What To Do If Pulled Over by the Coast Guard

By Joseph Carro.

Our mission at the U.S. Coast Guard is to save lives, so the sight of flashing blue lights and a U.S. Coast Guard patrol vessel pulling alongside is no reason for boat owners to panic. The Coast Guard conducts approximately 70,000 boardings a year in its multiple roles of enforcing maritime law, conducting search and rescue operations, promoting boating safety, preventing damage to marine environments, and helping to defend the nation’s borders. Our motto is Semper Paratus – “Always Ready.” The more time a boater spends on the water, the more likely he or she will have the pleasure of a Coast Guard boarding.

Most often, the decision to board is based on the activity, the location, and, in some circumstances, obvious violations such as operating at night without navigation lights, or improper display of registration numbers. To help us decide, we usually ask a series of pre-boarding questions; for example: What was the vessel’s last port of call and next port of call? How many persons are aboard? What is the purpose of your voyage?

If we decide to board, consider it an important opportunity to learn something new about safety equipment and safe boating practices. Typically, a uniformed Coast Guard Boarding Team of two to four boarding officers will come aboard, introduce themselves, and state the reason for the boarding. The officer in charge will ask if you have any weapons aboard and conduct an initial safety inspection to identify any obvious safety hazards and to verify the general seaworthiness of your vessel.

The officer will then ask to see the boat’s registration or other documentation and proceed to a more detailed inspection of your vessel’s required safety equipment – life jackets, fire extinguishers, flares, etc. You should know that we check every aspect of each item on our list. For example, with life jackets – the item most frequently cited for violations – we check to see if you have them aboard, in good and serviceable condition, Coast Guard-approved, properly stowed, and the correct size for the intended wearers.

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