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Old 14-06-2018, 08:28   #1
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Coast Guard procedures

While bringing home our just-new-to-us sailboat and bashing down L. Erie in heavy seas yesterday we experienced our first boarding by the coast guard for safety checks. Ha! While we appreciate the hard work those guys do you would think they would be aware of the safety themselves in heavy seas. When they pulled up along our port side the splash and wake was enough to unbalance our 36' boat and toss the guard around so he couldn't come aboard. We asked them to meet us at the next harbor 2 miles down that we were heading to and not smash our boat. They tried again, both guys got aboard but in the process their boat landed on top of ours bending our gate stanchions. It was a good thing our boat is steel as I think a FG boat would have been seriously crunched. Does anyone know they rules on whether you can resist a boarding like that if we feel it is beyond safe? How would others approach this? Thanks for any help.
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Old 14-06-2018, 08:54   #2
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

Well this explains a lot. Off-duty firefighters rescue 76-year old man whose kayak capsized | WHAM So good to know they seem to be indisposed when real rescues are required. Don't know about refusing a request to board but sloppy boat handling in heavy seas isn't a crime. Tough day to be out there yesterday especially on Erie.
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Old 14-06-2018, 08:57   #3
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

As captain of the boat I would have told them I did not think it was safe for them to board. I think your offer of meeting them in the next harbor was extremely reasonable.

On the other hand, in the end, when guys with guns and badges tell you that they are going to do something, it is usually best to cooperate.

I might consider filing a complaint, or at least calling the local office and asking some pointed (though polite) questions.
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Old 14-06-2018, 09:32   #4
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

I'm curious if there is any liability placed on them for the damage to the stanchions. And as the OP said, if it were a lesser boat, it could've been even more damage. So would they be held accountable to repair that, or is it like many powers of authority where if it happens in the line of them "doing their job", tough cookies?
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Old 14-06-2018, 09:51   #5
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

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I'm curious if there is any liability placed on them for the damage to the stanchions. And as the OP said, if it were a lesser boat, it could've been even more damage. So would they be held accountable to repair that, or is it like many powers of authority where if it happens in the line of them "doing their job", tough cookies?
From what little I have read the USCG is liable and will pay for the damage. There is a process and a form. I'd encourage the OP to document the claim and contact the appropriate CG base to start.
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Old 14-06-2018, 10:06   #6
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

I have no use for USCG on Lake Ontario. Looks like Lake Erie USCG is no better.


I don't think you can refuse boarding. And, believe it or not, even after doing whatever it takes to allow boarding YOU are still responsible for your boat!


Did you ask them about the damage when they were aboard?



Remember one thing when it comes to government personnel: you file a complaint, you get put on "the list". Prepare for boardings, inspections, and drive bys. If the damage isn't worth the hassle, don't mention it.



If the damage is substantial, or you want to do the right thing for society at whatever personal cost, file a complaint. Write in to the local newspaper, BoatUS Seaworthy, and every other media outlet you can find. Post photos on Facebook and Twitter. But remember what I told my daughter: "you can be right, or you can be happy."




Here's a little thing I wrote and sent to Seaworthy magazine in response to a published article on USCG on the Great Lakes. The Seaworthy guy was very excited about it and couldn't wait to publish it....until the editor told him NFW. Enjoy!


Thanks for introducing us to USCG Rear Admiral Dean Lee- it sounds like his memoirs would make a great winter time read!

However, I was astonished at his attitude concerning boardings- including multiple boardings- of pleasure vessels. Rear Admiral Lee's admission that the government authorities fail to communicate and don't know who's been bothered is amazing in this day of government spy programs, satellites, and helicopter fly-overs. That he suggests we just rather grin and bear being boarded for no cause. RA Lee states that government agencies including USCG, DNR, Fish & Wildlife, and state police can board a vessel if they have "reasonable suspicion that there is a violation of federal law."

It seems that in reality "reasonable suspicion" has more leeway than a mid-ocean freighter. A number of local sailors have been boarded, some repeatedly, under the most ridiculous of circumstances. Typically, the boardings occur following a short sail down the coast while approaching a harbor. And I ask- what reasonable suspicion could one have of a sail-powered 1930s vintage R boat entering a harbor? Even a boat returning from Canada? When is the last time that a sailboat was found with the ice box filled with fish past the limit? Or a coastal charter fishing boat found carrying twice the weight capacity?

