Coast Guard jumping boaters

Boardings in search of impaired operators have private owners seeing red
Alex Green
Jul 7, 2014

Take a boat out into Lake Erie and you may just bump into U.S. Coast Guard officers.

The Fourth of July weekend was one of the busiest of the year for the Coast Guard that said it saved 10 lives throughout the Great Lakes during this past weekend, all while assisting about 130 different boaters during Friday and Saturday alone.

Despite the seemingly heroic acts, certain Erie and Ottawa County residents are concerned with the Coast Guard's boarding procedures.

Sandusky resident and avid boater Matt Ehrhardt says petty officers jumped aboard his docked boat a couple weeks ago for no reason.

"(The lake) has become a military checkpoint," Ehrhardt said.

He pulled his boat into Dockside Cafe where officers promptly boarded his boat in search of alcohol.

"I was a sober skipper," Ehrhardt said. "I have nothing to hide."

He eventually proved his innocence by registering all zeroes in a sobriety test.

Earhardt was free to go, he said, but only after about an hour of officers going through their procedures.

It was a hassle and a bit embarrassing. So Ehrhardt said he won't stop boating, but he might try to avoid Coast Guard officers at all costs.

"I'll never pull into a dock if (the Coast Guard) is there," he said.

And other boaters are deciding not to take their boats out because of these strict boarding policies, Ehrhardt said.

A U.S. Coast Guard petty officer stationed at Marblehead said seven citations and 11 arrests were made throughout the Great Lakes on Friday and Saturday combined, less than 15 percent of the Coast Guard's number of rescues it made during that time.

But Ehrhardt does not think people drinking and boating do not deserve to be cited or arrested. It is the Coast Guard's treatment of innocent mariners that is disconcerting to him.

"I was a suspect to them," he said.

In 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard Station Marblehead administered nearly 70 citations or arrests, the highest number of any station in the country.

The Marblehead coastguardsman said the Coast Guard has policies in place to protect against dangerous practices, not to invade boaters' privacy.

"If we see signs of intoxication, we're going to check that out," the coastguardsman said. "It's a big safety thing. We're looking out for the safety of others."

He said boaters are permitted to drink on the lake, just not the operators of the watercrafts.

Among the infinite calls the Coast Guard was apart of over the weekend was an arrest in the water off the Marblehead coast.

The Marblehead coastguardsman said a man, whose name was unavailable, was cited for boating under the influence. The man became combative with officers, he said.


-Myth: No one ever dies on the water from drinking alcohol

-Fact: Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents

-Myth: Getting drunk on the water takes longer than on land

-Fact: A boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than an automobile driver, drink-for-drink

-Myth: Fatal boating accidents only happen at night

-Fact: Most fatal boating accidents occur between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.

* Note: This post has been modified to remove the name of the coastguardsman. Information was obtained from the Marblehead Coast Guard Station but the name for the source previously provided was not accurate.



Well this ought to generate some commentary.....


I do not think that the person that proof-read this was sober.


I agree. WOW.

Licorice Schtick

Little evidence of editing or proof-reading this stuff, but it's OK; given the choice of having the story perfect or sooner, the latter is probably better.

Now, back on topic... On one hand, random searches seem unconstitutional. On the other hand, some of the loudest complainers are drunks who operate their boats (and cars) impaired. So, are the boardings really random, or are they looking for signs of illicit activity such as smuggling, illegal entry, human trafficking, or impaired operation?

From the Grave

00 Proof(read)

From the Grave

I'm sure nearly ALL of us agree that heroin is a serious and growing problem in this country. How would you feel if the the DEA was allowed to RANDOMLY stop you and go through your car, or come into your home and go through EVERYTHING, looking for heroin? Better safe than sorry? I'm sure they would make a lot arrests that way.


Myth: The government is there to help you.
Fact: The government has police forces to generate revenue to line their own pockets with.

yea right

fact: illeagel search ..


On a given day; one can observe:

A) Municipality "Harbor Patrol" vessels
B) County Sheriff Rescue Vessels (These do serve useful functions)
C) State ODNR Watercraft
D) US Coast Guard (Also serving useful functions)
E) Border Patrol craft (Debatable functions)

That's 5, count 'em; five layers of Law Enforcement policing a diminishing number of recreational vessels on Lake Erie

Whiskey Tango F...

Every time a tax levy appears these are the people crying the hardest for money. SPD and the SFD are closing stations and running in the red, but the boats are still there. Btw these boats only write tickets, boat US actually assists the vessel and owner in an emergency.


