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Important – Boarding Incident in Volusia County (between New Smyrna Beach and Mosquito Lagoon)

Last night (11/3/10), my telephone rang about 9:15 pm. It was a fellow cruiser, who has since asked not to be identified, and whose name I will protect as a “confidential source.” He verbally described a surprising incident which had occurred on his craft a few hours before, during which his vessel was boarded by Volusia County sheriff deputies, “with weapons drawn.” I urged the skipper in question to forward an account of the incident via e-mail in the morning (today, 11/4/10), and the note below is the result.
Let me pause here for a moment to note how gratified all of us are at the Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net, that the skipper involved in this incident chose to contact us as his first line of inquiry into this less than calming incident. We are proud the Cruisers’ Net can serve as spokesperson for the cruising community in matters of this ilk.
I had a second telephone conversation with the captain this morning, to determine further details, and to make sure the boarding took place in Volusia county. All my questions were answered, and it was indeed determined that the boarding took place in Volusia county waters. It seems logical, therefore, to conclude that the law enforcement officers involved were deputies of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department.
I further called an area government employee, whose name I will also protect as a confidential source, and was told among other things, that there is a member of the county sheriff’s department who can be “heavy handed.”
So much for the facts, as I have discovered them. I will now take the liberty of wandering into some editorial comments.
First, let me make it crystal clear that I am NOT a lawyer, so the opinions expressed here are in my role as a Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net editor. Furthermore, it is always possible that I am not in possession of all the facts, but can only comment on what I know thus far.
It seems to me that the incident described below can be divided into two areas of concern. First, there is the issue of the $250.00 citation for failure to secure an overboard discharge valve. Clearly, this is a legal question upon which I, and most other cruisers, are not qualified to comment.
The real cause of my concern is the manner in which the boarding took place, and the MSD inspection was conducted. No asking of permission to board, and approaching the vessel’s captain with loaded weapon drawn, seems beyond the proverbial pale to this writer. Is this how Volusia county wants to treat its waterborne visitors? I think not!
And, let’s be very careful NOT to tar all government officials and agencies in Volusia county with the same brush. I, myself, for many years have received one of the warmest welcomes on the Waterway at New Smyrna Beach City Marina, and have always found this community to be a shining example of Florida charm!
The Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net eagerly asks the cruising community to PLEASE pass along full accounts of any MSD inspection of your vessel in Volusia County waters (or anywhere else in Florida for that matter). And, may we be so bold as to advise that everyone proceed along this section of the Waterway with the greatest of caution.

Dear Claiborne,
I am the owner of Gulfstar 50 cruising sailboat . . . . I have been bringing the boat from Newport RI to southern Florida and points south for the last 14 years.Today,wed Nov. 3,2010, I was transiting the AICW from New Smyrna, Florida, southbound. I had come in from offshore last night, shutting my sanitation valves and diverting them to holding tanks as is my practice when onshore. They are remotely located and accessible only to me. My crew has no knowledge of their location.
At 1000 while I was below cooking bacon, my crew who was driving, yelled to me “we are being boarded by police”. We gave no provocation for this incident. I prepared to shut off and secure the stove, hot liquid bacon grease,propane,flame etc. Next thing I see is an officer right next to me in the corridor of the galley with a .45 caliber automatic weapon drawn and pointed at my chest. “Get on deck” he ordered.
These officers never asked permission to board. We were cruising at 7 knots. 2 of the 3 officers had jumped on board . The remaining officer fell back in my wake in his boat, while the other officer (the one who had drawn his weapon on me), put dye in my heads and flushed. The boat behind said he saw no dye. So my tanks were retaining the discharge. The other officer on board proceeded to issue me a $250. citation for one “unsecured valve”
In conclusion, I think this type of unprovoked assault on an innocent cruising boat is inappropriate to say the least . It is uncalled for and an overreach of power. We had done absolutely nothing wrong. and we were not discharging anything overboard. my crew did not know where the. valves were. I was the operator of the vessel and was in total control of the sanitation system, yet I was given a citation (under gunpoint) referencing 327.53 which says I must do what I had already done.
Name Withheld by Request

I issued a Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net Alert on the above posting at approximately 2:45 pm on 11/4/10. As I suspected, this Alert created a firestorm of comment and protest (see below). Very significantly, several fellow cruisers who are citizens of Volusia County e-mailed the Volusia County Sheriff’s office, and copied them on my alert and link to the above article. Speaking through their information officer, the Sheriff’s office has responded with the note below.

Thanks to all who’ve written to inquire about this incident. Unfortunately, the events as depicted on the web site posting don’t convey all of the relevant facts surrounding the incident in question.
First off, the author is in fact correct that no provocation with law enforcement had occurred prior to the boarding. However, it should be clearly understood that no provocation is required, or even permission needed, for law enforcement to board a craft for the purposes of conducting a lawful inspection. The reality is that transient crafts moving through the waterways within our jurisdiction have been known to dump sewage into our waterways on many occasions. Along with ensuring boating safety and compliance with the rules of the water, the prevention of sewage dumping is another responsibility taken very seriously by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and its Marine Unit. I feel certain that everyone with an interest in preventing the pollution of our waterways appreciates our efforts in this regard.
With that in mind, some key facts were omitted from the description of the encounter on November 3, 2010. Most notably, when our deputies boarded the craft, they ordered the two occupants on the top deck to stay where they were. In direct defiance of the deputies’ order, one of the passengers ran to the cabin area, where noises could then be heard that sounded as if compartments or drawers were being opened. Not knowing the intent of the passenger or the reason for his failure to comply with their orders, and fearing that he may have been reaching for a weapon, a deputy did in fact draw his duty weapon for officer safety purposes.
This in no way was inappropriate, an over-reaction or an unprovoked assault, as alleged by the writer. Given the sequence of events, this was an entirely appropriate and necessary act on the part of the deputy until they could secure the occupants and gain control of the scene. To those on this web site who are questioning the actions of our deputies, I ask you to think for just a moment what you would have done in the same circumstance. Given the dangers that law enforcement officers face every day on the job, I also ask you to stop and consider what might have occurred if the passenger was, in fact, reaching for a weapon and the deputy had not drawn his weapon for protection. Our deputies are trained to exercise restraint. But they also are trained to draw their weapons if they perceive the potential for harm. Waiting for the danger to be upon them is tragically too late to react.
Lastly, it should be noted that the inspection of the craft did result in the discovery of a discharge valve that was not properly secured, as required. As unsettling as these events may have been for the occupants of the craft, the events would have transpired much differently had all of the occupants simply complied with the lawful commands of law enforcement.
Gary Davidson
Public Information Officer
Volusia County Sheriff’s Office

During the evening of 11/5/10, I once again spoke with the Captain whose vessel was boarded. He/She said that he/she was overwhelmed with the response generated by the Cruisers’ Net. Furthermore, he stated that “I’ve made my case, and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has made theirs. I’d like to leave it at that.”
And, we shall certainly honor his/her wishes.

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