View Full Version : Coast guard & State division of watercraft.
In the thread -kayaker fined-some of the comments, brings a question to my mind. Does the coast guard have the right to board any boat they want, for any reason and search it and the contents within. And what about within state waters, does the state division of watercraft have the right to board and search.
John E Hardiman
07-13-2004, 01:47 AM
USCG law come[s] (edit) down from Treasury Dept/old US Revenue Service law which is very different from state vehicular law which governs most state waterway laws. USCG is granted much broader rights to search/seizure. A prime example was several years ago when a state attempted to regulate a USCG designated anchorage. The owner "rebuffed" an attempt to board by "pirates" and was backed up by the USCG who took the local Sheriffs into "custody". A small battle in a big turf war.
[ 07-13-2004, 01:49 AM: Message edited by: John E Hardiman ]
Alan D. Hyde
07-13-2004, 12:25 PM
That sounds interesting, John.
Do you know where the full story may be found?
John E Hardiman
07-13-2004, 01:00 PM
The story was in Latitude 38 over a decade ago when the BCDC (Bay Conservation and Development Commision) attempted to usurp federal and state power and declared all boats in SF Bay as "fill" and therefore under its purview. This was/is part of an on-going truf war over the anchorage in Richardson Bay off Sausalito, CA. A lot of people in Marin County want "undesierables" who live aboard in the anchorage moved out. Problem is some of those boats are documented vessels in a federaly designated anchorage. Try this Latitude 38 link (http://www.latitude38.com/letters/200108.htm) for a letter with a little of the history behind it all.
07-13-2004, 08:15 PM
In the 1 July 2004 issue of MAIB, which I reccommend to all Formites, in the "Beyond the Horizon" article is the note that
"A recent US Court ruled that the waters flowing into navigable waters are also navigable waters, at least as far as the Federal Pollution Control Act (also known as the Clean Water Act) is concerned."
Now if they are navigable waters to one branch of the Government, you can bet your last "Bippie" that they are navigable as far as the Coast Guard is concerned if they want them to be.
The end result is if you are up a creek doing something you shouldn't you could find youself up a creek period. :D
This is all fine and dandy as well as interesting. But it fails to answer the question, or does any one actually know.?
I find it amazing that of all places, california would want to pass laws against undesirables.
So does anyone know the answer to the original question?
John E Hardiman
07-17-2004, 01:31 PM
In a word YES.. the CG can board at any time and your operating a vessel in US waters or the vessel being the property of a US citizen is implict consent to this (see 33 CFR jurisdiction laws). There is no requirement for them to get any judical approval first or to have any pre-proved reason, and they can shoot you if you resist. This is based on old law, dating from before 1800.
US Code, Title 14, Part 1, Chapter 5, Section 89
Sec. 89. - Law enforcement
The Coast Guard may make inquiries, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests upon the high seas and waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, for the prevention, detection, and suppression of violations of laws of the United States. For such purposes, commissioned, warrant, and petty officers may at any time go on board of any vessel subject to the jurisdiction, or to the operation of any law, of the United States, address inquiries to those on board, examine the ship's documents and papers, and examine, inspect, and search the vessel and use all necessary force to compel compliance. When from such inquiries, examination, inspection, or search it appears that a breach of the laws of the United States rendering a person liable to arrest is being, or has been committed, by any person, such person shall be arrested or, if escaping to shore, shall be immediately pursued and arrested on shore, or other lawful and appropriate action shall be taken; or, if it shall appear that a breach of the laws of the United States has been committed so as to render such vessel, or the merchandise, or any part thereof, on board of, or brought into the United States by, such vessel, liable to forfeiture, or so as to render such vessel liable to a fine or penalty and if necessary to secure such fine or penalty, such vessel or such merchandise, or both, shall be seized.
The officers of the Coast Guard insofar as they are engaged, pursuant to the authority contained in this section, in enforcing any law of the United States shall:
be deemed to be acting as agents of the particular executive department or independent establishment charged with the administration of the particular law; and
be subject to all the rules and regulations promulgated by such department or independent establishment with respect to the enforcement of that law.
The provisions of this section are in addition to any powers conferred by law upon such officers, and not in limitation of any powers conferred by law upon such officers, or any other officers of the United States
State law may vary, go talk to you state Attorney General.
Now there is a solid answer....
Thank you Mr. Hardiman..
With the clearification of the coast guard and federal waterways above, I would assume that state waterways controlled by the state would be along the same lines as if you where pulled over on a public road in your auto,by a officer of the law,and simular laws would apply.
07-17-2004, 04:10 PM
I think the law that exempts the Coast Guard from needing any sort of search warrant dates from 1793 and has been repeatedly upheld by the courts, up to and including the USSC, as recently as the last decade or so.
