Coast Guard Officer
Looks at a
Heeding complaints from boaters and the boating industry,
Michigan and Ohio recently passed laws forbidding state and local marine police
from randomly boarding recreational vessels. The Arkansas Supreme Court
actually ruled that such boardings violate Fourth Amendment prohibitions against
unreasonable search and seizure. None of this affects the U.S. Coast Guard,
however, because of a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Coast Guard officers
do not need “probable cause” to get on your boat.
The practice continues to raise boater’s hackles, particularly on the lower
Hudson River, the Chicago area and, of course, Florida.
I am a retired Coast Guard boarding officer and have conducted more than
a thousand boardings. But I’m also a boater who has been boarded by various
agencies. My mission here is to clarify, educate and entertain a variety of thoughts
about the boarding process and the angst it can entail.
My first thoughts turn to the lower Hudson River. There, local and state
agencies and the Coast Guard were conducting boardings without any means
of sharing with one another the information about whom had been boarded and
when and what the results were. Local congressmen became involved, and it has
fallen on the Coast Guard’s sector commander to put some kind of protocol in
place to prevent, for example, the same boat from being boarded multiple times
in a single outing.
Can this type of inter-agency communication be refined, especially with regard
to private vessels? Absolutely. I should point out, however, that this controversy
By Pete Dautel