Tuesday, April 19, 2016


I looked in the binoculars at the fast moving boat a few miles away. Looks like law enforcement, I thought. A few moments later, it turned towards me, quickly closed the three-mile distance, and pulled alongside. No flashing lights and no response to my hails on VHF 16, but I pulled the throttle back to neutral and coasted to a stop anyway.
Coming for me?
"How are you?" asked the Sheriff.

"I'm great, beautiful day on the water, and you?" I asked.

"Where are you coming from and heading to?"

"Shallow Bay on Sucia Island, heading for Spencer Spit." I responded.

"Are you alone on the boat,"

"Yes" I responded.

"We're going to come aboard for a safety check..."

I'd last been boarded in September 2014 near Jones Island, that time by the U.S. Coast Guard. Three officers had come aboard (wearing helmets and sidearms) and spent about 45 minutes "checking safety gear," or more probably, trying to find any inconsistencies in my story. I passed.
Boarded by the USCG, September 2014
Pulling alongside
This time just one officer, Zach, came aboard, and he wasn't even wearing a helmet! I guess chasing down 8-knot boats isn't that intense. The Sheriff's checklist was shorter but slightly different than the USCG's. The Sheriff wanted to see my Washington State Boater Education Card (not my USCG captains license) and my carbon monoxide warning sticker (WA requirement). The Coast Guard wanted to see my garbage placard and be sure the waste seacock was closed.

Zach's safety check was quick and professional; I was on my way after about 10 minutes with my clean record intact.
Note the "Courtesy Inspection" box is checked...they were courteous, yes, but the inspection
wasn't optional.
Weirder, though, was the volume of law enforcement observed the rest of the day. I spotted boats from USCG, Canadian Navy, San Juan County Sheriff, and WDFW and helicopters from USCG, US Navy, and one other agency. Quite the show of force!


  1. yeah i wonder if they are not looking for those two brothers from OSO

  2. When dealing with local law enforcement and not CC, Do you have to let them aboard? I have been bothered by the Everett police wanting to board me every time I launch my boat. I have told them no the last few time unless they have a warrant. They give me grief but do not come on my boat. What are the real legal requirements for local law enforcement to board a boat?

    1. I realize I'm digging up an ancient topic, but it's something I've been researching as I prepare to buy a boat. WA RCW contains some interesting attempts to snatch the right to board freely, but my opinion is that a properly-prepared boat owner doesn't have to let them board. You do have to stop if signaled (79A.60.080). However, 79A.60.100 is a bit murky: it says that any law enforcement officer within the state has power to enforce the chapter (79A.60) and says they can stop you, board your vessel, and direct it to any suitable pier or anchorage to enforce this chapter. However, 79A.60.100 also says that this chapter shall be construed to supplement federal laws, and if this chapter is inconsistent with federal laws, the federal laws and regs shall control. The federal laws are rather clear: reasonable articulable suspicion is required to detain someone for federal law enforcement. The only exception is that the Coast Guard has significant extensions of power that allow it daytime free boarding.

      In reading up on this, I found another author who wrote that their intention if stopped by any agency aside from the US Coast Guard is to ask the officer directly: "Am I obligated by law to allow you to board?" As I see it, there are three possible outcomes here: the officer has reasonable articulable suspicion, the officer claims you have obligation to allow them to board (which you could subsequently challenge in court), or the officer will stand down. I suspect most will stand down.

    2. Well this is basically what i have done to everett pd for the last 4 or 5 years. Its not that i have anything to hide. I want to go fishing and they hold you up for 30 mins. The whole purpose of thier safety inspection is to write tickets if the find some.thing missing. I refuse to help them ticket me..

  3. Good question, I don't know the answer. I object to the whole "board your boat at any time for any reason" mentality that law enforcement often has, especially since they don't get to search cars or homes similarly. But, with nothing to hide and not wanting an argument on the water, it's easier just to go with their flow...

  4. Isn't your boat considered your house? I would think you would have to let the coast guard on but law enforcement would need a warrant. Wyoming officers have just had me hold up everything they want to see.