This past weekend I was witness to many flashing blue lights that stopped, boarded and inspected dozens of vessels operating on the Delaware River. Some of the “weekend boaters” were just out for a day on the water, others were jockeying for a place near the concert venues for a good “seat” (anchor location) to hear the music and others were trying to find that perfect place to watch the fireworks.
If you are not aware, and some of those boaters obviously weren’t, anytime you see a flashing blue light it indicates a law enforcement vessel is operating in the area.
The United States Coast Guard can and will board you at their discretion. They need no search warrant, no provocation, no reason other than to ensure you are in compliance with all applicable federal laws and regulations.
So what happens if you are boarded? Although you will find them young and very polite, these are highly trained Federal officers. The very first question that they will ask you, before they even step off their vessel onto yours, is, “do you have any weapons on board?” You should check your local regulations but I can’t think of any reason what-so-ever to carry a weapon when out for a day on the water.
The inspection that follows is driven largely by the size of the vessel with a few standard exceptions. Your actual registration needs to be onboard and must be current. The “HIN” number, like your car’s “VIN” number, needs to be the same on your registration and on your boat (low on the starboard side of the transom.) If they don’t match, someone has a lot of explaining to do.
The registration numbers must be of proper size (at least 3”), of contrasting color to your hull and be the most forward of any numbering or lettering on the boat.
If you have a “MSD” (Marine Sanitation Device, a.k.a. a “head” or toilet), regardless of the size of your vessel, it must conform to regulations. All the bays and creeks are “No Discharge Zones” so, if there is an over-board through-hull from the MSD holding tank, it must be in the locked/closed position and the key must under the control of the skipper.
The rest is largely going to be driven by the size of your vessel e.g. :
- how many personal flotation devices (life jackets) – at least one for everybody aboard, be in good working order and readily available. A type IV throwable if the size of your vessel requires one.
- fire extinguishers – boat size dependent but all must be in working order.
- flares – boat size dependent but all must not be past their expiration date.
- For all federal requirements go to BoatSafe.com for a list.
The following are the three scenarios that may happen as a result of being boarded.
- If you are in full compliance you will get a Report of Boarding marked, “No violations.” This means that you are in full compliance and can continue your boating activities.
- If you are found to have a minor violation that does not create a major safety issue you will be issued a “Written Warning.” If however, the boarding officer returns to the station and finds that you already have been given a warning for the same issue, your notice becomes a “Violation.”
- The third outcome that could happen is that – a “Notice of Violation” is issued immediately. If the boarding officer believes that the nature of the violation is inherently unsafe, you will be directed to follow the Coast Guard back to the dock. They are not going to allow you to continue your boating activity with some aspect of your boat that can lead to serious injury or death to you, your crew or other boaters. If the “Notice of Violation” takes on the aspect of a driving violation, the notice is mailed to the Coast Guard hearing office in Portsmouth, VA. There the boarding report will be reviewed by a case officer where fines, further letters of violations, etc will be issued. You will be notified by mail and you will have time (15 days) to file an appeal.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts free vessel exams all season long . These are not enforcement events.
If your boat “fails” virtually the same inspection that would be conducted by a boarding, you get a report that details the deficiency. Once you have corrected the deficiency you can call and re-run the inspection.
A successful inspection results in a USCGAux sticker of compliance being affixed to your windshield. To schedule a USCGAux free inspection go to : http://www.safetyseal.net/GetVSC/