“Do you have your registration papers onboard?” I
hoped I was the only one who overheard Don’s mumbled discourse about the absurdity of requiring us to carry
a document that had the identical information as the sticker posted on the back and the numbers pasted on the sides.
With all the permits and insignias we were required to display our little inflatable was beginning to look
like a public bulletin board!
“It’s onboard the big boat, right over there. If you’d like to
come board us on that boat I can give it to you, along with the clean report we got from the boarding
we had 3 months ago” I batted my eyes innocently.
“You’re supposed to keep your
registration paper on board at all times” the boatswain’s mate stated as he scribbled furiously on
his clipboard. At this point, a more amiable petty officer joined the interrogation. We exchanged
some words about the probability of this fragile tissue thin paper lasting more than a week in the dink where
EVERYTHING gets wet. He suggested we get a water-proof bag for it. I had one of those bags on board. It did a
wonderful job of sealing in the puddle of condensation it generated from Florida’s summer heat and
humidity. It would have been great as an emergency water maker.
Hoping to improve our standing Don
added “We’re the only boat over there with the anchor light on.” The petty officer indicated
that although he appreciated our adherence to this requirement, the Coast Guard was just not able to enforce
that law with the number of vessels anchored in the harbor. So much for trying to make a good impression.
Meanwhile, other dinghies began emerging from the harbor – many with no lights – most
with pilots who were probably inebriated to some extent. We watched them start at a leisurely pace that briskly
accelerated once they caught sight of the flashing blue lights. The Port Security Boat pilot aimed a blinding
spotlight on the swarm of renegade mariners and over a megaphone commanded them to stop. But those
shrewd skippers knew a chase would not occur with our dinghy tied up alongside, and continued to run for the shelter
of their vessels.
“Look at them go!” the stunned boatswain’s mate grumbled at his
“I may have to start shooting at them” the petty officer teased.
“Oh – don’t do that” I protested. “Those inflatables just don’t
take bullets that well.” I was hoping this jovial banter helped to build a rapport with the crew. Surly
we deserved some empathy since we’d been so compliant. But alas, the vessel check could not be stopped midstream.
“Do you have two personal flotation devices on board?” the boatswain’s
mate continued undeterred.
I extracted them from stowage and proudly displayed them.
them on.” This guy must’ve been trying to make rank!
“Do you have an anchor?” I was
hoping a simple ‘Yes’ would suffice. It was buried somewhere under the oars, gas tank, boarding step,
cart, dock lines, air pump, bailing pump, cable lock, throw-able floatation cushions, and the seat
bag that held the repair kit, flashlight, spare lines, towels, tools, the aforementioned waterproof bag and various
other sundries. Unfortunately, a major excavation of the evidence was required.
have any sound-making device, such as a whistle or air horn?” I felt like giving them a sample of the best
sound making device I know of – me screaming. I dug around in the bag but was unable to find anything in
its dark recesses. The boatswain’s mate seemed a little smug to have been able to catch us on
another technicality, and carved another checkmark on his report. He was going to make his quota tonight! Then
the inquiry regarding flares was posed. I was able to dig an old one out of the bag, and handed it up to him hoping
he wouldn’t check the expiration date. But one was not enough and the debate with the petty
“When traveling after dark, you need to carry 3 flares on board” the
boatswain’s mate decreed. Don challenged that we understood this requirement was only for vessels 16’
or larger. The petty officer tried tempering the dispute by informing us that we shouldn’t believe everything
we read. It was very astute of him to point this out to us because previously we had taken everything
in written form as gospel – including the back of the flare that stated “The Coast Guard requires
that all boats over 16’ carry a minimum of 3 approved signals”.