimidating, you need to understand that it IS intimidating. I don’t think anyone ISN’T intimidate by a surprise boarding by armed men in boots, on a boat with M240 machine guns mounted bow and stern. A random boarding just isn’t a good use of Coast Guard resources, nor a reasonable treatment of citizens who are supposedly protected by the Constitution. And I’ll point out again, every Coastie takes an oath to defend the Constitution, yet violates the 4th Amendment every time they board a vessel without probable cause or a warrant from a judge.

  31. Jess

    Too many comments to read through…so sorry if I reiterate something else.

    Being a former Coastie myself and prior LE and boarding team trained, I’ve been on many boardings. I have worked on the Great Lakes where there was drug smuggling coming out of Canada in regular boats every single day. Yes, our main cause is to make sure of your safety, make sure you aren’t drinking, and make sure you are not smuggling drugs.

    In my time we caught mostly drunk boaters. Then we also caught a couple who had several warrants out for their arrest, who were on a stolen boat. That was from a routine boarding, I might add!

    We never went further than to do routine boardings, never went through underwear drawers or in personal areas. As we were instructed not to without probable cause.

    However, we were given a certain number or boardings to conduct each season. If boarding numbers were higher our search and rescue case missions numbers were down. If our boarding numbers were down then our search and rescue case numbers were up.

    Just the same as if you see a cop on the side of the road you tend to slow things down a bit.

    Our presence is not meant to be intimidating to others but to keep everyone safe! As our numbers showed us, if we are out there boarding others to keep them safe, everyone as a whole is safer in the area.

  32. Wayne D Coogan

    People refer to the USCG Seamen as “super-cops” or “good soldiers” just doing their job or what they are commanded to do. Whatever, Gestapo officers undertaking mass-murder of Jews could be described precisely the same way. The USCG officers are fascist tyrants violating our constitutional rights by their own free choice. They chose their occupation and they can choose not to follow the perverse commands. Even the judges who make decisions sanctioning this tyranny are guilty of violating your rights under the color of law (SCJ Kennedy).

  33. Joe Keck

    Excellent article and very well written.

    Your problem is, apparently you can’t see the solution. It’s simple, so simple that if it were just implemented, there would no discussion. Frankly, I’m amazed a person of your obvious wit and intelligence hasn’t deduced it.

    All we need to do is get rid of that out-dated, archaic, impediment to good, solid, smooth government oversight known as The Constitution. As the President has already told us, our sagacious-starved Framers didn’t think to have our Founding Documents tell us what the Government SHOULD do for us.

    I think it’s time we Fundamentally Change those silly, old-fashioned papers for a more Federal Friendly set. Take a few tips from those who know, say . . .1939 Germany, Mainland China, and our old friends, the former USSR. Then we can all rest a little easier.

    Don’t worry, we’ll get ther.

  34. Clark Beek

    Hi Foo, I agree with you. A lot of people seem very blase about this issue, and the various officials and organizations I’ve pinged all think it’s very bad timing to take this issue on, with various terrorist attacks around the world and the rise of ISIS.

  35. Foo

    So I guess a lot of people don’t care if the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are rescinded, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us too much and it’s “for our own safety”? What’s the matter with you all!

  36. Paul Bollinger

    Wouldn’t you know it. I had just returned from St. Michaels to Annapolis (25 miles) on one engine on my powerboat due to a loose alternator. Entering Annapolis harbor, which is generally very busy on weekends, I was doing fine until the USCG turned on its lights and hailed me to stop. Well, as I powered back on the one operable engine, my boat steered directly towards the USCG boat because I had been compensating with the rudder. This got the USCG a little excited (probably thought I had been drinking? Not, and never underway). To compound matters a summer squall was approaching quickly. I told the USCG that my boat slip was 200 yards away and I wanted to tie-up before the squall struck us. The USCG said, no we are boarding now. Once aboard, I told the Commanding Officer that I wanted to tie-up before the squall hit. I really wasn’t asking and he could tell I was serious about being safely at the dock for no other reason than to be safely tied-up, nothing nefarious. He said ok, and notified the USCG boat operator we were going to the slip. They patiently watched and waited as my wife and I docked and secured the boat to the t-head. I then said, let’s get on with the inspection. All was done well and professionally. He said my engine room was one of the cleanest he had seen. His only negative comment from a safety perspective, was that the throw cushion (PFD version) should not have been on the passenger’s side of the captain’s seat, but rather positioned in the aft cockpit near the stern of the boat. I guess there has to be something. That said, I have not problems with USCG boardings, if they are done well and in a timely manner. I also am appreciative of the fact that they recognized my concern about being securely tied-up before the squall hit. If they told me to turn off my engines, 200-yards from my slip, I may have notified them that I understood their instructions and was willing to accept immediate boarding, but I was going to secure my boat to the dock before the squall hit. Not sure what the outcome would have been in that situation? But, as captain (USCG Masters Sail/Power 50gt) of my vessel, I am responsible for the safety of my passengers and the boat. If the USCG had put me in a position of compromising this duty, I am sure the outcome would have provided more information for a future article on this subject.

