With the passage of Public Act (PA) 62 of 2012 into law, boaters will no longer have to worry about being stopped for random safety checks by peace officers throughout Michigan’s inland lakes and the Great Lakes next summer.
State Rep. Richard LeBlanc’s (D-Westland) House Bill 5110, the enacting legislation for PA 62, clarifies the conditions under which a peace officer can stop and inspect a vessel.
If a watercraft bears a safety check decal from the U.S. Coast Guard, a peace officer may only stop the vessel if there is suspicion that the boat or operator is in violation of marine law or engaged in criminal activity.
According to LeBlanc’s staff, the intent of the legislation was to make watercraft and vehicle stops more similar in nature.
“Currently, if you’re just driving down the road, you can’t be stopped to make sure you have proper airbags,” said Ian Mays, LeBlanc’s legislative aide. “What was happening was officers were stopping boats and other watercraft sometimes repeatedly, even in the same day, without any probable cause or belief that something was being done improperly to do a safety check.”
These stops are commonly referred to as “bikini stops,” according to LeBlanc. The new law is geared toward stemming the frequency of these stops.
“It’s really just a matter to make sure people in watercraft are not being harassed,” Mays said. “If they are stopped, there has to be probable cause or the operator has (to have) committed an infraction to be legitimately stopped. They won’t be stopped just to make sure they have enough life vests.”
PA 62 becomes effective on Nov. 1.
“This new law will help law enforcement and boaters,” said Michigan Boating Industries Association President John Ropp. “Because of the multi-jurisdictions involved on many of Michigan’s waterways, including Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, the Detroit River and St. Clair River, it was not uncommon for the same boat to be stopped several times in one day. This is not an efficient use of time and energy and is a huge inconvenience to boaters.”
The “safety check decals” can be received after a free submitting to an inspection by the Coast Guard.
“I’m pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of the Coast Guard,” added MBIA spokesperson Nicki Polan. “They have people all over and are very accessible. They will come out to you, or lake associations can organize to have one come out for an entire group to have free inspections performed to get safety check decals. The Coast Guard has people everywhere, not just the Great Lakes.”
To arrange a free inspection directly with the Coast Guard or to find a representative nearby, visit www.safetyseal.net/GetVSC/.