You are going to get boarded. It’s not a question of “if” but “when”. If you have a boat and use it, it’s inevitable. Be educated concerning the multiple government enforcement agencies that have the right to ask to board your vessel. The “asking” part is just courtesy. Enforcement Agencies can board without permission once you are on the water, and they don’t have time to argue or deal with attitude. Just follow their instructions and do comply gracefully.
The Coast Guard, County, State and Town police and Marine Patrols, within their jurisdiction, the DEC, (Conservation), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) all have their own vessels. Each agency has the right to board in order to check if a vessel is registered, in compliance with safety and operational regulations, the captain is free from inebriation, not carrying illegal contraband, undocumented passengers or illegal fish catches.
When you become aware you are being pursued, slow to a crawl so they can communicate with you. They usually have a bullhorn. They may inform you which channel to go on to communicate. They will inform you how and when they will come along side your vessel. In most instances, they have bumpers ready to deploy. Do not make any frantic movements as that will make you seem suspicious. Once they come tie up and board, their captain is basically in control of your vessel. According to the day they are having, they may be friendly or business like. Just take it as it comes. Most likely it’s just a safety inspection for YOUR safety and if everything is A-OK, they’ll be gone in a few minutes with a courteous “Good Day” or “Stay Safe”. If you have safety compliance issues, they may just warn you that your flares or registration are outdated and either cut you slack with a warning or be rigid and give you a summons. Either way it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let it spoil your day.
Now come the stickier situations. All enforcement entities are here to protect you, other boaters, and the environment. So, if you rip your “Go Fast Boat” or Jet Ski through a No Wake Zone and get caught – you are going to have a big problem. If you can barely stand and have a beer in your hand, you have bigger problem. If you give them lip under any condition – well, you just put yourself in the worst situation. You can be arrested, go to jail, and have your boat impounded.
If you have license to carry a weapon that is on the boat, tell them right away. Do not produce it, just tell them where it is, they will examine it and make sure you comply. They will return it if it is. If not, you have a ton of explaining to do. Should they find personal use drugs on board or a larger amount that makes you look like a transporter, you likely will be arrested. Drugs, booze and boats just do not mix.
The State DEC has jurisdiction over our waters and coastline. If you are lazily fishing in the bay or shell fishing, they’re the ones who are coming to check your catch. They’ll l check to see if you have signed up for the Saltwater Fishing Registry, the size of your catch, amount caught and whether your catch is in season. If you are cheating, they take your catch, and you get a summons. If you have a large illegal catch aboard and caught catching and selling without a commercial license, that’s a serious offense the courts will decide. Penalties can be very harsh.
When fishing offshore, you better be sure you have a Federal Pelagic Fishing Permit from the Federal Marine Fisheries before you start landing tuna, swordfish, and most sharks. There are very stringent laws in force to protect these valuable fisheries. Play by the rules and keep the fishery healthy.
Keep this in mind. These governmental agencies are protecting you so treat them with respect, some day you may need any one of them!