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Too many random boardings? Michigan may have an answer

Reports of overzealous boardings of boats, particularly by Coast Guard personnel in western Lake Erie, aren’t new. Indeed, over the years boaters and dealers alike have been critical of the Coast Guard randomly stopping boaters for time-consuming boardings that result in more animosity than boating safety.

Ken Alvey, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, and a former chief of the Ohio Division of Watercraft, whose officers also stop and board boats, isn’t any stranger to the problem. “Every agency wants to keep boating safe, but in my experience the effort to do a good job can go over the top,” he says. “So we’d talk it out and try to reset a necessary and acceptable balance.” Talking it out is what happened earlier this week as Alvey met with representatives of the Coast Guard and ODOW. Additional meetings between the dealers and the agencies are forthcoming.

The problem is complaints about random boardings are already ringing with the boating season just starting there. For example, a father and son were aboard Rocky Piacentino’s demo Regulator drift fishing in a group of 20-25 boats at 9:50 am when the Coast Guard randomly singled them out for boarding. Piacentino, owner of Catawba Moorings, reported that while boarding, a Coast Guard person lost footing and crashed into the canvas enclosure, ripping it up. The boarding took one hour 10 minutes and at the end, the Coast Guard said they didn’t even have a damage report form so Piacentino would have to go to the Coast Guard station to get one.

Similarly, Ted Patrick, owner of Lake & Bay Yachts Sales, has already been randomly stopped and boarded twice in the last two weeks. The second time, Patrick and the Coast Guard person recognized each other from the first boarding. Still, Patrick had to produce his driver’s license. The Coast Guard demands everyone on the boat show a driver’s license or I.D, unlike a comparable auto stop on land where everyone in the car isn’t required to show I.D. “But, I suppose I should be used to it,” chuckles Patrick. “Last summer I was boarded three times and stopped a fourth.”

It’s not just dealers who are complaining. Patrick tells of a customer who was boarded as he left the West Harbor. After the boarding, the customer went on to nearby Kelley’s Island for dinner. Upon returning from dinner, it was a two-fer night . . . the customer was boarded at the harbor entrance again!

John Schroeder at Happy Days Boating Company echoes the other dealers. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been held up on a demo ride for a Coast Guard boarding in the Portage River,” he says. “Often prospects are visibly shaken when armed men suddenly climb aboard. They don’t understand what’s happening. It shouldn’t be that way.”

“Boaters say they’re alienated by it all,” says Piacentino. “They see the Coast Guard waiting outside the harbor to randomly board boats and some say they’d rather stay at the dock than go through the hassle. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Fortunately, for Piacentino, at least one thing worked out well . . . that customer did buy a new Regulator. Moreover, hoping to avoid future hassles, he even took his new boat to the Coast Guard Station for a boarding. He was given a yellow boarding report form and told: “If you’re stopped and hold up this yellow report, it may keep you from being boarded again, but there’s no guarantee.”

Should there be some guarantee? Absolutely! And, Michigan may be the first state to decide legislating a happy middle ground is the best way to go. With the leadership of the Michigan Boating Industries Association, H.B. 5110 sponsored by Rep. Richard LeBlanc was overwhelmingly passed by the Michigan legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on March 22. It specifies that a vessel displaying a safety check decal cannot be stopped unless an officer has a “reasonable and articulable suspicion” the vessel is committing a maritime law violation or is otherwise engaged in criminal activity. Now that makes sense.

Everyone wants safe boating. Safety inspections are valuable. Common sense says boaters should get them. But, common sense also says a policy of random boardings, frequently an hour or more and multiple times for the same vessel, is unreasonable. It’s a sad day when common sense has to be legislated, but kudos to MBIA for making it more enjoyable for Michigan boaters.


13 comments on “Too many random boardings? Michigan may have an answer

  1. Doug Reimel

    I am so happy to hear that as a member of the MBIA that something has gotten done. In the Detroit River, Lake Erie Basin it is not just the Coast Guard. I had a customer on a day time cruise around Grosse Isle get stopped by the U. S. Coast Guard, U.S Border Patrol, U.S. Border Protection, U.S. Dept of Homeland Sercurity, Wayne County Sherrif, Metro Parks Police, and the Michigan DNR. Each stop gave him documentation that was worthless to the next in line to do a “safety check”, and all were visible to the next in line.

    Thank you to the MBIA, the Michigan legislature and Governor Snyder. This will go along way to making boating fun for the law abiding citizen

  2. Bill Coleman

    Interesting, we have very few problems with the Coasties here on eastern Lake Erie, But the Border Patrol – Don’t get me started!

  3. Scott Croft

    This has been a big issue on the Hudson River as well. A lot of credit goes to Boating on the Hudson Magazine Publisher John Vargo in trying to find a solution:


    A clip from last year’s press conference:

  4. Peter swanson

    Only two agencies boarding boats in Lake Erie? How lucky you are.

