I Hear the Siren, and See a Light – What
Oh My, I've Just Been Pulled Over – What Do I Do?
by Wayne Spivak, National Press Corps
- United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
You're driving along on the
highway and you see those familiar blue lights (or where I live red or red and
white). Your heart sinks, as you realize the patrol car is following you. You
hear the officer over his PA speaker telling you to pull over. Yup, you were
snagged - for speeding.
Remember what the person who
taught you how to drive told you about getting pulled over? Keep your hands on
the wheel. Have the other occupants sit with their hands in plain view, and
Be nice to the officer, give
him or her the documentation they want, and if you're lucky, because you're nice,
they will be nice to you.
Well, we're now on the water,
zipping along, jumping wakes or speeding in a 5mph zone and all of a sudden....
Guess what?! You hear a siren and see those familiar blue lights (blue is the
only color that signifies an emergency vessel on the water). What do you do?
Well the officers, be they the
local bay constable, marine patrol, state police or Coast Guard will ask you to
heave to. This means: Stop your vessel! Ask them if they want you to cut your
engine and drop an anchor.
Take out some fenders (even
though most law enforcement vessels will have their own handy) as well as so
they can tie-up.
Now what do you do? Well, if
you took a safe boating course in the last several years, some of the
information you got about stopping, and boarding a vessel has changed. In years
gone by, the only agency that could stop your vessel and board it, without a
search warrant was the Coast Guard. Well, this isn't exactly so anymore.
Several states have signed
compacts with the Coast Guard in this post 9/11 environment, whereas the Coast
Guard has delegated some of their Federal powers to the state. Specifically,
they now allow state law enforcement (and those state powers flow down to the
local law enforcement officers) to board vessels.
So, now that we know that the
likelihood is that the non-Coast Guard officer is mostly likely allowed to board
our vessel (check with your state), what do you as the vessel captain do? The
same exact things as if you are driving a car.
You keep your hands where they
can be seen. You assemble your crew, and guests above decks, so law enforcement
knows where everyone is, and how many persons are on board.
You provide the documentation
requested, and know that a vessel safety equipment check will be done. This will
be the same vessel safety check the Coast Guard Auxiliary provides for FREE, and
without penalty. But this time, the law enforcement officials will do it
for you; with penalty should you not pass!
Should you fail the vessel
safety equipment check, unlike the Auxiliary Vessel Safety Check (VSC), where we
told you what you needed and asked that you immediately corrected the situation,
the law enforcement official has several modalities they can pursue.
1. They can issue you a
warning (boy – you were lucky!)
2. They can issue you a ticket
(ok, not so lucky)
3. They can issue a
"termination of voyage" order, which means you will need to turn-a-round and
return to your most recent place of embarkation. Any and all violations will
need to be cured (fixed) before your voyage can continue.
Next on the hit parade are
tickets and/or more severe penalties for the offense that caused you to be
boarded in the first place (like speeding).
So, how do you not get
boarded? Follow the local laws, the Rules of the Road, and get a Vessel Safety
Check by the Coast Guard Auxiliary (see
http://www.safetyseal.net/) or one of the partners in the VSC program,
before you get pulled over. Be forewarned, that the Coast Guard and other law
enforcement agencies do have safety check stops.
But, should the Coast Guard
see your VSC sticker on your port side window, more than likely they will either
do a perfunctory check or let you continue on your voyage. Why? Because you have
taken the time to get that VSC, passed the VSC and are more likely to keep or
have all the required safety equipment on board. Another great reason to have a
VSC this season!
So, let's run through the
rules if you get stopped once again: