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  #1  
Old 06-24-2010
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Why does the Constitution not apply to boats?

Just reading up on requirements and regulations for my new to me boat and stumbled across statements about the Coast Guard or other law enforcement having boarding rights to any vessel on the water. This brings up a most obvious question. In a car, you are given certain rights of privacy. The police can not search your car without probable cause. However in a boat, they do not need probable cause to search your boat. I guess I can't understand why the Constitution does not seam to apply to boats. What am I missing?
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Old 06-24-2010
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Possibly the fact that cars are restricted to roads and must pass through border points and customs where a boat is unrestricted and can pass into territorial waters at any point. Ships and boats have ALWAYS been subject to search in territorial waters for most every country...
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Not sure about all of the legal aspects, but I suspect this has something to do with it.

United States Code, Title 14, Section 89(a)
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Old 06-24-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daveinet View Post
Just reading up on requirements and regulations for my new to me boat and stumbled across statements about the Coast Guard or other law enforcement having boarding rights to any vessel on the water. This brings up a most obvious question. In a car, you are given certain rights of privacy. The police can not search your car without probable cause. However in a boat, they do not need probable cause to search your boat. I guess I can't understand why the Constitution does not seam to apply to boats. What am I missing?
A knowledge of History...

The Founders were idealists in drafting the Constitution but also very practical and, then as now, the ability to circumvent the laws of the land at sea--for example in smuggling goods, arms etc.--called for somewhat different rules afloat then ashore, then and now. In fact, there are pursuasive arguments to be made against the "reasonable expectation of privacy" and limitations on searches as they are applied to land based vehicles on the public thoroughfares but, of course, there is far less ability to disappear and escape the law ashore than there is afloat.

FWIW...
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Old 06-24-2010
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The Commerce Clause under Article I, Section 8 grants the Federal government authority to regulate interstate commerce, which is expanded by case law (US v. Rands) to include all navigable waters of the United States.

When you are pulled over in your car, it is by the police is a State or local law enforcement officer, which is bound by the 4th Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure. But when you are on the navigable waters of the United States, the Federal enforcement agents (US Coast Guard or, to a lesser extent, US Army Corps of Engineers) are able to board and search your vessel.

Now whether or not the State or local police out on the waters can board and search your vessel as a matter of course, without probable cause, I don't know.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer. I am not licensed or qualified in any way, shape, or form to even pretend to practice law. So don't even think about relying on anything I've just said as legal advice.
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Old 06-24-2010
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Originally Posted by jcalvinmarks View Post
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer. I am not licensed or qualified in any way, shape, or form to even pretend to practice law. So don't even think about relying on anything I've just said as legal advice.
With that disclaimer, you could be.
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An article on the subject:

Admiralty Law
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The Admiralty law does explain some of it, thanks for the link. I was thinking more about inland lakes, rather than coastal. Protecting boarders would fall under reasonable. But, I was reading that a particular lake in IN the local authority (police) have boarding rights and is specifically stated in the on a couple of websites for that location.

If regulation gives one the right to inspect, it would seam that would give police the right to inspect your car to the same level of a boat. I can produce all required documentation without anyone boarding my boat, show I have the required equipment, and hand them my porta-potty. There is no electricity and the motor is an outboard (fuel tank around engine) I can't think of any reason why they would need to board my boat.

If by regulation inspection, one can gain full access, one could write regulation to the extend that would completely nullify the 4th amendment. It seems they have intentionally done that with boats. If the Constitution can be nullified, then there is no Constitution.
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In that case, as I said above, I don't know what the legality would be. As a practical matter, for the safety of the officers, it's probably safer for them to board your vessel than to try to conduct their inspection between two boats which are pitching and rolling, not necessarily in unison. Maybe they can conduct a full safety check from their boat in your case, but in a larger cabin cruiser where there are electrics and inboard engines, then obviously they can't. They follow a standard protocol, which is to board the vessel because it's safer and easier.

If you feel very strongly about it -- and I have tons of sympathy for you if you do -- then challenge them about it. Next time they ask to board, politely but firmly tell them that you do not want to be boarded, you don't believe they have the authority to do it, and that you will oblige them in a safety inspection from where they are if they would like. That's the only way that unconstitutional or improper practices are reversed, is if someone challenges it. I also sail on an inland lake, and I'd be pretty miffed at being boarded by a County Mounty just out trolling for some ticket revenue.

But as I said, I'm 110% NOT a lawyer, so I don't know if what they're doing is illegal or improper or not.
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Also, if it's a very small lake that is owned by that municipality (I'm assuming it's a city), and they restrict access (like a gate fee or a launching fee), then they probably have the right to board anyone out on the lake at any time. It's city property, and they have the right to regulate who uses the lake.
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