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FROM THE HELM Dinghy With Security “After my arrival in Key West, I was detained by two officers with the FWC. They asked me a number of questions, ran a background check, asked for ID, wanted to know when I had arrived in Key West, and, of course, where was my homeport? I received a citation for ‘the improper display of registration numbers’ on my eight-foot inflatable dinghy...a problem that I have since corrected. This minor offense, however, required a mandatory court appearance. ”What I have found [in Key West] from other boaters is that nearly everyone has been stopped, detained, questioned, and in many cases searched by one of the six or seven law enforcement agencies that regularly patrol the waters of Florida. This list includes Homeland Security, the FWC, the Coast Guard, police, the sheriff, the DEA, and customs.” The above was from a letter to the editor I received recently. The author eventually got help from a public defender who thought the charges were ridiculous and asked the judge to drop them, which he did—a small victory for cruisers, but what he was put through is inexcusable. I got another e-mail from a boater who was also in Key West in his dinghy. The FWC approached him and asked for the dinghy registration. He said sure, he has it and said he can go get it on his “mother ship,” which he pointed to,


February 2009




since it was nearby. They said that wasn’t good enough—he had to have it with him—so they gave him a $65 citation. I hear this from many people, and I am asking everyone to e-mail me if it happens to them. I will publicize these incidents. I thought back about my cruising around, as far back as the ’80s, with a dinghy—in Florida and the Bahamas and back in Southern California along the coast and Catalina. Did I ever carry the dinghy registration with me? Never. Did I know anyone who did? No—I have never heard of anyone carrying their registration in their tender. Do I recommend it today? Yes—in Florida, for sure, but elsewhere, I have never heard of this kind of enforcement. It is the uniqueness of cruising in Florida. If you are anchored and decide to dinghy ashore 100 feet in your bathing suit and flip-flops, bring the whistle, life jacket and registration—in a waterproof pouch, of course. After all, Homeland Security, the FWC, the Coast Guard, police, the sheriff, the DEA, or customs could show up at any moment and it could cost you. With all that law enforcement out there, I hope you feel secure. You are better off on land, in a car, where the police can’t stop and question you just to inspect you, your “vessel” and your papers. That would be illegal. I don’t think it is legal on the water, but someone does. It’s definitely immoral—and someone doesn’t think it’s even that, or they don’t care.