  37. John Bonewell

    I think there is a good angle here on what was congresses intent for the Revenue act of 1790. The AHCA act was upheld not on the law but the intent of the law. As far as Mr.Winslow’s comment above on having a coast guard safety stiker on you boat. It did not stop the CG from boarding my boat for a safety check. They found nothing. Just a waste of tax payers dollars and my time. Who has the web sight to get this movement under power? Beleive it or not there are law abiding citizens out on the water.

  38. Glenn

    I suggest that if the Coast Guard wants to find illegal aliens the local Home Depot parking lot will be more fertile grounds.

    As for the war on drugs? Sorry we lost that a long time ago. Legalization and taxation are the future of drug control. It has worked well with tobacco and booze for hundreds of years

  39. William Winslow

    For any of you who have been boarded by the Coast Guard and challenged for not having Federally mandated safety equipment aboard, you can save that embarassment by taking a Vessel Safety Check. Offered by the CG Auxiliary, it is voluntary and free. If there is missing equipment there is no police reporting, and you will have the opportunity to replace missing equipment and receive a windshield sticker. Unfortunately, less than 10% of recreational boaters take advantage of this free service.

    William C. Winslow
    Staff Officer Public Affairs
    1SR, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

  40. Rich Jepsen

    Clark, great articles and so balanced and rational. I’ve always liked your writing. Having some exposure to this, I’ll offer my own voice. forgive any ‘additive’ reiterations.
    1. Coasties are not placed in positions for their seamanship so generally are not familiar with sailboats.
    2. Youngest Coasties get the crappy ‘vessel inspection’ work so that compounds the clumsiness.
    3. Yes, based on SF Bay experiences, Coasties use these as ‘practice’. they congregate in Raccoon Straits where it is easy to board and it is obvious they are training.
    4. Auxiliary stickers are supposed to be Kryptonite for suspicionless boardings.. I guess not…..
    5. I like the idea of a web campaign. there are several popular grassroots political movement websites where that might be effective.
    6. Finally, this is a legislative issue, not a Coast Guard issue, as you say. USCG isn’t responsible for this and they are good soldiers, doing what they are told to do.

  41. Clark Beek

    Hi Mike, I don’t believe the Auxiliary has any enforcement authority. They’re purely a volunteer safety and advisory organization.

  42. Clark Beek

    Hi Farmerjohn, Those are all great ideas. It’s just a matter of finding the time. I tried to email you separately, but it bounced. Did you leave a working email address? If not, please do!

  43. John

    Great article!

    -Start a website aimed at repealing the 200+ year old law that allows un-warranted boarding. The more people that know about this issue the better. Link it to all the boating websites.
    -Post a link to the website on craigslist boating sections all over the country. Tell boat owners to have their friends and family sign on and donate as well.
    -Perhaps try and get the Institute for Justice to help with the legal challenge.
    -Try a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to challenge the current laws.
    -Write your congressman/congresswoman and complain. If you’ve been boarded share your story with them. Explain to them that the CG is using a 200yr old law aimed at merchant vessels to now violate the 4th amendment rights of todays law abiding recreational boaters.

    I’d be more than happy to help spread the word on this issue, but there should be a website dedicated to repealing the old law that can direct people towards calling their state reps. and giving donations for the legal challenge.

