We were boarded by the US Coast Guard over Labor Day 2014 in Gardiner’s Bay on the Eastern end of Long Island, NY. We learned something worth sharing for those buying used boats. We were hailed because of a mismatch between the flagging of the AIS being transmitted and the flagging of the vessel on the transom flag and home port decal. The boat registration was in process of transfer from the Canadian couple we’d bought it from to our US registration. The AIS was still showing up under the foreign registry on AIS because our USCG documentation hadn’t yet come through, and as such we were not getting a simple path to updating the AIS info.
That triggered the USCG wanting to check our paperwork. They hailed us under the old name on channel 16, Rand was down below getting a bit of well-deserved sleep after our overnight passage and I was on deck working the sails. I didn’t return the hails at first, in part because of them using the old name. When I caught their hail eventually, they were getting a little impatient and they let me know they wanted to board. I dropped sails and awaited them to pull alongside.
At the same time, I asked Tim to hurry below and wake up Rand. What I learned and want to share with you is this:
When the Coast Guard came aboard, and there were a lot of them, six in fact, and they had weapons. They were as nice as could be laden with all that military armor, but they definitely were wary at first. Once they confirmed there was no threat on board, their demeanor softened significantly and they turned out to be very nice. They explained what had set them on edge: first, my delay in responding to their hails. Also, while they were talking to me on the VHF they asked who was on board, the saw “a man run below and emerge with another man.” The Coast Guard said that to them this behavior was suspicious, which put them on alert.
I respect the Coast Guard immensely and can understand their state of mind given what they deal with, but it was also a surprise to me that something as innocent as sending Tim down to awaken Rand and get him on deck could trigger such apprehension and reaction and boarding by so many officials, with guns. It wasn’t just the USCG either. The Dept of Home Land Security and a local police presence were represented too. Welcome to New York!
Rand’s Note: We carry a Vesper Marine XB-8000 transponder. From the USB interface on that unit you can change several items including boat name and call sign, however you cannot change the MMSI. As the MMSI is linked to the registration, and the international emergency notification system, this is an important update. If you are keeping the vessel in the same country the MMSI can stay with the vessel, however if you are changing countries, you may chose to change MMSI. The folks with Vesper Marine met us at the Annapolis boat show and got the Vesper MMSI updated. This was a very simple process on the unit, but something that requires an authorization code and is to be done by a ‘dealer’. The authorization code is gotten from Vesper after you get them the new MMSI and your Vesper serial number.
Further Rand Note: If you do change the MMSI for your boat, it is also important to update the MMSI in the radio DSC info. On the ICOM products relative to the DCS, they only allow 2 changes to the MMSI, after that there is a special cable and software that is needed to do additional MMSI changes. If you are lucky enough to have the second MMSI change still available, make that change correct the first time. If your radio has no changes left, you will need to get the ICOM to a dealer or a dealer to the boat. We had to get the dealer in St Martin, trained and the cables and software flown in to get our MMSI updated prior to our first Atlantic crossing. That took several weeks all told. But we were eventually good to go prior to our crossing, otherwise the old owners would have been called if MMSI was used to contact in emergency. Our rescuers would have been looking in Canada!