Probable Cause?

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Feb 29, 2008
I see that a handout supplied with my USCG documentation reads, "State and Local Officials have the right to board documented vessels for law enforcement purposes."
Can anyone take me to school on what exactly this means?

This may be an interesting topic to many folks who are liveaboards.

Even though you live aboard, you don't have the same rights that someone does in a house. You can be boarded and searched at any time with no probable cause. It's because you are on a means of transportation, and this goes way back to the early days of the country, when law enforcement could board boats at any time to check for contraband, smugglers, etc.

Now if they find any illegal drugs, as little as one pot seed, your boat is confiscated and you'll never see it again. Period. That's their zero tolerance policy at work.
They still need "probable cause".

The problem is if either DUMBO or the SHREW win the next election having a US flag displayed would be probable cause for a search.

A copy of the Constitution for the United States might get you prison time!

Nope, they don't need probable cause to board a boat.
Our privacy rights have taken a bigger hit under Shrub than at any time since the Civil War.* Things will improve when Obama or Hillary takes the WH.

FF wrote:

They still need "probable cause".

The problem is if either DUMBO or the SHREW win the next election having a US flag displayed would be probable cause for a search.

A copy of the Constitution for the United States might get you prison time!

USCG's ability to board you at will has been around much longer than Bush has been president.

When I hear people speak ill of Bush, I remember that he had trouble with "misunderestimate". Clinton had trouble with "is".

Ken Buck
"Bush had no trouble running the country off a cliff."

Sorry , guess I missed the cliff,,, with the best economy the world has ever seen for almost 5 years. Created by removing a tiny portion of the tax burden.

No attacks by the dozens of Alkida cells now in the country , and job's and home ownership at record highs.

Sure some condo flippers are stuck and some dumb greedy banks are getting their DUE, but so what? Thats what orderly Bankrupcy laws are for!

No risk , no reward, when TV shows are called "Flip this House" and imbeciles get 50K for a 3 week repaint , no question there will be hassles.

The current food price is due to 20 years of pushing by the greens , combined by the primary being in a corn state , so free cash for ADM , and an almost 200% price rise to loose energy with gasahol is very partly Bushes fault.

He didn't veto the gasahol subsidies as he should have.

Still waiting to hear of a SINGLE loss of privacy by the ACLU , they want to sue , sue , sue , but are unable to show ONE harmed "victim " out of 300,000,000 folks and 5 years!

WooHoo! Go FF!
FF, what you been smoking, man?* The way things are going I need a vacation from reality, too.
Atta boy Fred! Hard to argue with the facts!
Keep on topic or go OTDE!!!

I was also under the impression that if your boat is documented, that the CG for all practical purposes, "owns" your boat and therefore can board at will.
So now that the dark side is running Congress things are improving quickly? I seem to remember how things were going to change when the Dems got control of Congress! Well, are we starting to see change yet? Are we seeing the fruits of their 5 day work week (oh, it's only 3 days? I must have heard Nancy Baloney wrong) Hows that new fiscal policy working? Oh, the economy is starting to tank? You mean people aren't investing quite as much into jobs and the economy when the middle class tax breaks are held up in Congress? You do recall that the middle class was the prime beneficiary of the tax cuts regardless of what the press headlined.

I can hardly wait to see how wonderful my healthcare becomes when everyone becomes entitled. Perhaps they have some Doctors waiting in the wings to supplement care for every little ache and pain? Maybe they can ration operating room time like Canada does. Have you seen the average wait time for carpel tunnel surgery?

Yep, we jumped off the cliff with Bush. Odrama and Shrillary will put an Acme rocket on our backs headed straight down. Of course the sooner you hit bottom the sooner you can start crawling back up.

I find it interesting that most of you that are complaining, I perceive as male, white and/or middle class.* It would be an eye opener if you gave up your status, and you knew first hand about probable cause. I am sure most of you will be one of the very first who will call them if you think your rights were being infringed on.

