We were cruising down Tongass Narrows for a two day trip to Misty Fjord National Monument, but we could have been boating anywhere in the U.S. I was last in our group of seven boats, the smallest, with my Tolly 30. The largest was a new Nordhavn 63 flying the Canadian flag. We noticed a USCG RB-S (25’ Safe Boat) coming up on the left side of the channel, headed back to Ketchikan. I was chatting on the radio (VHF 68) with the group when out of the corner of my eye I saw a blue flashing light just 30 feet off my port. The RB-S had turned around and was running alongside me, crew waving. I pulled back on the throttles and stepped out to the cockpit. One of the crew said they wanted to inspect my vessel. I said sure, and then radioed my group to let them know I was going to be boarded.
USCG RB-S (response boat small) pulls alongside.
I wondered, why me? I was the smallest of the group. Less to inspect? I was also the oldest boat in the group. Could that mean there may be a better chance of an infraction?
As part of my pre-season prep I had gone through the USCG inspection list. I had not done this in a few years and I was glad I did. Naturally, I purchased a new set of flares to compliment the collection of expired flares I have on board.
While I stopped my boat in the water for boarding, they asked me to maintain my course at a slower speed. Once the two Coasties were onboard the RB-S backed off and ran parallel to my course.
We started with documentation. I keep a binder with all boat related paperwork ready so everything is quickly available.
Then they started down the list. Horn, working and check. PFDs, check. Since I was single handing they were only interested in seeing one PFD. Dewatering device—they asked if I had a bucket—I said yes and 5 bilge pumps. Check. They went down below and inspected my engine room and bilge, noting that my oil absorbs below both engines were part of my plan to make sure oil did not get pumped overboard. They did not check my marine sanitation device, but noted I had a tank. They did ask where my MARPOL trash and oil pollution placards were. Check, got’em.
They asked an interesting question: what marine training do you have? I responded that I have a USCG – 100T Masters, though I don’t think I got any extra points. They filled out a form in triplicate noting all of the key information with no violations. I was told that if I was boarded again within the next year, all I had to do was show them my yellow copy and most likely avoid further inspection. Since all the information was recorded on a form, I asked and they told me they had to enter all the information into the USCG computer once they got back to their station.
No problems, but I wondered, why me? Why was my boat picked out? Do they have a quota of inspections to do each patrol or month? I was the last in the group and very close to their base. Did they need one more for the day?
If you have not looked at the USCG inspection checklist in a while, you might want to consider taking a look. The US Coast Guard is boarding vessels in Washington State waters and in S.E. Alaska. Besides, the items on the checklist are (mostly) necessary for safe boating.