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Did you know the U.S. Coast Guard can legally board any boat which is under way on any waterway under U.S. jurisdiction – without a search warrant – and perform search and seizures, or make arrests?  They can and do because ultimately, they are the main law enforcement on water and it is there job to ensure boaters safety.

While there may be members from other agencies – part of the local, state, or federal authorities on board, and there may be USCG personnel on their vessels as well; the USCG has the authority under Section 89 of Title 14 of the United States Code to board boats.

There could be many reasons for the USCG to want to board, but if hailed by the Coast Guard to “pull over” the operator is expected to do so or face the possibility of penalties, both civil and criminal depending on what the reason for the boarding is and what is discovered once they have boarded.

The boarding team will expect to see the registration, whether it is numbered, unnumbered or documented.

The top concern of the USCG is boat safety.

While on board it is their job to determine if all required safety equipment is on board, in good working condition and being utilized; such as life jackets.

The Coast Guard can hit the operator with a fine/penalty if they find the boat owner has failed to comply with the equipment requirements; failed to report a boating accident; failed to follow other federal regulations or navigational rules.

Constantly on the lookout for safety issues, the USCG will be watching for boaters, who are negligent, or possibly boating under the influence.  There are several scenarios which constitutes “Negligence” such as:

  • Operating a vessel in an area designated  for swimming
  • High speed around other boats or in regulated waters
  • Hazardous water skiing or other water sports practices.
  • Bowriding, or riding on a seatback, gunwale, or transom.
  • Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

If it is determined the driver of the boat to be grossly negligent, the USCG can impose not only a civil penalty but upon their discretion can charge a criminal offense with fines up to $5,000, being in prison for a year, or both.

It is against the law to operate a boat inebriated.  It is dangerous and a federal offense.  If the blood alcohol level of the operator is .08 or higher, that person is subject to civil penalties which could include a $1,000 fine, along with a $5,000 criminal fine, or one-year in prison.  It is also possible to be cited not only by the USCG but also by the local authorities and the operator can ultimately lose their driver licenses as well.

The USCG can end the boat trip for the day if they determine the situation to be dangerous for anyone either in the boat, other boaters, or swimmers in the area.  Once this determination has been made the boarding crew will decide if the operator can drive the boat back to port, if the USCG will tow the boat back, or if the boarding crew will drive it back.  There are different reasons for ending the voyage according to the USCG:

  • Not enough life jackets or PFD for each person on board or they are not being worn
  • Insufficient fire extinguishers
  • An overloaded vessel. (Any vessel exceeding its U.S. Coast Guard indicated weight or persons on board limit. Even if you are under the limit for persons on board, if your vessel exceeds the weight limit you will be directed to return to port. The Coast Guard may direct you to a port of shore for a weight check of your vessel
  • Displaying of navigation lights incorrectly
  • Improper ventilation of fuel tanks and engine spaces
  • Fuel leak or accumulation of fuel in bilges
  • Inadequate or missing backfire flame control
  • Operating in regulated boating areas
  • In the thirteenth USCG District: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington operating in times of predetermined adverse conditions may result in being directed to return to port and/or criminal fines

It is also required to fill out a report concerning any accidents which may occur, and giving assistance to anyone in need in the water.  Failure to do these things can result in the operator having penalties, charges placed against them.

Remember if hailed, you must comply and allow the USCG to board your boat, failure to do so will at the very least end the day’s activities – not to mention the possibility of getting arrested and fined.

Your boat insurance company will not look lightly at incidents such as these, either.

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2 Responses to Why is the CG boarding my boat?

  1. Innate Thought says:

    The Officers are operating under the cover of Law, not the Color. Though there is much State codification claiming that they can apply the ” Rules of the road” that the USCG have been promulgated; it does not allow the application of a rule outside the intended purpose.

    Consider the explanations offered by the US Federal Supreme Court in the Lozeman v. Rivera Beach Fla. jan. 2013.

    I submit that the formula offered in the Lozeman Case which defines a “vessel”
    is evidence of commerce and is supported by numerous Federal and State documents:

    [-* ] = [-* explanation of the justices intention for applying the opinion as a guide line.]

    Citations of the Justices Opinion follow

    The term “contrivance” refers to something “employed in contriving to effect a purpose”; “craft”
    explains that purpose as “water carriage and transport”; the addition of “water” to “craft” emphasizes
    the point; and the words, “used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water,”
    drive the point home.
    [-* this I see as evidencing the aspect of a transporting service. ie.; a Commercial venture, key word “employed”. ]

    The Court reasoned that, despite the annual movement under tow, the wharfboat
    [-* this suggests the lack of support that a Commercial action was occurring.]

