Another Volusia County Boarding Incident (near St. M. 846.5)
Those of you who have been following the Cruisers’ Net, know there was an uproar in November of 2010, involving a boarding of a pleasure craft in Volusia County by sheriff’s deputies. Claims were made that the one of the law enforcement officers in question approached the captain below decks with a drawn weapon. That story is linked below, and we will not further comment on it here.
The incident described below is certainly less disturbing than the above referred happening, but it is troublesome nevertheless. All we can do is suggest that all cruisers proceed through Volusia County waters, ready for a boarding anytime, even when your vessel is about to pass under a bridge.
I was boarded by the Volusia County deputies on 10/27 as we were staged with several other boats waiting to go under the New Smyrna bascule bridge. We were dealing with wind and some current, and the deputies boarded us just as the bridge was about to open, so that I had to turn the helm over to my wife who took the boat under the bridge, while I escorted the officers below. I was surprised that they were not considerate enough to wait until we cleared the bridge before they approaced us, and that certainly added to the tenseness of the situation.
I showed the officer my diverter valve which was correctly valved to the holding tank, but cannot be secured because of extremely poor access. The officer agreed that it would be almost impossible to secure the valve with a lock or wire tie, but said that was not his problem. I explained that I had records of having pumped out the previous day and 4 times in the previous four weeks. He issued me a $250 citation.
The officer stated ‘ I spend three months in the spring and three months if the fall doing nothing but stopping boats going north or south’. I concluded that Volusia County is operating a `toilet trap’ that is just like a speed trap, and that their primary interest is to raise revenue rather than to insure the cleanliness of the waters. It seems that this law has given them the perfect tool to generate funds for their raises and toys, while getting to spend their days boating, rather than doing the unpleasant work of serious crime prevention.
My take on the requirement for permission to board is that a boat is just like ones home on land. Boarding the deck is not an invasion of privacy, and if all crew members are on deck, it is not unreasonable to require all to stay on deck until the officer is escourted below.
However, a crew member below could be sleeping, undressed, showering, or adding to the holding tank contents. That person must be allowed to prepare for visitors and then grant permission for entry. If an officer violates this, he is guilty of invasion of privacy and should be subject to disciplinary action or worse.
A written policy should be published for dealing with this, so that all can understand their rights and limitations.
I was able to petition the judge with my pump out records and photos of my diverter valve compartment showing the access problem and the fine was lowered from $250 to $100. I am installing a lock on the compartment door to hopefully achieve compliance with the securing requirement. I must say that this requirement does little to prevent overboard discharge, since the captain and unlock and operate the valve at will (but then logic has never been a requirement for government regulations).
And, comments from fellow cruisers on the above incident:
As some folks are FINALLY beginning to realize’¦.
THE LAND OF THE FREE’¦.ISN’T.
I hate to sound unsympathetic here because I am not.
The premises and policies behind these laws are often flawed and contain a considerable animus toward toward boaters, especially those who do not vote in Florida and who have a long history of abusing Florida’s welcome both with public nuisance, sewage discharge and attempted tax evasion.
In many cases these local laws are the current cruising community reaping what decades of abuse by the prior community has sewn. These laws (if they should be changed) will not be changed soon. They are constitutional (not talking about anchoring here), they are tested, and they are proportional to the offense. I doubt if they are money raisers given what it costs to police and adjudicate them.
Before we cruise, we spend as much time on the relevant laws of the jurisdictions we are going to transit as we do the charts [well almost].
I would ask, had one been stopped by a highway trooper for improperly towing a dangerous load*, would difficulty in attaching legally required safety chains have been a sufficient defense. I think not.
We have a responsibility to fully honor the spirit, intent, and letter of the laws of those whose commons we share. If we, as a class, continue to seek special dispensation, we may well get it, but it won’t be the kind we were hoping for.
*having been seriously sickened by sewage during a pump out incident, I certainly consider it dangerous