|Dealing With Authority by Jay Coyle, Yachting 2/2013|
Amen...all of my close calls have admittedly come from momentary lapses in focus and judgment. If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: pay attention at the helm!
In this brief article on the complexities of maritime law enforcement, Jay interviews a law enforcement officer friend although it's unclear from which marine patrol the friend hails from. A few interesting notes come out of the interview:
1. Maritime law enforcement officers are generally there to help, and are friendly (more on this in a moment)
2. If you see flashing blue lights, they may be from the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Harbor Master, Local Police, or - if you're a very unfortunate soul - the Navy. OK, I embellished that last part - Jay doesn't mention the Navy.
3. If you see flashing blue lights, PULL OVER.
Essentially when I'm on the water (and what I think Jay was basically recommending), I assume anyone with obvious police paraphernalia (lights, markings, boat design, weaponry) has a right to pull me over, search the boat, and otherwise make my sunny day turn cloudy in a jiffy.
Common sense and experience will tell you that being stopped on the water is a different experience than being stopped on land. For one, you're in the middle of nowhere...as in, nowhere to run. Secondly, there is no one else around (passing cars) to help witness any abuse of power on the part of the authorities. Furthermore, time is against you - once stopped, you still have to deal with wind, current, and adverse weather conditions, making everything more stressful. Since your boat is perhaps your home-on-the-water, police are usually more weary of what might be in that cabin versus in your car. All things combined can make for a difficult traffic stop.
In my time I've experienced unusually helpful law enforcement; guarding hazards, helping boaters in trouble, etc. I also had one power-tripping town cop-on-a-boat accuse me of drinking and take me to land for a sobriety test (yippee, I passed!). However, he may not have done that if I had been paying attention to the no-wake area. No, I didn't ignore it, the buoys were simply not in yet that early in the year. But I digress...
Point: Pay attention. If you don't do anything wrong, you won't be bothered (ideal). If you do find yourself in violation of the law, be cooperative by all means. They don't want to spend their day tied up to your raft anymore than you want them to.
After all, they're just people - boaters at that - and they want to have fun on the water too.