John, the general level of "policing" in US waters is professional. You'll find local, county ("shire"), state, and federal agents of all kinds and obviously some will be more of a credit to their uniform than others.
In many areas there have been deaths from drownings and drunken operators, so one of the more common reasons for boardings are safety
inspections. If a boat passes and you look ship-shape and have PFDs on or visible, you are less likely to be boarded. If you are boarded, and produce your safety equipment
(flares properly dated, PFD's properly stowed, etc.) in a way that indicates you're familiar with them and they're all up to snuff, again, that's probably all they want to see.
If they see children
without PFD's, that's illegal in many states. If they see folks bowriding, that's not illegal but often may get you boarded. A lot of folks try to put one over on "cops" of various kinds here, and the one thing that will piss them off fast is when they smell this happening. Show them that you know what's going on, that you're a responsible sailor, and you respect the job they have to do, and they're often quite civil and just as eager to be off someplace else where they have more to do.
An ambush at a dingy dock
is not inconceivable, there are thugs and bullies in uniform all over the world and small town thugs are just that. But, it is also quite common here to set up enforcement checkpoints where officers will sit in likely places (like, outside bars<G>) to catch common infractions. Having a kid on the water
without a PFD
is a fast way to get ticketed, either because it is outright illegal, or because some cop is tired of recovering small floaters and writes it up as "reckless operation".
And any cop, even on the highways, isn't going to accept "I couldn't afford a car seat" much less "I couldn't afford a PFD" for the kids
. They've seen too many bodies, they will compromise on that without a much better excuse, and I don't blame them.
Florida's southeast coast, aka "The Gold Coast" and the Keys became overpriced and overcrowded 30-40 years ago. What's left are remnants, mainly crowded out by wanna-be real estate moguls and extortionists. But, you can probably say the same thing about Tahiti
and anyplace else that's been talked about and visited too much in the same years!
Get a Federal Express or DHL delivery
guide book. Anyplace that has overnight courier services, or an airport
within 150 miles? Cross it off your list, it will be "civilized" now. (Well, that's what they call it.<G>) Sadly nothing unique about Florida