Homeland Security has their own high dollar boats too.


pigs on the water..

Whiskey Tango F...

Fact: not everyone is out binge drinking tying to kill others
Fact: you are treated guilty until proven innocent
Fact: smart phones have a voice recorder and if you inform all parties of its presence it is legal and admissible in a court of law.

getit right be4...

In Ohio only one person in a conversation needs to know the conversation is being recorded. That one person can be the one recording.

You do not have to tell the officer you are recording them.

JMOP's picture


-Fact: A boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than an automobile driver, drink-for-drink

Ok, now how is this possible? Is it because the waves shake you like a martini?


Because you are drinking in/on the vehicle?

It is a weird statement.


The Coast Guard is sworn to uphold the US Constitution. They must not have read the 4th Amendment and thus are violating civil rights without reguard to their oath. Boarding becuase you are on a boat is not probable cause.
4th Amendment- The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause


Very true, most people don't know what the Constitution says and what our rights actually are...therefore, they don't know when their rights are being violated.


What is this "Constitution" that you speak of?


it's that piece of paper that obama keeps wiping his obamahole with..

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

Good one.


The Coast Guard can do ANYTHING they want because they are under Homeland Security and not the military as once before. You fearful and scared little people sold your rights away for a false security. "Those who would give up Essential Liberty
to purchase a little Temporary Safety,
deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Ben Franklin

In the movie Eagle Eye Billy Bob Thornton said it best: “Who do you think's winning? Your Miranda rights or my right to keep you in this room as long as I want to... ."

From the Grave

I am against the latitude that Homeland Security has been given since 9/11, but that hasn't stopped them. So what should I do about it, Ben Franklin?

AJ Oliver

Welcome to the national security state. BTW, state agencies are no longer allowed to stop a boat without probable cause - not so for the feds, yet. I'm gonna call Marcie Kaptur to complain, and urge you to do the same.


I witnessed a ODNR boat in East Sandusky Bay on Saturday PM giving a jet ski operator a sobriety test on the ODNR boat. Of course, just about every jet ski operator could be identified as transmitting probable cause do to the twists and turns they make. Thus giving ODNR great leeway in stopping just about every jet ski operator. I don't know how they justified stopping this operator.


How can boaters be treated any different than a person driving a car? The police set up check points for drivers to check various condition of the driver and car and the boaters shouldn't be treated any differently because they drive a boat instead of a car. Why can't the coast guard have check points also? If you are not doing anyting wrong, you shouldn't have a problem.


Of course, what you fail to understand is the relative percentages involved in getting "checked" by a cop in a car vs. in a boat on the bay/lake. It's probably 150x as likely you'll be pulled over in a boat.

I'd say that is "different", and obnoxious.


Customs & Border Patrol is also doing this to small aircraft owners. If you fly a certain flight path without talking to air traffic control, and filing a flight plan (which is perfectly legal), you may be met by a swat team when you land. Your plane may get searched, and if not handled correctly, rendered unairworthy by over zealous law enforcement officials whom are looking for the next Osama Bin Laden bust. What does Customs and the Coast Guard have in common? Department of Homeland Security.

yea right

check points are illeagle also


If you are going to keep using the word illegal please learn how to spell it. Illeagle is a sick bird.

Dwight K.

Quit whining ...better safe then sorry



From the Grave

That's the kind of mentality that will destroy a democracy.

AJ Oliver

OK, so I checked the current Ohio boating regs, and was shocked to discover that, as a boat operator you can be charged with OVI even if your blood-alcohol level is close to zero. "A BAC less than 0.08 is admissable in court along with other evidence of impairment to prove operating under the influence." They are making criminals out of all of us.


AND, it doesn't have to be motorized. You can be charged if rowing a canoe.


Alcohol is the most dangerous drug. Drinking alcohol is likely to make you a crimimal. Own it.


Most already know that Alcohol is a bad thing if abused. I would like to know what are you on so I can put out a public service announcement about how it makes you irrational and irritating to read as you babble on about nothing.

JMOP's picture

+1 Donegan!


Several of our friends have been hassled (cold sober) so many times that they've opted to SELL their boats, rather than put up with these "Nazi" tactics. Can't say I blame them.



Mr. D

Read up on Maritime Law...Its nothing new...quit your whinning!!!


Here is an article from SAIL Magazine that says it all. Its a little long but quite the eye opener!

