Friday, June 7, 2013

Random Boat Searches-- Ending Soon In Ohio?

Ohio House Bill 29  ( ) is a potential game-changer on random boat inspections by State watercraft officers.  The days of such random checks by State officers for safety inspections may soon be over. Under the proposed law, a State watercraft officer can only stop a boat and inspect if there exists reasonable suspicion that the operator is breaking a law.

While safety should always be a number one concern of every boater, the topic of random stops of pleasure boats for the sole purpose of "safety inspections" has been a topic of frustration for years. The fear created by these stops is real, as is the corresponding discouragement. Police cannot randomly stop you in your car for an inspection, nor can they invade your home without cause. However, the random stops by State watercraft officers to perform "safety inspections" has somehow remained permissible; this despite complaints by legal folks on the constitutionality of these inspections.

The counter-argument by State law officials is simple: Safety. Safety is not only important for the recreational boaters, but also for the officers. Ill-equipped, unsafe vessels pose a danger to everyone, including the officers. While dramatic, every water rescue is rife with risk. In short, it is hard to argue with safety. However, the government's ability to "search," must always be balanced against our fundamental right to privacy.

Taking into account the arguments noted above and more, it appears that Ohio House Bill 29 will put a stop to the random boardings by State Officers for purposes of  "safety inspections" only . However, this law in no way affects the State watercraft officers power to enforce laws on waterways throughout the State. Moreover, before you get too excited, the proposed new law does not mean that random safety inspection boardings on Ohio waterways are gone forever.

Because of the separation of Federal and State government, this Ohio law (we are told) does not apply to the Federal Coast Guard. That's right, the Coast Guard can still perform random "safety inspections" (and even call in assistance from local officials if violations of other laws are found). Whether the Federal stops will stand as valid remains to be seen, but understand that we were told by State officials that this State law does not apply to the Coast Guard (nor does it apply to Kentucky officers on the Ohio River). We were also informed that there is a lawsuit out there in another State that calls into question the power of the Coast Guard to stop and board a boat without reasonable suspicion of a crime. We will have to look into this issue and will post on such later.

In our opinion, recreational boating, be it in a ski boat, kayak or SUP, should be encouraged. This new proposed law is designed to encourage boating, while protecting the privacy of citizens at the State level. Despite the law, we encourage you to always, always "BE SAFE." Boating is a great activity for friends and family and the benefits are real. However, all the fun is lost with one mistake on the water. So "Get Outside and Play," but do it safe. See you soon out on a river, stream or lake!!

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