Probable cause can be anything from you/your boats appearance, perceived society status, to just looking/admiring some thing/body.* Any give day I go from perceived white, middle/upper class to a third class low live, which I find interesting and/or humorous. ***

Furthermore, being a live aboard the dirt/land basic right of knowing you will have moorage/a place to live is month to month as the marina can give you 30 days notice or take your live aboard status away with out reason. One of the reason we bought the condo is its a lot easier to find non live aboard moorage then live a board as we were given 30 days notice with out warning, which is very un nerving.* So when the marina says jump you jump, no questions asked.*

If the marina, police coast guard want to board/inspect my boat they have my blessing with or without cause as I have nothing to hide. I would be more up set if a stranger boarded the boat and went though/stole some stuff.* The Seattle and the Everett marina security, police and maybe the coast guard know the Eagle and me as I have called them several times especially living in the middle or a large metro city. In fact before I moved to Everett I met and made sure they did not have a concern/problems with my live style.*

So before you complain to much walk the walk before you talk the talk.* I am very grateful*for the marina securety,*police and coast guard.*

I know a few people in the USCG and I've known a lot of police officers over the years. None of them have struck me as the kind of folks who sit around thinking up new ways to hassle peope just for the fun of it.

I think the important thing to remember is that all these things we view as impositions, be it boat boardings or airport security or red-light cameras, are there because enough people broke the law or inconvenienced or endangered the rest of us that complaints mounted until some action was taken.

Many of us can remember back when locking their house or car door was not an essential thing to do.

So we can grouse about our "rights" being erroded away if that's what you view is happening, but we need to put the blame in the right place. It's not the USCG or local police or Homeland Security, it's the people that have done the things that have prompted the actions being taken.

We can blame it on schools or bad parenting or television or any of a million things that have led to the errosion of personal responsibility and consideration and the proliferation of violence to get one's point across, but regardless, it's not the enforcers or the invasive laws that are the threat, it's the people who make those enforcers and laws necessary.

Well said. I must admit, however, that I've been boarded for half an hour at the most inconvenient times but since I have nothing to hide, it wasn't a big deal.

Baker wrote:

Keep on topic or go OTDE!!!

I was also under the impression that if your boat is documented, that the CG for all practical purposes, "owns" your boat and therefore can board at will.
They don't "own" it, but it is considered to be a little piece of the US if you're outside the waters of the US. Kinda like your own little consulate.

However, boardings go way back to the early US. I think it was called the Lifeboat Service way back when... they were given the authority to board any vessel, period as they could be carrying contraband, smuggling, etc. Since it's a means of transportation, not a house, whether you live aboard or not, they can board you any time with no probable cause. Don't need one. They can board to do an "inspection", check your papers, cargo, whatever. I guess you could try to refuse but I'm sure you'd be unhappy with the consequences!
We've been boarded twice by the USCG in the ten years we've owned the boat. Both times we were able to maintain our course and speed once the boarding party was on board--- the CG's SAFE boat simply stood off a bit and paced us. The boarding party had a checklist, all safety or required items, that they went through. Of course in the process they looked through the entire boat. However I don't recall them opening drawers or cupboards. They were polite, friendly, and efficient and, like Walt's experience, it took about 30 minutes.

From what I understand, random searches are often productive here in the PNW on the water and roads around the border in terms of drugs, illegal immigrants, explosives, etc. So if it takes an occasional boarding of our boat to maintain the "random" principle, it doesn't bother us.
That might work in in some areas, but it doesn't seem to work in ours. We have the annual exam stickers (from the Coast Guard Auxilliary) and have a good friend who conducted the inspections for the local Auxiliary that some of the USCG guys who boarded us knew. My wife even pointed out the stickers in case they hadn't noticed them. Their reply was that it's a great idea to have a courtesy inspection but it doesn't alter their own requirement to do their own inspection.

One difference might be that the USCG guys here aren't really all that interested in carrying out an actual safety inspection. They are boarding the boats for entirely different reasons--- the safety inspection is just their friendly "excuse" for boarding your boat.

Customs and Immigration came up to our boat once with (I assume) the intention of boarding. I was on the foredeck with our new puppy who was relieving himself prolifically against the side of the forecabin. I heard a roar and turned around in time to see the big gray and black triple-engined SAFE boat peel off in a 180 degree turn and head away from us.

My wife said they'd come up on our starboard quarter with their blue light flashing but they all started laughing at the sight of the puppy peeing away. My wife indicated with her hands if she should slow down and she said they just waved and sped away, still laughing.

So it seems around here the secret to avoiding a boarding is to have a puppy ready to pee on deck if an official boat appears alongside.
gns wrote:

FF, what you been smoking, man?* The way things are going I need a vacation from reality, too.

