Question: I know the Coast Guard and other Federal agencies acting under your authority can conduct random stops for vessel safety checks of recreational boats, but I cannot find the legal authority for these stops. Can you point me in the direction of the appropriate Code of Federal Regulations?
Answer: Any law enforcement agency can stop a vessel under a state or local authority or like the Coast Guard, a federal authority. Those stops are not "Vessel Safety Checks" which we in the Auxiliary do and we only perform them with the permission of the boater and we are not to do them on the water while underway. When we do a vessel safety check, there is no "ticket" given nor is the information turned over to the Coast Guard for any violations we may find, we simply show the boater what they need to do to be compliant and not get a ticket on the water for non-compliance.
An important Coast Guard mission is maritime law enforcement on the high seas and on water subject to Federal laws. Of particular interest are laws dealing with the 200-mile Fishery Conservation Zone, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, and safety and water pollution.
To enforce these laws, the Coast Guard is empowered to board and inspect vessels. Many of the laws can be successfully enforced only by boarding a vessel while it is underway. Boarding's are not necessarily based on suspicion that a violation already exists aboard the vessel. Their purpose is to prevent violations. The courts have consistently upheld this authority. All Coast Guard officers and petty officers are Federal law enforcement officers and they may board any United States vessel anywhere.