It gets "interesting" when federal and state jurisdictions overlap. In theory, no state or local authority has any jurisdiction over federal navigable waterways, but that does not stop state and local laws that force you to pay for mooring. Particularly annoying (IMO) along the ICW and harbors in the NE where a mooring can cost insane amounts of money - and don't plan on anchoring either. Here in Seattle, while Lake Washington is a federal navigable waterway, there are vanishingly few places where it's legal (by local ordinance) to anchor your boat for any period of time, whether it's an hour or overnight.
T'other thing is that not only can the USCG board you, they can, with the help of US Customs, take your boat in and reduce it to small pieces with very limited liability on their part (it used to be a maximum of $8,000, but I think it's been almost doubled now). If they want to think that you might have contraband in your keel, out come the chainsaws. YOU get to pick up the pieces! :mad:
[ 07-17-2004, 04:13 PM: Message edited by: Meerkat ]
In my experience, the CoastGuard are the guys with the big guns. You do what they say. They shone a spotlight on me in the Florida straits for excrutiatingly long time, before they identified themselves (I was surprised, I thought it was drug runners). I was calling on VHF 16 and eventually threatened to shoot the light out.
Years later I was threatened with boarding some 250 miles off Norfolk Virginia (Swedish flag, British (me) skipper). They trailed us all night, but eventually sped off in the morning, they were probably training an infra red camera on us all night.
Actually there is more to this story--it was late afternoon and I could see, on radar, a boat with a good radar reflector sitting just below the horizon and it maintained it's position in our wake for an hour or so. It was getting to be dusk, so I asked the helmsman to change course by 90 degrees. We were motoring. Sure enough, my purposely suspicious behaviour induced a bow wave to appear on the horizon and the coast guard cutter came up behind us (she must have been doing 35 kts). I was hailed on the radio, naturally the skipper asked why we had changed course exactly 90 degrees for no apparent reason. I told him that I had seen him tailing me, and if he was going to board me, I'd rather he do it in daylight. There was a bemused note in his reply, but he still had all the crew, some of whom were a little intimidated, parade on deck. The coast guard always do that, I'm not sure what they hope to acheive. He told me that it was already too dark for them to board, but that he was going to follow us all night. my reply was "O.K. we'll be doing 355 magnetic at 5kts, see you in the morning". As I said in the morning (after what must have been a really uncomfortable and rolly night for them), they left without saying anything.
[ 07-17-2004, 04:52 PM: Message edited by: Hwyl ]
07-17-2004, 04:56 PM
Once upon a time it would have been illegal for a vessel of one flag to board a vessel of another flag (piracy!) in international waters (250 miles offshore is even outside the economic zone and impossibly far off the 3 mile international waters limit, originally set by how far a cannon could throw a ball). Is there some sort of treaty that now allows this? (not that you have much choice when they've got the speed and guns to make you heave to...).
Originally posted by Meerkat:
(not that you have much choice when they've got the speed and guns to make you heave to...).You said it.
This was the height of the drug war, so it had lots of support. The coast guard would say something like "You have the right to refuse boarding, but if you do, we'll escort to within U.S. territorial waters and then board you"
I was once searched by the Spanish version of the DEA, in the Canary islands. They had it on good authority that a German boat, painted white, last port of call in Morocco (we fit the profile) had a large cargo of drugs. They searched pretty hard, but did not even notice the large lazarette until I pointed it out(she was a motor sailer). Then they went on another German boat (painted red) that was at the same dock, the skipper owner was so exuberant, he was practically thrusting the police officers heads into the cockpit lockers. He was saying things like "I hate drugs", "please search my boat", "tear the boat apart if you want to". The police left after a short time and a very short search. I've often wondered since if he was the guy with the cargo of drugs (and an overabundance of audacity).
I guess I was borrowing some of that audacity when I made my 90 degree turn. I've never carried drugs BTW.
[ 07-17-2004, 05:27 PM: Message edited by: Hwyl ]
John E Hardiman
07-17-2004, 07:09 PM
In theroy, and by Admiralty Law, a warship has the "right" to stop and "inspect" any vessel on the high seas. What prevents it is the political backlash.
I have a friend that was on a 378 doing fisheries patrol off Alaska. They caught a drift netter from a "friendly" asian country in a no fishing zone. The fisherman cut his nets and ran, and was outside US waters before approval was given to force it to stop. They chased it all the way across the pacific back to it's island home while the State Dept. attempted to secure permission to board. Kind of comical as the 378 would steam rings around the trawler while it "sped" for home at 15 knts. Finaly, the 378 was "relieved" of "escort" duties at the fishermans national waters by 3 DD's that showed up to ensure that sovereignty was observed. Nothing came of this as the "friendly country" could find no evidence that the vessel had been in US waters fishing illeagly. :rolleyes:
[ 07-17-2004, 07:12 PM: Message edited by: John E Hardiman ]
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