Seriously.* FF's apparently started his deNile cruise early.*
I've accepted the fact that a person/vessel has no rights for a long time as far as the CG and Customs go. The question that I posed was directed at State and Local law enforcement. Where are they given extraordinary powers to stop and search where there is no probable cause? For example, if I am not fishing (no lines in the water) does Fish and Game have the right to fish and search my boat for fish? If I have lines in the water, than I understand. I have no intention of breaking any law but I am troubled with what I see in WA state as far as the local police and the State Patrol. The ugly truth is that if you happen to drive your vehicle in the early morning hours, in many of the smaller towns, you will be stopped and scrutinized. Truth is that law enforcement has become big business. This all happens under the radar, in the name of public safety.
This is getting off topic, but what I always ask is why these officers aren't kicking down doors and arresting the real bad guys with outstanding warrants? There's no revenue in it. The jails will fill up.
So if we have these overzealous officers on the streets and highways, essentially looking for recognition first, and revenue second, what's to keep them off the waterways?
But back to the topic, where are the laws written that give the State and Local people these broad powers?

It is MY understanding that the USCG and local "police" may board for a SAFETY INSPECTION, not a general toss of the boat and its contents.

AS far as I know the ONLY folks that can randomly search a vessel, (weather it has been "out of the USA or not) is the agriculture folks."


My biggest hassles have been with small townships that claim ownership of "mooring fields" to keep visitors bucks flowing.

Sag Harbor NY claims VAST areas (basically all nearby waters not in the marked channel) , even though moorings are only in 5% of the claimed area.


-- Edited by FF at 05:52, 2008-03-11
It is my understand the*way the water ways work is beyond mean tide the land is controller/regulated by the Federal government.* The Federal government entrust the state to oversee the water way the state, and the state entrust the cities and town.* The state and city/town Dept of Land and Water Use through state and city legislation have divided up the wate.* Furthermore each the water ways a zoned just like land as to use or what can and can not be done on it.

For example in Seattle the property owner own the fist 30 to 60 ft but still have to use the water/land as zoned by the city and/or state.* The city regulates I believe 120 ft out and the state owns/regulates beyond 120 ft. *So all the water ways with in the US is inter connected and regulated.* That is the reason its important to all the boaters across US to be concerned what other cities and states are doing.

About 5+ years ago Seattle and Washington state tried to regulate to no allow live a boards on city and state regulated land/water.* Well, one of the marines they took to task was your marina, and the picked on the wrong live a boards. **Who fought the city state for several months until we started the Live A Board Association and went public. If it was not for a dozen of so of *live a boards, Live a boards would have been regulated against.*

So cities can lay claim/regulate shore/water and they can regulate no anchoring, live a boards, restrict the use of.**They*regulated no live a boards in*the new Everett Marina. **It my believe the state land and use still has a quiet agenda to restrict live a boards and to get the require states approve that is required.* So as *marines need state approval live a board may/will not be allowed.* So if you dont like it get involved.*
"I've accepted the fact that a person/vessel has no rights for a long time as far as the CG and Customs go. The question that I posed was directed at State and Local law enforcement. Where are they given extraordinary powers to stop and search where there is no probable cause?"

The way I've seen it work is that they detain you for an observable violation. Taillight out, questionable trailer hitch, non-compliant lighting scheme, unsafe operation, oil sheen seen from your bilge pump, child without life jacket, etc. Then after they have a reason to make contact with you, they can make further observations, hand rolled cigarette in the ashtray, bait in the 5 gallon bucket, etc. They will ask you for permission to search the boat, or to look in a specific area. If you refuse permission they can continue to detain you while they perform a complete safety check etc.

There is no time limit as to how long this may take. If you are adamant that they cannot search the area they want, and they can find no reason to further detain you, then you're free to go. For example the Fish and Wildlife agent may not have a copy of a specific regulation which he needs to check to see if you are in compliance. A WSP Trooper may be contacted to bring said document. That might take an hour while you wait. The more adamant you are and the more excited you get, the longer they will take. If you pull out a book and show that you have no place you need to be, you just might be released much earlier.

I'm not saying this is right or wrong, just that it is.

Ken Buck
Don't know about documented vessels but when I was a teenager in Seattle we rented house boats, then readily availible and considered slums, so the Seattle Police couldn't get us. We could party with the pedal to the metal and all they did was drive by on the road. We ran across the roof into the water, caught fish and saved them in the bath tub ect ect and did'nt get busted for a long time. When the bust finally came ( I think they had the Coast Gaurd with them ) I went into the water like an alligator and got away. I wonder if this is part of my boating history?

"I went into the water like an alligator"

Now THAT would be a picture worth posting here. Eric running on all fours with his mouth wide open showing all his teeth.

Sorry, my imagination got away from me.