    And we pointed to cases holding that dredges ordinarily “served a waterborne transportation function,”
    namely that “IN PERFORMING THEIR WORK they carried machinery, equipment, and crew over water.”
    [-* This is referring to a business in operation. key words: “performing” and “Work”]

    We did not take these statements, however, as implying a universal set of sufficient conditions for application of the definition
    Rather, they say, and they mean, that the statutory definition may (or may not) apply — not that it automatically must apply —
    [-* This is straight forward in relaying that not every thing floating on the water is a vessel.]

    where a structure has some other primary purpose, where it is stationary at relevant times, and where it is attached
    — but not permanently attached — to land.
    [-* The statement “Where a structure has some other primary function” meaning the primary function of as “vessel” is evidence of a business operating.]

    our examination of the purposes of major federal maritime statutes reveals little reason to classify floating homes as “vessels.”
    Admiralty law, for example, provides special attachment procedures lest a vessel avoid liability by sailing away. Liability statutes
    such as the Jones Act recognize that sailors face the special ‘perils of the sea.’ Certain admiralty tort doctrines can encourage
    shipowners to engage in port-related commerce. And maritime safety statutes subject vessels to U. S. Coast Guard inspections.
    [-*This I interpret as some of the reasons why not every thing floating on the water should be considered a vessel.]

    It is conceivable that an owner might actually use a floating structure not designed to any practical degree for transportation as, say,
    [-* This is referring to a business which might use craft built of any design in performing the operation of transporting. Canoting anything CAN be a Vessel
    when used for commercial ventures.]

    But even so, the City cannot show the actual use for which it argues.
    [-* This is referring to a business operation ie.: evidence of its voyages/manifests/logs/port fees/UCC1 or SAM filings, et., al.]

    Lozman’s floating home moved only under tow. Before its arrest, it moved significant distances only twice in seven years.
    And when it moved, it carried, not PASSENGERS AND CARGO, but at the very most (giving the benefit of any factual ambiguity to the City)
    only its own furnishings, its owner’s personal effects, and personnel present to assure the home’s safety. This is far too little actual
    “use” to bring the floating home within the terms of the statute.
    [-* There is no evidence of the provisioning of transportation of “Persons” or “Things” so no commerce is evidenced as applied.]


    The following relevant citing’s of the amicus brief support this aspect of the exposure of the element required to
    qualify as a vessel under 1 USC 3 is the commercial element.

    Relevant Citations of the Amici follow

    Maritime Law is, and at the time of the enactment of section 3 was, a special field of jurisprudence, created for special reasons. Fundamentally, the special
    grant of admiralty jurisdiction to the Federal Courts seeks to provide uniform rules of law for the BUSINESS OF SHIPPING, to facilitate MARITIME COMMERCE,

    The application of admiralty law and jurisdiction entails a special set of substantive rules. These rules are specifically designed to facilitate the movement of maritime commerce across state and national boundaries.

    Although the lines are not always easy to draw, it would likely lead to more satisfactory results if courts recognize that the purpose of having jurisdiction over maritime affairs is to provide a forum for developing a uniform body of law for those aspects of maritime commerce for which there is a substantial federal interest.

    The Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction of the U.S. has historically not been limited by the restraining statutes in English admiralty practice, and “is to be interpreted by an original view of its essential nature and objects and with reference to analogous jurisdictions in other countries constituting the maritime commercial world as well as the jurisdiction in England.”

    These procedures provide powerful tools which inherently also contain the potential for abuse when applied to persons or things not appropriately within
    maritime jurisdiction.

    Schoenbaum ” the business or employment of a water craft is determinative..”
    and Friedell “… But the purpose and business of the craft as an instrument of maritime transportation.”

    Other than providing an economic stimulus for hundreds of maritime lawyers, this intrusive extension of federal power and regulation is not calculated to serve any significant federal interest in facilitating maritime commerce.

    In reflecting the general maritime law codified in 1 USC 3, therefore, amici respectfully urge that the definition of “Vessel” reflect these principal
    considerations: [1] the functional reasons for applying admiralty law to particular subjects of interstate and international commerce.


    Additional support that a “Vessel” is a directly related to commerce and when related to commerce “vessels” are subject to Admiralty/Maritime Rule…

    The National Vessel Documentation Centers Mission Statement.