Coast Guard Boardings and Your Fourth Amendment Rights, Part 1
Posted by Clark Beek // October 25, 2012

Sorry, but when it comes to Coast Guard boardings, you don’t have any rights.
I’m surprised how many boaters don’t know this. The US Coast Guard can board your boat any time they want, and look anywhere they want, without probable cause or a warrant. They can do this on the open sea, or while you’re asleep aboard in your marina at midnight. They can look through your bedsheets, in your lockers, in your bilges, in your jewelry box, or in your pockets. They can do it carrying just their sidearms, or they can do it carrying assault rifles. They can be polite about it or they can be rude, but mostly they’re polite.
If you’re an avid boater you can expect to be boarded every year or two.
I explain this to my guests aboard Condesa, some of whom are lawyers, and I’m met with disbelief: “But that’s a blatant violation of your constitutional rights! They need probable cause, or a warrant from a judge!” “Not on a boat, my friend, not on a boat.”

The U.S. Coast Guard Boarding Policy:

Title 14 section 89 of the United States Code authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard to board vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, anytime, any place upon the high seas and upon any waterway over which the United States has jurisdiction, to make inquires, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests. The U.S. Coast Guard does not require a warrant to conduct search, seizures, arrests over any United States Waterway or high seas. The U.S. Coast Guard also have full legal law enforcement power on any land under the control of the United States, as needed to complete any mission.
Sweeping powers. In a paper in the William and Mary Law Review, law scholar Greg Shelton says, “In terms of enforcement power, Coast Guard boarding officers are clearly America's "supercops."” Another law scholar, Megan Jaye Kight, says, "As such, these provisions comprise what has been accurately characterized as 'one of the most sweeping grants of police authority ever to be written into U.S. law.'"
If you’d like to know a little more detail about the boarding policy, here’s a longer document, meant for the public, in the Coast Guard’s own words.
And here’s an article by a retired Coast Guard captain and Coast Guard legal counsel. The pull quote kind of says it all: “There are two main ways to board a vessel—either with permission, or without.”
I’ve been boarded by the Coast Guard five times. They’ve always been very polite, and I’ve never resisted, thus incurring the penalty of ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. They asked permission to board, but since they were going to board anyway no matter what I said, I said yes.
Once, offshore, the captain of a Coast Guard cutter told me by radio to prepare for a boarding, and ordered me to maintain my course and speed. It was pretty rough, and I was under full sail and solo, so I replied, “How about if I drop my sails and lie ahull? It’s going to be pretty hard for your guys to get aboard right now.”
“Skipper, maintain your course and speed.”
When their inflatable came alongside, it was indeed bouncing all over the place, and they had a tough time just coming alongside, much less getting someone aboard. When the first boarding officer finally made it over the lifelines he slipped on my aft deck—one of those slips where his feet were actually higher than his head before he crashed down—and he landed right on his sidearm. (Did I mention that deck was wet?) I could see tears in his eyes as he suffered through the inspection protocol.
Nobody could have many criticisms for the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue operations. Dedicated Coast Guard personnel rescue us when we’re in trouble and yes, guard our coasts. As I’ll explain in Part 3, the boarding policy isn't their doing. They might not like these boardings either. Entering some strange boat with strange people aboard is fraught with uncertainty and risk, and they’d probably rather be out doing real Coast Guard stuff instead of checking the bilges on a Tayana 37.
A Coast Guard boarding isn’t the end of the world, but guests who don’t know the routine think the boat is being raided, and it certainly shuts down the party. Again, boardings are usually routine and polite.
But sometimes they’re not so polite, as in an episode in Moss Landing a few years ago. The Coast Guard boarded and searched boats in a marina at 10:30 p.m., with assault rifles in hand. Some of the marina tenants were asleep and awakened to boots on their decks. During boardings, many boaters feel threatened or harassed.
Often when the Coast Guard boards a vessel at night, they approach with their running lights extinguished, and they seldom answer radio calls. This is scary to most boaters, because who else might be approaching in the middle of the night with no lights? If the Coast Guard is operating in foreign waters where piracy is common, everyone aboard will be terrified for their lives by the time the coasties finally identify themselves. A friend of mine was tailed in this manner for eight hours off the Baja coast before, surprise!, it's us, the US Coast Guard! In legal terms this is called–seriously–the "fright factor."
In the post-9/11 world the Coast Guard has added duties, and added weaponry. Instead of a couple of sailors in a rubber boat with big Mae West life jackets and sidearms, a common sight is coasties with assault rifles in high speed inflatables with M-240 machine guns mounted bow and stern. Just the presence of all this weaponry makes many nervous or afraid.
I’m not someone who sleeps with a copy of the US Constitution under his pillow, but as “the supreme law of the United States of America,” I take it to be the governing document of my relationship with my government. The first ten amendments to the constitution are called the Bill of Rights, and many have died defending them. Here’s what the Fourth Amendment says:
Amendment IV The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Over the years and many Supreme Court cases, the Fourth Amendment has been interpreted to mean that without a warrant or probable cause law enforcement can’t search your car, your office, your mountain cabin, your pocket, or your wood shed. According to the Constitution, law enforcement personnel can’t search anywhere in your private universe without probable cause or a warrant issued by a judge.
Except your boat: They can board your boat any time they please and look anywhere they want without warning, warrant, or cause, and they do so every day. This is called a “suspicionless search.”