Ken Buck
First it is not something you would want to take on alone unless you were forced into. Our case we were forced into a corn and what started out as a stall tactic escalated into something much bigger.* Sort of like the tip of the ice berg.* At the very least start with a group of live a boards in your marina, and other local marinas.* I would caution you about keeping a low profile and not let/get the marina managers involved unless you have an exit plan.* Our plan was to move back to the dirt is necessary, which is one of the reasons we bought a condo.

At the Everett Marina the marine still sees the live a boards as positive and have even mentions a couple of time to request the city of Everett to allow live a boars for security reasons, as live a board to protect and keep and eye one things.* Not allowing live aboard I the new marina has open up moorage I the old that does allow so it has not been total negative.*

However, if the city/marine/state wants to eliminate live a board in the old marine, then thats a different story and a time to take a stand, but again have an exit plan.* Also be aware that marinas in the areas also meet have an association so getting on a marines bad list can cause long term effects.* As a marine for what ever reason can give you 30 day notice.*

So I highly caution you to evaluate before you start something you do not want to take on at this time. If I/we were not push I would have not gotten involved. Also, make sure the live aboard police them self which was a big negative for us as there were many live a boards that did not meet regulations and living as they generally thought live aboard were. So certain marines, live a boards, business, and in general the lake was clean up and regulated more.

*Many non live aboard boats that were not capable of leaving the dock were given 30 days notice to show there boat was capable of leaving the dock.* As a result the whole lake got a waking up.* Boaters now have to prove insurance, meet sanitation requirements, keep their boat in a reasonable condition.* You marina require the boats be keep to a yacht quality condition, if not you were give 30 days to bring it up to standards.* So I can understand where the city and state where coming from, but as it turned out it was not the live a boards per say but the general boating public.* *So clean your own house/area before you start something.* Is the few that can effect the majority.

Feel free to email me at *
yours, mine and almost anyone's initial contact with law enforcement is usually under what is knowns as "reasonable suspicion." Authority can stop you and ask quesiton based on practically no suspicious activity at all.

The Coastie's authority to seach you vessel for limited reasons is allowed, even though it seems to violate the constitution, because the courts have found that your rights are subject to rights of others to be free from a danger that might be caused by you. They can do so in a way that is narrowly tailored to resolve certain court recognized things, like the presence of safety equipment.

Neither the coast guard nor anyone else, can thoroughly search every compartment in a boat without "probably cause." Normally the law requires probable cause plus an exigent circumstance to conduct a search or arrest. But the courts have ruled as a practical matter the portability of boats, airplanes and automobiles is iteself an exigent circumstance.

So, authorities can board your boat to search for safety gear, to review your identification, and to inquire as to your intentions simply because your boat is a boat. Then, once there, if they reasonably believe a weapon is or could be present and that you or someone else on your boat poses a danger, they can search compartments which are reasonably in your or your passengers' reach and that could reasonably contain a dangerous weapon. For example, after the satisfactory completion of a normal safety and environmental inspection, they could handcuff you and seach all nearby lockers and cubbyholes. If they found a matchbox, however, they could not open it without probable cause as it is not large enough to hide a weapon.

This is of course, the theory of the law. In practice, few sailors are handcuffed and their immediate surroundings searched. But you see how easy it is on the part of hte authorities to do so. By the way these are the same rules as those applied to automobile stops.

Some additional points to remember are taht they cannot keep you longer than is resonable to accomplish their goal. They cannot keep you for an hour while they wait for a drug sniffing dog, but if one is readily available without an unreasonable wait, you can get sniffed.

all of this law predates Bush 1 and 2, and Bill and Hillary Rhodam (her name is not nor was it ever Clinton.)

Lastly, if your boat is documented, the Gov't can even confiscate it for the public use. That was the original purpose of documentation.
Ok, Elmore, Doug, et al.... How did you get the title "consigliere"* after 16 posts, while the rest of us are stuck with things like "newbie" and "senior member"?


<table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tbody><tr><td>con·si·glie·re [ kòn seel yé ray ] (plural con·si·glie·ri [ kòn seel yérree ])</td></tr><tr><td class="ResultBody">

noun*</td></tr><tr><td height="20"></td></tr><tr><td class="ResultBodyBlack">Definition:</td></tr><tr><td>*</td></tr><tr><td>adviser to organized-crime boss:*an adviser to the leader of a crime syndicate

-- Edited by Keith at 17:03, 2008-03-13
Did you read the post about "probable cause?" That reminds me, i used to see a 38' scarab named "probable cause" around the bay.
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