Shiprider Law Enforcement Team Keeps Canadian Waterways Safe
The longest border in the world is between the US and Canada, officially known as the International Boundary. It includes portions of maritime boundaries in the Great Lakes, on the Pacific, Atlantic and Artic Coasts. Covering over 8,891 kilometers, there is a lot of territory to cover. As travellers we are all too familiar with protocols related to crossing the border by land or air, but how familiar are you with waterway boundaries?
The RCMP & United States Coast Guard Shiprider Program
The Shiprider teams are jointly crewed by specially trained and designated Canadian and U.S. law enforcement officers who are authorized to enforce the law on both sides of the international boundary line. Working together, armed Canadian and U.S. law enforcement officers are able to transit back and forth across the border to help secure it from threats to national security, as well as prevent cross-border smuggling and trafficking. Specific enforcement activities consist of detecting, monitoring and potentially boarding vessels in either Canadian or American waters.
How does Shiprider work?
The program is jointly crewed and in Canadian waters by the RCMP and the United States Coast Guard. Shiprider operations are subject to Canadian laws and are conducted under the direction and control of the RCMP. RCMP vessels designated Shiprider vessels have a member of the USCG on board and are able to enter U.S. waters to enforce U.S. laws under the supervision of the USCG member. Likewise, USCG Shiprider vessels have a member of the RCMP on board and are able to enter Canadian waters to enforce Canadian laws under the supervision of the RCMP officer.
Rules for boaters crossing into the USA by boat or other watercraft
It may not always be apparent where a water border exists so be prepared to follow the rules. Law enforcement officers can stop and board any vessel at anytime, anywhere, randomly with no specific criteria, under the authority of the Shipping Act.
For Boaters ENTERING US waters – if there is no intention of anchoring, touching land or meeting another vessel, the captain is not required to check-in, and passports are not required on board – however, should the boater experience a breakdown, or come across another vessel in distress, or decide to moor, they should be prepared to present their travel documents when asked.
Constable Hindson a member of the RCMP Shiprider program, says, “I highly recommend for boaters entering U.S. waters to carry and keep safe travel documents, you never know when plans go astray, especially when boating.” Acceptable forms of travel documents are passport, advanced driver’s license and Nexus card. Most Canadian marinas are check-in stations with a direct-line telephone to Canada Border Services Agency. Harbour Insurance staff recommends for boaters to do their research and plan ahead to seek a check-in station when planning to cross the border during a short or longer boating excursions.
The following applies to boaters in Canadian and U.S. waters:
- Officers can stop and board any vessel at anytime, anywhere, randomly with no specific criteria, under the authority of the Shipping Act
- Boaters stopped by a US Coast Guard Vessel, must comply – there will be a Canadian Law enforcement officer on board the USCG vessel
- Boaters are likely to be stopped under the Customs Act when crossing the Canada/US border, or when there is open alcohol on board. The Customs Act allows officers ‘Search Authority’ of the vessel.
Rules of the waterways related to alcohol
According to Constable Justin Hindson, “The number one question we get is about drinking alcohol on a boat. We highly discourage any alcohol while boating, and Ontario enforces the strictest laws regarding drinking and boating in Canada.”
Canada-U.S. Shiprider involves vessels jointly crewed by specially trained and designated Canadian and U.S. law enforcement officers who are authorized to enforce the law on both sides of the international boundary line.
Up to 65% of boating related-accidents in Canada involve alcohol consumption and the rules are the same as operating a motor vehicle. An operator of a boat is considered impaired if a breathalyzer or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over. 80 mg. Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.
In Ontario, the fines and penalties for driving a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are the same as those applicable to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There is NO difference between drunk driving and drunk boating. Consequences can be fines, suspension of drivers license and ignition interlock program.
Consuming alcohol on board is permitted, only when the following criteria are met:
- The boat must be equipped with a built-in/permanent toilet
- The boat must be equipped with permanent cooking facilities
- The boat must be equipped with a designated sleeping facility
- The boat must be attached to land – either Anchored to land or secured to a dock WITH the intention of staying over night.
Knowing the Canada/USA border in Ontario waterways
The following is a list of the major border waterways in Ontario:
- Great Lakes – Erie, Ontario, Michigan, Superior, Huron
- The Saint Mary’s River between Lakes Superior and Huron
- The Straits of Mackinac between Lakes Michigan and Huron
- Several bodies of water between Southeast Michigan and Southwestern Ontario
- The Saint Clair River between Lakes Huron and Saint Clair
- Lake Saint Clair, tiny compared to the Great Lakes but still over 1000 km² (430 square miles)
- The Detroit River between Lakes Saint Clair and Erie
- The Niagara River (with its famous falls) between Lakes Erie and Ontario
- The Saint Lawrence which drains the whole system into the Atlantic Ocean
Boating in Ontario is a popular pastime. Know your International Boundary rules and make sure you are insured for the type of boating you do. Call the knowledgeable staff at Harbour Insurance before boating season takes off for 2018.