“I think you have me a lil’ out-gunned, bubba.” responded our captain, when told by the Coast Guard boarding team to keep his hands on the wheel.
We were catch and release pre-fishing in Federal Waters when a Coast Guard Cutter passed us, the day before the federal red snapper season opener. Our Captain said “Looks like they are going to go on.” They passed us but soon we saw a smaller zodiac-style boat headed our way under a full head of steam. There were four Coast Guard members along side of us very quickly. They politely asked for permission to board.
Our captain, of course said, “C’mon”. Two of the four came aboard. Each member of the boarding team had a side-arm and one also had an M-4. The driver and Mr. M-4 stayed in the zodiac. The inspection began with a series of questions, first to the captain and then to us. They counted our life-vests, checked the horn, and the radio. They asked the captain if he had his license, which he produced. They asked us to see our fishing licenses and about our catch. They then asked to see the live-well, where we had some king mackerel that we had caught. There was blood from a gaffed fish on the deck of our boat, so they had probable cause to look, but they didn’t need it, I later found out. Everything checked out up until this point, so I felt pretty good about the situation.
They then asked the captain if he had any firearms on the boat and he said, “Yes.”
They responded with, “Keep your hands on the wheel and tell us where it is.”
The captain motioned with his head to the compartment in the T-top above the console, “You got me a lil’ out-gunned, bubba.” half-joked our captain.
“Why do you have a pistol?”, asked the Coast Guard after locating the Glock.
They handed the captain a Boarding Report, issued no citations and wished us well.
Normally, where I am from, the interaction would have ended with the satisfactory safety check, license confirmation and game inspection. And, wouldn’t have lead to any further questions.
I was glad that we had a great captain and our licenses. Yet another reason to Hire a Guide.
This made me wonder why? Did we do something to arouse probable cause or, even probable suspicion? Turns out that it didn’t matter.
“One of the biggest misconceptions boaters have about Coast Guard boarding teams is that we need probable cause to conduct an inspection,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class John Sifford, a boarding team member at Coast Guard Station Fairport, in Grand River, Ohio. – an excerpt from the Coast Guard News article What to expect during a Coast Guard boarding
The U.S. Coast Guard is branch of the U.S. Military, and operates under different guidelines than Local, State, or Federal Law Enforcement. See below.
The U.S. Coast Guard Boarding Policy:
Title 14 section 89 of the United States Code authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard to board vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, anytime, any place upon the high seas and upon any waterway over which the United States has jurisdiction, to make inquires, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests. The U.S. Coast Guard does not require a warrant to conduct search, seizures, arrests over any United States Waterway or high seas. The U.S. Coast Guard also have full legal law enforcement power on any land under the control of the United States, as needed to complete any mission.