    NVDC Mission Statement.
    The National Vessel Documentation Center facilitates “MARITIME COMMERCE AND THE AVAILABILITY OF FINANCING”
    while protecting economic privileges of United States citizens through the enforcement of regulations,
    and provides a register of vessels available in time of war or emergency to defend and protect the United States of America.

    US Department of Transportation/Navigation.

    Passenger Carrier Regulations

    49 CFR 374.101




    Subpart A–Discrimination in Operations of Interstate Motor Common Carriers of Passengers

    Source: 36 FR 1338, Jan. 28, 1971, unless otherwise noted.
    Re-designated at 61 FR 54709, Oct. 21, 1996.

    Sec. 374.101 Discrimination prohibited.

    No motor common carrier of passengers subject to 49 U.S.C. subtitle
    IV, part B shall operate a motor vehicle in interstate or foreign
    commerce on which the seating of passengers is based upon race, color,
    creed, or national origin.

    [36 FR 1338, Jan. 28, 1971. Re-designated at 61 FR 54709, Oct. 21, 1996,
    as amended at 62 FR 15423, Apr. 1, 1997]

    Sec. 374.103 Notice to be printed on tickets.

    Every motor common carrier of passengers subject to 49 U.S.C.
    subtitle IV, part B shall cause to be printed on every ticket sold by it
    for transportation on any vehicle operated in interstate or foreign
    commerce a plainly legible notice as follows: “Seating aboard vehicles
    operated in interstate or foreign commerce is without regard to race,
    color, creed, or national origin.”

    Sec. 374.107 Notice to be posted at terminal facilities.

    No motor common carrier of passengers subject to 49 U.S.C. subtitle
    IV, part B shall in the operation of vehicles in interstate or foreign
    commerce utilize any terminal facility in which there is not
    conspicuously displayed and maintained so as to be readily visible to
    the public a plainly legible sign or placard containing the full text of
    these regulations. Such sign or placard shall be captioned: “Public
    Notice: Regulations Applicable to Vehicles and Terminal Facilities of
    Interstate Motor Common Carriers of Passengers, by order of the

    Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation.”

    49 USC § 31136 – United States Government regulations

    Current through Pub. L. 113-9. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)

    (a) Minimum Safety Standards.— Subject to section 30103 (a) of this title, the Secretary of Transportation shall prescribe regulations on commercial motor vehicle safety. The regulations shall prescribe minimum safety standards for commercial motor vehicles. At a minimum, the regulations shall ensure that—
    (1) commercial motor vehicles are maintained, equipped, loaded, and operated safely;
    (2) the responsibilities imposed on operators of commercial motor vehicles do not impair their ability to operate the vehicles safely

    49 USC § 31704 – Vehicle registration

    After September 30, 1996, a State that is not participating in the International Registration Plan may not establish, maintain, or enforce a commercial motor vehicle registration law, regulation, or agreement that limits the operation in that State of a commercial motor vehicle that is not registered under the laws of the State, if the vehicle is registered under the laws of a State participating in the Plan.

    International Registration Plan IRP


    The International Registration Plan (IRP) is a federally encouraged program to facilitate commercial vehicle registration and operation among states and Canadian provinces. IRP member jurisdictions collect registration fees from their ‘home based’ interstate trucking companies on behalf of each member jurisdiction in which the companies operate and must register.

    V C Section 9850 Numbering of Undocumented Vessels

    Numbering of Undocumented Vessels

    9850. Every undocumented vessel using the waters or on the waters of this state shall be currently numbered. No person shall operate nor shall any county, city, or political subdivision give permission for the operation of any undocumented vessel on those waters unless the undocumented vessel is numbered in accordance with this chapter, or in accordance with applicable federal law, or in accordance with a federally approved numbering system of another state, and unless (1) the certificate of number issued to such undocumented vessel is in full force and effect, and (2) the identifying number set forth in the certificate of number is displayed on each side of the bow of the undocumented vessel for which the identifying number was issued.

    The only consistent aspect maintained throughout: the opinion and Amicus Brief or the citations of the NVDC, US Department of Transportation and the California DMV
    seems to identify the act of a business functioning is required in order to qualify as a vessel.

    At every turn it is in the evidence of the application of Commercial Affairs when Maritime Law or vessel status apply.

    Consistently these afore mentioned references illuminate my point; that subsequently in the absence of commerce the Maritime rule is moot.

  2. Kanarik says:

    ya i saw a 2wd truck almost get stuck wtihout the boat on the trailer last weekend, but then the ramp had almost no incline so he had to pull into the water which happened to be mud not pavement.

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