Admittedly, I sail on a very porous border- Lake Ontario. And, frankly, by and large it's treated- by US and Canadian boaters alike- as our playground, not that of the governments. However, nobody I know is smuggling illegals (oh, sorry, undocumented residents), booze, or other illicit stuff. Newsflash: we live here, and if we want to smuggle something across the border it isn't going to be in a 40 foot sailboat at 2pm in mid-July.

If the "probably cause" involves expired flares and life jackets, why not do dockside inspections? It would be much safer and cost much less to taxpayers. If they simply want to peek inside the boat, come on and follow us in, then come on over for a beer and burger.

Don't get me wrong- we love the USCG, and particularly Auxiliary. I know how busy they are all summer long. But we don't need two dozen black DHS SUVs in Oswego NY, and don't need to be hassled by government boats looking for something to kill the boredom. What we need is coverage- after the local sheriff's marine patrol goes to sleep, and after the harassment season has ended. In October 2012 my friend and I responded to a mayday from an elderly couple on a sailboat in ten foot seas. USCG couldn't get there because the local station had closed for the season, and the sheriff had pull their boat for the season. All too often when somebody really needs help, the government is nowhere to be seen.

By and large, the boating community- and US interests in general- don't need boardings. We need a USCG that is professional enough to ride out the boredom, yet jump to action when a serious crisis occurs. If USCG wants to practice boardings- a reasonable exercise- then requesting permission to exercise, rather than playing the "reasonable suspicion" game- would go a long way in building respect and cooperation.
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Old 14-06-2018, 10:21   #7
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

C'mon Tetepare, those boys have important stuff to do. Why just last Sunday they were insuring the cuisine was edible at Boone and Crockets at Pt. Breeze. The rubber boat docked nicely there. I have no idea what they are doing on Lake Ontario anymore. All the calls are handled by the local constables. Good guys actually. I am docked next to them and found them more than professional. They come by when I'm there and inspect my boat dockside every year and give me a sticker. Ever since DHS got a hold of the CG they are pretty much gone from rescue work. Please don't get me started on DHS, 50 or so gas guzzling SUVs in Rochester seems a bit much. I had no idea there was so much nefarious activity going on out on Lake Ontario. Usually I have the thing all to myself.
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Old 14-06-2018, 10:46   #8
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

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Originally Posted by 30yearslater View Post
C'mon Tetepare, those boys have important stuff to do. Why just last Sunday they were insuring the cuisine was edible at Boone and Crockets at Pt. Breeze. The rubber boat docked nicely there. I have no idea what they are doing on Lake Ontario anymore. .

I watched them run the 47' MLB aground mid-channel in YOUR port last April when we had record breaking water depths! LOL.
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Old 14-06-2018, 14:49   #9
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

Thanks for the responses. The whole story started with their boat not responding via VHF calls to request not being boarded in the seas we were experiencing. When they wanted to leave we said "sure as long as you are sure you're not going to do any more damage". We said they could follow us into port since we were within a mile by then and they complied. We took photos and had them take photos so that led them to the form for recovering damages. What a lot of work they require when we aren't going to be home till the end of summer to get quotes for the work. I must say the CG on Lake Superior have been much better from what you all are saying. I think from what I am seeing here we will go under the assumption that we are the captain and in charge of our safety and theirs once they get on board so guns or no I will stick to my "guns" about boarding. Since we now have paperwork covering our "inspection" I think we should be done for the season but it's a long way to go from here to home.
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Old 14-06-2018, 17:09   #10
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

The whole notion of so-called “safety inspections” continue to gall me. I realize US and Canadian law allow arbitrary stops on the water with no just cause, but it seems a complete antithesis to the presumption of innocence under common law.

I will say, I’ve not had a negative experience (yet) with water cops. Spending most of my cruising years on the Canadian side of Lake Superior may have spoiled me in this regard. I was stopped twice over nearly a decade. In one case they only wanted to see our lifejackets (no boarding). And the other was really only interested in our windvane. No boarding, and hardly a question.
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Old 14-06-2018, 17:28   #11
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Coast Guard procedures

Iíve not been boarded, but I was detained for at least an hour.
I still have no idea why.
I have the sticker on my boat and dinghy now. That is supposed to stop safety inspections.
Who knows?
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Old 14-06-2018, 17:59   #12
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

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Originally Posted by Tetepare View Post
I have no use for USCG on Lake Ontario. Looks like Lake Erie USCG is no better.