  44. Brian

    I was just boarded yesterday and prior to boarding I protested
    Because there was not justifiable cause. I had crossed the sound to fill up in Falmouth Ma as the fuel is cheaper.
    As I was coming to the mouth of the harbor in Martha’s Vineyard
    A 45 foot CG boat had it’s lights on . I told them I was going to my morning in the Harbor and to get back to my Job.
    They said you are being boarded and de clutch .
    There is a term I never heard it means neutral to me regarding the
    Boat throttle
    Needless to say everything you said here happened to me.
    And yes I belong to the US CG Aux and I gave them my ID
    I explained why I was annoyed they pulled me over as I had an very importAnt meeting to an tend
    They asked if I was intoxicated and of course I said no.
    I told them I had 6 years sobriety nope no good.
    They towed me to my morning and proceeded to humiliate me in front of my neighbors. I passed with 0.000 breathelizer test.
    Now I know that the 4th amendment does not exist when I am on the water. Thank you for you in depth knowledge of this atrocity of our 4 the amendment right!

  45. Jon

    My son and I had just pulled away from the marina fuel dock where we bought a load of ice for a weekend sail to the Channel Islands (California) when we were boarded for an inspection. We had not gone 15 yards. They were very polite, checked the Y valve, extinguishers, bilge, life vests, etc. The officers were also very young and clearly had not been on many sailboats either. It was no big deal. My only objections to the event were:
    (1) They could have done all this while we were tied up to the fuel dock. It was early and no one was out in the marina or at the dock. Maybe boarding practice was part of the reason? I dunno.
    (2) It took way too long. Three Coasties on my 27 ft sailboat should have taken no longer than 20 minutes, not over an hour. Maybe if I had a hot supermodel in a bikini on board the delay would be understandable, but it was just me and my son. I just passed a Coast Guard Auxiliary inspection with flying colors and had the current decal prominently displayed. Speed is part of being polite, Mr. Coastie. We had a long crossing ahead of us and the delay was a problem.
    (3) They fumbled with part of the paperwork. Clearly the guys were green. For example, THEY asked ME what kind of sailboat this was. My young son told them it was a sloop, not a ketch. Shouldn’t that be part of their training, especially useful when identifying and describing ships at sea?
    Anyway, as long as they are polite, expedient, and infrequent then I don’t have a big problem with the boardings. Safety checking vessels might mean they are free when I need them, not busy rescuing some bozo that should never have been on the water in the first place.

  46. Dave

    I would suggest that every boater that gets boarded should file suit. Don’t waste the money on a lawyer, just file the case as a matter of protest. Even if every case is lost, the inconvenience could easily overwhelm the system. I would also suggest filing a civil case with a jury. Most citizens will rule in favor of the constitution and 200+ years of case precedent won’t mean squat. Particularly if the CG is under funded, they will not have the money, nor the will to fight every case. This should apply especially to police officers on inland lakes. Just keep filing law suits.

  47. Cheryl Laufle

    We were boarded just as we docked in Shilshole Marina (Seattle, Washington). The Coast Guard crew was polite, and asked that one person go aboard with them while the rest of us waited onshore. This was apparently a safety check, as they went through paperwork, pfds, flares, fire extinguishers, etc. We had not fully tied up the sailboat when they first approached us, so I asked the young Coastie who had remained on the dock with us if I could finish tying up the boat. He gave permission. On that day I had some people new to sailing and boating along, so I was explaining what the various dock lines would do, and how to adjust them. As I was explaining what spring lines do, I realized the Coastie had his head almost over my shoulder. It occurred to me that he might very well be new to boating, and this was all new to him. I’m guessing he was about 19 years old, so he may have been very green.

    One of our sailing club members was boarded in the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. There are some pretty strong currents in that area, and the club member asked if he could please move to more open water before being boarded. That was denied, and in the process of getting the boarding party onto his boat, he very nearly went aground. It was pretty clear to him that the Coastie in charge was not familiar with the area, and with the high current situation in the area. They travel in inflatables, and appeared not to be aware of what thin water means to a sailboat.

    I asked a Coast Guard officer, at a talk he gave, if my impression that they aren’t familiar with sailboats was correct. He confirmed that many of them have no sailing experience. I told him that if we are under sail and they want to board, for safety it may be necessary to delay until we can adjust the sails to the boom won’t be a danger to the boarding party. He said that was fine, and to ask them to wait until that was accomplished. I wonder if they would think we were trying to hide something if we did so. They certainly didn’t wait for the boat in the San Juans.

  48. sonofasailor35

    I sail on Lake Erie all the time – I agree that getting into the harbor after dark when you were planning on daytime is a great inconvenience. But, we have to remember that on Lake Erie the Canadian border is near, and it is not unheard of for boats to smuggle illegal aliens originating from overseas across various points from Canada into the US. Every time I have trailered a boat across bridges into or from Canada it has been searched both ways, and that was what they were looking for.

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