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Can the Coast Guard Board Your Vessel Without Probable Cause?

| May 15, 2020 | Maritime Law |

In the United States, the entity that enforces laws under maritime law is the U.S. Coast Guard or USCG. If you find yourself boarded by the Coast Guard, you probably will have questions as to what their rights are. 

Does the Coast Guard have to have reasonable or probable cause to board your vessel? The U.S. Coast Guard has an explanation of what they can do under the law. 

What Are the Coast Guard’s Rights? 

The Coast Guard has jurisdiction when it comes to maritime law enforcement in the United States. For any ships or vessels under the U.S. jurisdiction, they are responsible. The USCG can board any vessel under the U.S. jurisdiction. Once aboard the ship, the service members can inspect and search the vessel. They can also make arrests and ask for information about the ship, the workers, the homeport and the destination of the vessel. The Coast Guard does not need to suspect any wrongdoing or have probable cause to board the ship. The USCG has authority to promote security, marine safety and environmental protection. 

Is This Against the Fourth Amendment? 

Charged parties normally file claims with the Hearing Office and demand dismissal of their cases because there was no probable cause. After all, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. There has to be probable cause or a warrant to search property. However, this does not apply to the Coast Guard and vessels. 

In fact, the courts hold that it is not unreasonable for the USCG to board ships in U.S. jurisdiction without reasonable suspicion. The Coast Guard may board to conduct safety and documentation inspections.