Darwin's choice

Good information!
Welcome to U.S.S.A!



Don't be fooled, you HAVE NO RIGHTS with the Fed's. Homeland Security is the 21st Century KGB, they can and do break down doors without warrants and all in the name of national security.

Welcome to the age of Eagle Eye.


Thanks for the info!

Forward Looking

Boarding are up without argument & I am glad they are keeping us safe, but several boaters I talked this weekend have damage to their boats due to the RIB rubbing their boats while the boarding took place.

streakfan 10

What I like is they can break any law they want. I was setting at Paper District Sunday enjoying dinner and a Coast Guard boat goes flying by about 50 yards off shore. Now had that been me I would have been pulled over and given a ticket for no wake violation, and I'm sure a sobriety test.


Sobriety checkpoints for cars must be publised ahead of time in the paper. If not they would be illegal also.


Coast Guard and Patrol Agency boardings are nothing new; if anything, they were more relaxed than they should have been in the past. There's more boaters (or "boat owners") in the lake now; in my opinion, so I don't see the big issue with more patrol stops. If the CG wants to inspect my boat or my ability at any given time to run it; great, welcome aboard...I don't ever anticipate having any problem. To the people who claim they just won't boat anymore due to the so called hassle; great...more water for the rest of us. Will you stop driving when more cops are out on the street? I don't get it; quit whining, quit drinking, or quit boating.

Peninsula Pundit

Thank you, spokesman for Big Brother.
Go collect your 30 pieces of silver.


The skipper and or pilot of any watercraft should not be drinking. PERIOD!!!! End of story. Or would you also like to lose a family member to some dumbass drunken boater?

Truth or Dare

It was a holiday, and just maybe they're gearing up for the Barge Party this Saturday? Remain sober Skippers!

2cents's picture

I started boating in the fifties and oh how it has changed! I would say until the early eighties most boaters did a lot of their own work, the boat was an extension of your life and you treated boating special. I did see the changes take place where boating had become something of just turning a key and hit a throttle. I have been out of it for a while and would be afraid to get back in knowing what I read here. I think I will keep my memories of the yester years of bon fires on the beach at middle Base, or the beach at Kelley's without offending someone, cocktail hour started at five for my parents and that was if they were docked, maybe a couple of cold beers during the day but nobody was trashed swimming into the Cedar Point Beach when we anchored out. Yes Ill keep the past, it was so much simpler when 18 to 20 knots was flat out.


The Coast Guard stopped us coming in from fireworks at Cedar Point Saturday night and very politely asked us where we had been, told them fireworks and they asked what time we hit the lake and told them that and they asked if we were in the marina where we park our boat and I told them yes and they said have a good night and left. I want to thank them for their protection, by checking other boaters for any alcohol, drugs or illegal aliens that may be coming our way. We also, saw border patrol sitting at marina, so they must have checking out something. First time we have ever been stopped in 50 years of boating. THANK YOU FOR OUR SAFETY COAST GUARD

Whiskey Tango F...

Why don't mechanics and tow truck operators stop you and check your engines, drive lines, fuel levels, and then send you on your way? Probably because you didn't need them. Are they standing by at attention if you were in need? ABSOLUTELY! Do I want to be hassled every time my family goes for a ride by them? NO.


We dock down by the paper district and on any given day when either going out in boat or sitting at Jackson St. pier, you see boaters going full speed through the no wake zone in that area and I have never seen them get stopped. Wish they would, sometimes that wake is pretty rough and rocks the boats in the marina. Also, a pet peeve is these guys with the big boats that think it's cool to come close to smaller boats when they are anchored and fishing. Throws a pretty big wake and rocks the boat something awful. There is plenty of water to go around without doing that. Pessed me off to no end. No respect for anyone but themselves.

Truth or Dare

There you have it folks. According too CSPAN, during an interview taking place live on The Washington Journal, "not enough attention has been being paid to the northern border."