What To Do When The Coast Guard Asks To Come Aboard


Have you ever been boarded by the US Coast Guard? You see the blue flashing light and wonder, “Are they looking at me? What did I do?” Probably nothing…but let’s do a quick review of what you can expect.

You are cruising along, following the “Rules of the Road”…what’s that? You don’t know what the rules are? Check with your local US Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxiliary to learn all about boating basics and maybe even ask for a FREE annual vessel check before you ever head out on your boat. Then you would know that you are operating your boat safely long before the blue lights come your way …but let’s move on to what you can expect from a boarding.

You see the blue flashing light and almost at the same time they will hail you on your VHF radio. If you are listening to channel 16 you will hear them ask permission to come aboard.

Usually you will be asked to maintain your course and a slower speed while they come alongside your vessel. When they are matching your speed and are snug alongside you their boarding team of two or more officers will step aboard your boat. No need to anchor!

Their first questions include:

  • Do you have any weapons? and where are they located?
  • May we see your ships papers and personal identification of all persons aboard your boat?

General safety inspection will follow including life jackets, fire extinguishers, flares, sewage holding tank compliance and garbage plan but they could inspect a variety of other parts of your boat with or without cause. Again, if you had your vessel inspected by your local Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxiliary you should be AOK!

The best part after passing the inspection is receiving your GOLD sheet. This is your copy of the successful inspection and you should keep it with your ships papers. The next time your are hailed to be boarded you can show them your GOLD sheet and you may get a free pass!

This video is of an actual boarding in the Charleston Harbor but more agencies than the USCG joined us on that day and some weren’t as agreeable to being filmed as our USCG. The still photos that follow are during a different boarding in Fort Pierce FL. The Florida team were very receptive to photos particularly when they learned we would share so others may benefit.

If you have questions about what to do during a USCG boarding or anything else about boating, just Ask Captain Chris.