Photo: Mike Gill
Boarded! 30 hours out from Castlehaven in Southern Ireland, we were cruising happily along in the sunshine off Mounts Bay when we saw a grey warship or similar lurking close inshore - almost invisible against the coastline. It then detached itself from the shore and came fast out in an arc towards us and then kept station with us at a distance of about 3 cables astern for about 10-15 minutes before lowering a RIB, which came after us.
As they came up to us they told us to keep on our current speed and course and three men in black suits (no balaclavas) boarded us. They were very firm but non-threatening; one stayed in the cockpit (the nice guy) and asked to see the ship's papers (Part 1 Registration, passports etc) and then he quizzed me about our movements. The other two went down below, one searching the boat for illegal immigrants (the hard man) while the other (the technician) swabbed the boat for drugs. They then checked my answers about our movements against the Ship's Log; having found everything in order, they relaxed and became chatty - even allowing Mike Gill to take the photos before they went! I think the morals of the story are as follows:
- be polite and welcoming to them when they board you
- keep a good log of your movements
- don't under any circumstances lose your cool!
The boarding lasted for about 20 minutes and clearly they were interested in our movements and identities as well as whether we were carrying contraband.Following the boarding I did nothing (there was nothing to complain about, they were just doing their job). But at a visit to the Southampton Boat Show I found the Borders Agency stand. I told them about my experience of being boarded and said that contrary to what others have said, I had no possible objection to the way in which it was done and then we went on to discuss the way in which the E-Borders legislation will be applied to leisure craft user.
I quoted my own experience of last summer when I had a trip to France planned, leaving on a Friday in June from Dartmouth and heading for a landfall at Camaret in Brittany. After a week of terrible forecasts (waiting for anything which didn't have the combination of SW, Force 7 and sea state rough in it!) my original crew had to go home and I crossed a week later with a different crew. We set out for Camaret but changed our plans half way across and eventually finished up in L'Aberwrach.
I do not have internet on the boat and it would have been very difficult to comply with the legislation about logging your passage plan and crew details in any practical way. After some robust debate, they admitted to the fact that they were having some discussions with the MCA about letting leisure craft users report their passage plans and crew lists by VHF radio to the nearest coastguard station - really just adding the crew details to the information that one would already log with a passage report under Safety Traffic. This seems to me to be a wholly sensible way forward in that it would satisfy the requirements of the Borders Agency and minimise the inconvenience to leisure craft users.
I recently wrote to Yachting Monthly about this conversation and the letter was published last month. The text of that letter is here.
If other members agree, I think that it would be very helpful if they would write to their MP to encourage them down this route.
Email a letter to your MP - it's easy with Write to them.com
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- Click on the name of yourMP
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Suggested text for letter to your MP
Dear ..... ,
I am writing to you in connection with the e-Borders system currently being developed by the Borders Agency and the Home Office, and being put into operation in 2009/2010.
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has been in recently received communications from the Borders Agency regarding the application of the scheme to recreational boaters. The information received indicates that the plans for application of e-Borders to recreational boaters have not yet been given sufficient thought.
I believe that the Home Office should consult further with the RYA to arrive at an effective system that will not:
- impose unfair or unreasonable restrictions on boaters [many boaters do not have access to the internet at their point of departure, but already notify HM Coastguard of their passages by VHF or telephone]
- criminalise law-abiding citizens when they take action in the face
of adverse conditions [boaters may not be able to maintain their ETA, may need to divert for reasons of safety, and may be unable to communicate this in advance]
- impact on the safety of navigation [by requiring boaters to follow less-safe courses of action]
It is possible that for recreational boating the border security programme should be intelligence-led rather than dependent on blanket monitoring.
I hope that you will support efforts to ensure that the Borders Agency consult adequately to develop a satisfactory plan that is commensurate with the borders risks associated with recreational boating.