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Security, safety or harassment?

When does a program in the name of security or safety become harassment?  It’s a question being asked on Lake Erie and, I suspect, elsewhere these days. This summer has seen a dramatic increase in boardings by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Border Patrol and it’s starting to turn adversarial. “It’s outright harassment of boaters,” wrote Jack Hern in response to a recent local newspaper article about the growing anger of area boaters.

“I , too, have been stopped twice in the last 30 days — once by the Coasties and then by the Border Patrol with their three big Mercs, and all of them armed!” 

The Coast Guard, along with local law enforcement agencies, has been stepping up their patrols along the Lake Erie coast as part of an operation dubbed the ”Northern Border Initiative” with the Ohio Department of Homeland Security. The stated goal of the project, using $2 million in Homeland Security grants, is to protect Ohio’s open border with Canada. As a result, boardings have increased 52 percent this summer compared to last summer. Boaters, for example, have been stopped by the Coast Guard Station at Lorain, Ohio, an area where boaters have become very vocal about their displeasure. It’s like running a law enforcement gauntlet just to get out on the Lake, claim the boaters.

Local business leaders are speaking out, too. 

The Lorain Morning Journal reported on local businessman Lee Howley who told Coast Guard officials: ”In my 50 years here, I haven’t ever seen so much damage to the community. You’ve taken the pleasure out of pleasure-boating.” Bill Schaeffer, owner of Beaver Park Marina, added, ”The boating industry has enough problems. Boating families shouldn’t be harassed in the name of security or safety. There’s no question these actions are hurting our business,’ he added.

There’s a big difference between presence and aggressive enforcement. No one has a problem with seeing the Coast Guard or Border Patrol boats on patrol. But a lot of people are feeling hassled and threatened by the constant boardings without cause and, in many cases, multiple times. It’s creating an “us versus them” feeling between boaters and the authorities. That undermines efforts to have boaters report suspicious activity to the Coast Guard or Ohio Homeland Security in its ”See something, say something” program.

As dealers, we must be aggressive in standing up for our customers when actions are being taken by governmental agencies, even normally friendly ones, which negatively impact the right to peaceful use of our products. Stopping and boarding and re-boarding pleasure boats in an aggressive random manner may be within the law but it is hardly justifiable in the name of either national security or safety.

That’s how I see it, how about you?


8 comments on “Security, safety or harassment?

  1. ted weyhrauch

    I now live in Florida but for the last 40yrs. I did my boating in western Long Island Sound, the boardings, drive bys, etc. by local inforcement, Coast Guard and Game offfocers became so frequent that I adjusted where I did my boating to have the least amount of contact with them. It definitly took the fun out of many a day, once a wildlife officer stopped me in blind fog and then lied by saying someone saw me keep a illegal fish( two problems with that statement, first there was almost zero visability and second I never kept a illegal size fish in my life). While stopping me he ran over to trolling outfits because he wouldn’t wait for me to retrieve them, 200 dollars worth of equipment gone brand new I might add and again later that day he boarded me again and acted like he had never seen me before.
    Please stop law inforcement from putting quotas on how many stops their officers have to make and let them do their job, most of them are very good at it without harassing us.

  2. Doug Reimel

    I personally have stopped boating in the Detroit River because of this. The local Sherrif braggs that their DUI are up 100% over last years up over !00%. I am told they do not need cause to board your boat. Which implies a boater is guilty until proven innocent.The designated driver rule applies here too. But it is just one more way to make boating to much work.The only boat throughing a wake in the NO-WAKE zone is the Law Enforcement Boat. I get irritated when the Law Enforcement does not know the rules of the road and is writting tickets. I give the Coast Guard more respect because they are not out to damage your boat like the over zealous officer. According to the information on the new home of the U.S Boarder Partol being constructed in Gibraltar Michigan there are 8 new boats and 28 new officers. All of them targeting the small boats(under 22 foot) for boarding. I believe if I were to smuggle anything I would do it in a big boat were there is more room to hide anything than an open fishing boat.

  3. DOUG

    Because they are getting Homeland Security grants for these projects, they are trying to justify their existence by this behavior. Our area has three different departments doing the same.

  4. Bryon Kass

    I get attention from the “rentacops” all the time. They don’t know that dealers are out there on the weekends testing and showing boats. They see my dealer numbers on plastic plates wired to the bow rail and think they are illegal. The problem is they never read their own regulations! This just makes your day when your customer is wondering why they are stopping you. That and the excuses they give for pulling you over really gives you a fuzzy fealing about where your tax dollars are going!

  5. Jim Burroughs

    Ottawa County on Lake Erie is number one out of 88 counties in Ohio when it comes to DUI arrests. One cannot navigate the lake or the streets of Port Clinton without seeing the constant presence of the law, especially after dark.
    Every harbor entrance, Put in Bay and Kelley’s Island are targeted especially on weekends by the same agencies you mention. Yet accidents and fatalities are down considerably over the past several years.
    Call it harassment or call it earning dollars to cover enforcement expenses–it is definitely happening in our part of the world; and it is happening to the detriment of boating and boat sales. What we can do about it becomes the question. I, for one, would be glad to be part of the solution if anyone has any ideas that might be worth considering.

  6. Ted Banning

    Interesting comments. In the past 45 days I have been boarded by Homeland Security, USCG and BSO Marine Patrol. I dont mind so much the USCG bording to do a safety inspection. But you would think that they would update their data base to notate the boarding, date and outcome. Since I have had not one violation or safety issue found, I find it a tremendous waste of time and resources for the local law enforcement agencies to spend time doing what they clearly also see as a waste of time. Living in So. Florida we are on the water a lot and it seems that every second time on the water we spend time with one of the above agency’s.

    I fully support a safe waterway and also recognize that if I get in trouble on the water I would welcome them for assistance and would be my first call. But surely we can collectively come up with a plan to either submit once a season to a voluntaty saftey inspection and have a decal issued for other agencies to note that the boat has passed inspection. In this way they can devote more time and resources to drug smuggling, commercial vessel inspections and perhaps save a life or two.

  7. Doug Reimel

    There is just one more item I would like to address here with the Homeland Security Money being spent. Why so all the brand new Government Boats have Yamaha Outboards or Honda Outboatds on them instead of American Made Motors? Homeland Security supporting Foreign Made Products. Interesting use of Tax Payer Dollars.

  8. jason

    I have been stopped 3 times in the last 15 days on the Detroit river, this is a tremendous waste of money, in Detroit you have the Detroit Police, Wayne County Sheriff, Border Patrol, Customs Agents, & Coast Guard, this is harassment you don’t see Canadian Authorities out like this. Us Boaters need to form a coalition to petition congress to make laws requiring for rules for these agencies to keep them in check, boarding for no cause is just as illegal as a search & seizure in home with no warrant

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