The sight of flashing blue lights and a U.S. Coast Guard patrol vessel pulling alongside is no reason to panic. The Coast Guard conducts 70,000 boardings a year, and the more time you spend on the water, the more likely it is that your vessel will be boarded.
When deciding whether to board your boat, the Coast Guard considers your activity, location and any obvious violations, such as operating at night without navigation lights or improper display of registration numbers.
The Coast Guard will often ask a series of pre-boarding questions: What was the vessel’s last port of call and next port of call? How many people are on board? What is the voyage’s purpose?
If you are boarded, two to four uniformed officers will come aboard, introduce themselves and state the reason for the boarding. The officer in charge will ask if you have any weapons aboard and conduct an initial safety inspection to identify any obvious safety hazards and verify your vessel’s general seaworthiness.
The officer will then ask to see the boat’s registration or other documentation and proceed to a more detailed inspection of your vessel’s required safety equipment, including life jackets, fire extinguishers and flares.
After the inspection, you will receive a copy of the boarding report. The copy will be yellow if no discrepancies were noted or white if there were. A white copy indicates a warning or a Notice of Violation, and the boarding officer will explain the procedures you will need to follow.
Ensure that your vessel meets all safety requirements by scheduling a free vessel safety check. Contact a local squadron or visit safetyseal.net/GetVSC to find an examiner near you.
If your vessel doesn’t pass, take the opportunity to correct any problems before you see those blue lights flashing. –Joseph J. Carro