I don't think you can refuse boarding. And, believe it or not, even after doing whatever it takes to allow boarding YOU are still responsible for your boat!


Did you ask them about the damage when they were aboard?



Remember one thing when it comes to government personnel: you file a complaint, you get put on "the list". Prepare for boardings, inspections, and drive bys. If the damage isn't worth the hassle, don't mention it.



If the damage is substantial, or you want to do the right thing for society at whatever personal cost, file a complaint. Write in to the local newspaper, BoatUS Seaworthy, and every other media outlet you can find. Post photos on Facebook and Twitter. But remember what I told my daughter: "you can be right, or you can be happy."




Here's a little thing I wrote and sent to Seaworthy magazine in response to a published article on USCG on the Great Lakes. The Seaworthy guy was very excited about it and couldn't wait to publish it....until the editor told him NFW. Enjoy!


Thanks for introducing us to USCG Rear Admiral Dean Lee- it sounds like his memoirs would make a great winter time read!

However, I was astonished at his attitude concerning boardings- including multiple boardings- of pleasure vessels. Rear Admiral Lee's admission that the government authorities fail to communicate and don't know who's been bothered is amazing in this day of government spy programs, satellites, and helicopter fly-overs. That he suggests we just rather grin and bear being boarded for no cause. RA Lee states that government agencies including USCG, DNR, Fish & Wildlife, and state police can board a vessel if they have "reasonable suspicion that there is a violation of federal law."

It seems that in reality "reasonable suspicion" has more leeway than a mid-ocean freighter. A number of local sailors have been boarded, some repeatedly, under the most ridiculous of circumstances. Typically, the boardings occur following a short sail down the coast while approaching a harbor. And I ask- what reasonable suspicion could one have of a sail-powered 1930s vintage R boat entering a harbor? Even a boat returning from Canada? When is the last time that a sailboat was found with the ice box filled with fish past the limit? Or a coastal charter fishing boat found carrying twice the weight capacity?

Admittedly, I sail on a very porous border- Lake Ontario. And, frankly, by and large it's treated- by US and Canadian boaters alike- as our playground, not that of the governments. However, nobody I know is smuggling illegals (oh, sorry, undocumented residents), booze, or other illicit stuff. Newsflash: we live here, and if we want to smuggle something across the border it isn't going to be in a 40 foot sailboat at 2pm in mid-July.

If the "probably cause" involves expired flares and life jackets, why not do dockside inspections? It would be much safer and cost much less to taxpayers. If they simply want to peek inside the boat, come on and follow us in, then come on over for a beer and burger.

Don't get me wrong- we love the USCG, and particularly Auxiliary. I know how busy they are all summer long. But we don't need two dozen black DHS SUVs in Oswego NY, and don't need to be hassled by government boats looking for something to kill the boredom. What we need is coverage- after the local sheriff's marine patrol goes to sleep, and after the harassment season has ended. In October 2012 my friend and I responded to a mayday from an elderly couple on a sailboat in ten foot seas. USCG couldn't get there because the local station had closed for the season, and the sheriff had pull their boat for the season. All too often when somebody really needs help, the government is nowhere to be seen.

By and large, the boating community- and US interests in general- don't need boardings. We need a USCG that is professional enough to ride out the boredom, yet jump to action when a serious crisis occurs. If USCG wants to practice boardings- a reasonable exercise- then requesting permission to exercise, rather than playing the "reasonable suspicion" game- would go a long way in building respect and cooperation.
So first off, boardings require no suspicion of anything by law and indeed seldom involve suspicion. It's important that you realize what it looks like from the other side when a sea lawyer spouts off like this without having the first clue what the actual law requires. And no, filing a claim for property damage won't put you on any "list". There's a completely separate division of CG legal that processes claims, they happen all the time when you're operating in an unpredictable maratime environment and if you have a claim like described by the OP it will be processed and paid out with little fuss. Small boat station personnel wouldn't have access to the claims system and wouldn't even know you filed one, so how could they put you on a "list"?
Please, do me a favor. Call up your local small boat station and ask to meet with the Officer in Charge. Convey all these greviences you have to them in person, and give them a chance to explain both the law you clearly don't know and the process and reasoning behind boardings. Unlike you, I can guarantee that they'll professionally listen to your concerns and if any are valid they'll take them for action. It's easy to armchair warrior and throw stone's, why not try doing something constructive instead. And please, report back to us on how it goes.
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Old 14-06-2018, 18:11   #13
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

Once you are in communication with them, and they informed you it was unsatisfactory to follow you to the marina, tell them --like a crusty old ships captain--to give you space while you heave to, to facilitate their boarding, that option will quiet the motion somewhat, and therefore, it will be safer. You might also want to tell them to wait while you get out your biggest fenders. These are reasonable requests, and most reasonable people would agree. Whatever their decision, you just learned something about them from their response.

I have heard that you can refuse to let them board for safety reasons, but best to document the whole incident with pics, but also a writeup in the ship's log. The latter is a legal document, just as a personal journal is. (This is the case for jurisdictions based on English Common Law, and may be different in countries where the jurisdictions are based on Napoleonic Law.)

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Old 14-06-2018, 18:18   #14
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

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So first off, boardings require no suspicion of anything by law and indeed seldom involve suspicion. It's important that you realize what it looks like from the other side when a sea lawyer spouts off like this without having the first clue what the actual law requires..........
Curious to understand the culture of such boardings.

If there is no suspicion of wrongdoing, why carry out a boarding epesically when conditions are not suited for a safe transfer of personnel. I understand it may be legal but I fail to see the justification; I also realise the law doesn't require justification but generally citizens expect to go about their ow business without interference from authorities unless there is some justification.

If it simply "training", then surely the training should be carried out is an organised training environment.
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Old 14-06-2018, 18:33   #15
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Re: Coast Guard procedures

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Curious to understand the culture of such boardings.

If there is no suspicion of wrongdoing, why carry out a boarding epesically when conditions are not suited for a safe transfer of personnel. I understand it may be legal but I fail to see the justification; I also realise the law doesn't require justification but generally citizens expect to go about their ow business without interference from authorities unless there is some justification.

If it simply "training", then surely the training should be carried out is an organised training environment.
There is no "culture" unless one considers doing ones job a culture, and it's most certainly not done for "training" or because the folks doing the boardings enjoy them (most would rather be doing anything but) or just woke up with a wild hair that day and decided to go harass some folks. The Coast Guard has a requirement to conduct safety boardings, it's a mission that's funded and dictated by Congess. If you're a member of the military (which all active duty and reserve Coasties are) you do what your boss, the American public through our elected officials, pays you to do. The Coast Guard also does SAR, pollution enforcement, aids to navigation, Homeland security, drug enforcement, and a myriad of other missions because they're exactly that, statutory missions. I didn't like doing migrant interdiction or marijuana busts, but the day I put on the uniform was the day I stopped having a say in what the mission was beyond that of any other citizen voter. If you want that mission to go away contact your Congressman, not the military guy who is following a lawful order and doing the job you the voter told him to do.

What's the justification for the requirement? I wasn't there when the deliberations were being made. I do know that I had to risk my life a number of times rescuing boaters who lacked proper safety equipment. I also know a number of people needlessly die every year because they lack the required safety equipment. And I know that we have hundereds of pollution incidents every year from folks that don't have systems configured properly. Those are all things that a boarding looks at. The last thing they're looking for is criminal activity outside dumping pollution or something like a BWI that makes everyone on the water less safe.

That said, the vast majority of Coasties are professionals. A number of the folks crewing small boats are very junior and very young (could be a 20 year old just a couple years out of high school) and some of them occasionally need some guidance, either to improve their judgement or their skill. If you see them do something you honestly feel was unsafe or just ill advised from a seamanship perspective, by all means call up and ask to talk to their officer in charge. They'll welcome hearing from you, otherwise it's hard for them to know what their folks are doing because they're a long way away from the office. I would be shocked if you got anything other than a professional reception from doing so, and although retired I'd probably call them up myself if someone credible here posted that they received anything less.
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