I’m sure every reader knows or has heard of someone who
has purchased a vessel but has absolutely zero knowledge of
boats, the skills required to safely operate or navigate. All they
needed was the money to buy and outfit the boat, register it
and buy insurance (or not). Maybe they even got a decal from
the local Coast Guard Auxiliary. Lo and behold they are now
Scary as that is, that’s the reality that a boarding officer
faces. Picture yourself as a boarding officer during a busy
holiday weekend. Your task is to have a presence on the
water, and being there just in case your services are needed.
Imagine you are closing on a vessel, not necessarily to board
but just to ask that the people show their life jackets.
Now the vessel you are approaching appears to not
understand your intent, and the operator appears scared and
unsure of what to do. A good boarding officer, assessing the
totality of the situation, might decide to quit closing on the
vessel, hail and give instruction, or stand off and wait to select
a better location. A good boarding officer might just opt not
to push the issue.
Unfortunately not all boarding officers have this kind of
wisdom, and that’s how it comes to pass that online forums
are full of stories from disgruntled recreational boaters.
Now let’s take a very well seasoned sailor, with decades
of experience and a high awareness of the requirements
for his vessel. He’s coming into a narrow inlet in fading
light, bucking the tide, to avoid pending adverse weather
conditions. Suddenly he’s approached by blue lights and
ordered to heave to. I know the very thoughts that cross that
mariner’s mind. “Seriously? Now?” Sadly, this has happened,
many times to many professional and well-versed mariners,
and I can’t explain the rhyme or reason to it. The point is that
the officers should have used better judgment and postponed
boarding until more favorable conditions, or until after the
vessel is moored.
Every boarding scenario is a two-way situation. It is an
intersection of the experience of the vessel operator and
the experience and training of the boarding officer. If you as
the skipper are not comfortable accommodating a boarding
party, please say so politely. Not many experienced mariners
do. I know of no boarding officer that would not heed the
request in the absence of a very good reason not to.
During one recent delivery, I was approaching a narrowing
channel and saw a Coast Guard vessel headed toward me. I
was focusing my attention to shoaling reports and location,
not to the presence of any enforcement activities pending.
Sure enough, I was hailed. We shifted frequencies, and
I heard the pre-boarding questions I so often asked myself.
THE SUPREME COURT RULING that upheld the Coast Guard’s right to board boats without probable cause, contains a perceptive dissent by Justice William Brennan. Scan the QR
code or visit www.passagemaker.com and enter the search term “Web Extra boardings.”
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