    Here on the St. Johns River in Nothern Florida, the situation is ludicrous. We have the Coast Guard, of course, but also state Fish and Wildlife, Clay County marine patrol on the West side, St. John’s County on the east, Duval County in the north. We also the city of Green Cove Springs. And now–even though we are 40 miles from the sea–Customs and Border Protection in their go-fast rig.

    Some times they are decked out like a SWAT team. Sometimes they want to ensure no one is pumping overboard, even though the municipal treatment plants are putting millions of gallons of untreated or undertreated sewage into the river each year.

    The over-presence of law enforcement on the water here is deplorable. It’s a waste of tax dollars. And its bad for boating. You’ve got it good, Ohio.

  5. Dean A. West

    Kudos to MBIA for taking actions they shouldn’t have to take. It is outrageous that our liberties, on our waters, are being hijacked by governmental organizations run amok! These people work for US, and regardless of your political persuasion, we should demand of our elected officials, as well as the un-elected bureaucrats, that they respect and enforce our RIGHTS and FREEDOMS….. not satisfy their distorted sense of importance, relevance and significance.
    Nearly as bad as the damage these intrusive and unnecessary boardings are doing to recreational boating,is the damage they are doing to the respect, appreciation and admiration we USED to have for all the hard working, diligent, and honorable Coasties and marine patrol officers.
    We must re-establish control over our government and “public servants”.
    If not for our businesses, then for our children and grandchildren

  6. Chris

    This will be something if the state powers to be think they have any gontrol over a federal agency! especially if that agency has customs authority. Keep in mind that what we think might be a little overbearing on multiple boarding, It may have a reason that we as the boating might not need to know. I hold this thought to any of our boarders, North, South, East, or West.

  7. enginecom

    I get stopped at liest twice a season while water testing and on demos. These rentacops need to be given the same restraints as land cops. The biggest problem is we are not protected from 4th amendment search and seasure limits on the water. They can and will board you because they are armed. We have heard of horror stories from long distance cruisers run out of safe harbor by these dolts trying to keep busy 24/7. Maybe its time to cut their funding. Obama is behind this as their people want no impacts on the environment by any person or business. Maybe if Romney wins the presidency things will change. Remember in November.

  8. Ted

    I was stopped twice last year ,once with customer, and then 2 weeks later on my boat. I have not been stopped yet this year but it is early.

  9. Anne Henner Mulligan

    There are four (4) different agencies that set up tents on the Portage River. No one from our marina goes out if they’re there. They’re afraid to boat.

    We, too, get pulled over regularly. The last episode, they detained us for over an hour on a Sunday night, while they tried to contact the ODNR to validate our dealer registration. No one at the ODNR is in an office on Sunday night. Our customers had children to pick up! They pulled aside and privately interrogated my fifteen year old son, who was driving. They stood “guard” over us with an automatic rifle. If we were approached in foreign waters by officers with automatic weapons, Mike says, “I’d run like hell!” Funny thing is, those same offices saw us at the Cedar Point Boat Show three days later and commented, “See, I told you they were legit.” We pull into Leamington with a different boat and ZZ numbers every season and they never bat an eye.

    So, Norm, what can we do that’s proactive? What can Lake Erie dealers do to help bring about legislation like Michigan passed?

  10. seabreeze100

    Check out the thread about this subject on Great Lakes- Occupied Lake Erie

  11. CaptA

    Has anyone asked WHY the Coasties are boarding people so often? What are marine accident and BUI rates compared to other areas of the country? Have their been reports of increased nationsal security issues with regards to vessel crossing the Canadadian/US maritime boarder. There has to be a reason the coasties are stopping vessels more often. What is it? Don’t tell me it is for fun or boredom because their resources are stretched thin even in the great lakes. I bet if a boat owner installes a Class A AIS unit, the number of stops not related to national security and drugs would decrease dramatrically.

    Maybe people should be asking themselves what is it about this geographic area that invites more boarding activity.

    IMHO–You have to be nuts to pick a fight with the USCG.

  12. Jim

    If you were to view our new 20 million dollar tax payer provided border patrol/coast guard/customs building now almost completed here in Port Clinton you might have some insight as to why they are trying to finds ways to fine people and raise more money to pay for this monstrosity and the people hired to operate within it. They claim is that there are too many illegals crossing the border on a daily basis and thus we need a large border patrol presence here.
    Not only do we have the new building; but we have border patrol boats with quad outboards and 4 prop airplanes in constant flight above the lake as well as many land vehicles roaming about.

    Just one odd thing; we have heard not one word EVER in the paper, the radio, or on the tv about even one illegal being found, detained, or returned to their home country. Not one. Interesting isn’t it?

  13. Pat

    As you may already know Michigan has no say in Coast Guard boardings nor authority to tell them not to board a vessel so I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for thew CG to slow down their boardings.

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