You are cruising along at a leisurely speed, enjoying your day on the water, when you are approached by an orange boat. Lights are flashing, and it is hailing you to stop over a loudspeaker. You prepare to be boarded by officers in uniform. 

A common perception of the Coast Guard comes from television shows like Miami Vice. The “coasties,” as they are sometimes called, are portrayed as either rescuing imperiled vessels at sea or busting drug runners. 

In addition to saving lives and arresting criminals, the Coast Guard works hard to prevent disasters before they happen. They often inspect boats to ensure that they carry all required safety equipment and are in compliance with regulations. These inspections can occur when you are at sea or at a dock and, unlike your home, law enforcement does not need a warrant or cause to examine your vessel. 

What Happens During a Coast Guard Inspection

They will check to see if you have appropriate life jackets for everyone on board your boat, have functioning and up-to-date fire extinguishers and that your boat is properly registered. They may ask you to open compartments, especially around the boat’s engine, to see if it is leaking any oil or if the boat is taking on water. They will issue a boarding report and give you a copy. If they find a problem that must be be addressed, they will give instructions for compliance in the boarding report. In rare cases, they may issue a fine or terminate your voyage for gross violations.

Prepare Before You Leave the Dock

While the Coast Guard can be daunting, remember that if you are prepared before you go out, you will be prepared for a Coast Guard inspection. Before you leave the dock, always make sure that all of your safety equipment is stowed in an easily accessible area and in working order. Check your fuel levels and make sure that all the electronics and engine are working properly.  

Request a Coast Guard Inspection

If you are a boat owner, make sure that you are prepared and request an inspection by your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary unit. The inspection is free of charge, and after passing the inspection, an affiliate of the coast guard will provide a Vessel Safety Check on your boat and give you a decal that indicates your boat has been inspected and is in compliance. If the inspection reveals any violations, you will receive a report that tells you how to address the violations.  After you address each violation, you will get your decal.

Coast Guard Inspection Objectives

It is important to remember that the goal of all inspections is to make sure that you do not end up being airlifted from a sinking ship. Another important objective of the inspection is to prevent environmental damage and water pollution from fuel leaks and other potential hazards. Being approached by the Coast Guard for an inspection is rarely due to any suspicion that you are doing something wrong. 

The waterways of the world are very accessible and open. Anyone can put a boat in the water and take off. That is a big part of the appeal of boating—the freedom to get away from land. When we keep the waterways safe for everyone, we can all relax and enjoy the experience. The Coast Guard and other law enforcement officers are ensuring the safety of boaters and the environment.

Remember, when you are asked to stop by any law enforcement official on the water, they are doing their job. Cooperate, be respectful, and in no time you and your boat will be making waves.