For recreational boaters, piracy often seems as remote as Somalia – where four cruisers were killed following the hijacking of the Quest, a 58-foot sailing vessel. Certainly the crew of four aboard the Joe Cool never suspected that their minutes were numbered and tragedy – as opposed to Bimini – would be their destination as the 47-foot sportfisher slipped out of its Miami slip one sunny September afternoon.

The hijackers, with a 9mm in their duffle bag and a ruse about their girfriends waiting for them in Bimini with their passports, convinced the crew to accept the $4,000 charter and head out. Little did the crew know that one of their passengers was a fugitive fleeing for Cuba to escape a child molestation investigation and an Arkansas felony charge relating to a $92,000 Wal-Mart robbery.

Miami mariners have an indelible memory of this tradgedy and others. While federal laws make it a federal crime to bring a dangerous weapon aboard a vessel without previously obtaining the permission of the owner or master of the vessel, only with extreme vigilance, including the physical examination of bags and the searching of pas

Now, with summer here and gun control laws making national headlines, vessel security is on the mind of boat owners and crews. But the laws surrounding protection of your vessel are confusing and change as your vessel passes from coastal waters past the demarcation line into international waters and then into a foreign port.

Federal law allows the transport of weapons in vessels if they are unloaded, rendered temporarily inoperable or are packed, cased or stored in a manner that will prevent their ready use. Under these conditions, no permit is required. As you transgress Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia waters, while the laws are “generally similar” (with some variations and exceptions while fishing or hunting), in most states gun laws that apply to boats often follow similar rules which apply to vehicles.  These states’ laws also prohibit a convicted felon from possessing a firearm under any circumstances.

But, if you are taking a firearm aboard as a concealed weapon, then you must have a concealed weapons permit. According to Carli Segelson, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission public information coordinator, “While Florida permits the use or possession of a firearm while engaged in fishing, camping, or hunting or going to or from lawful hunting, fishing, camping expeditions, if you are simply pleasure boating, you may carry a concealed weapon if you have the appropriate permit.

“If you do not have a concealed weapons permit, a firearm may be on your vessel as long as it is stored in the same manner as it would be if in a vehicle (private conveyance), provided that you are not in a federal park or refuge,” she added. “It is always wise to advise any law enforcement officer that you are carrying a weapon or have a weapon on your vessel.”

U.S. Residents traveling with firearms are reminded to register it with U.S. Customs and Border Protection on a form 4457 prior to taking it out of the U.S. You will need to present the firearm in person to a CBP officer in order to register it. When you re-enter the U.S., a signed CF 4457 is proof that you did not acquire the firearm abroad. If you have the original receipt for a firearm purchased in the U.S., this can be used in lieu of the form to demonstrate that it is American goods returned.

Should your cruising include the Bahamas, that country’s law permits firearms aboard your vessel as part of your ship’s equipment, but they must be declared (including the ammunition count) and stay aboard the vessel in a secure compartment at all times. In the event your boat is boarded by customs or the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, the information on your cruising permit will be checked carefully against your actual supply and ammunition must match the number on the cruising permit.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration and U.S. Coast Guard have focused on improving the self-awareness and self-defense capabilities of the commercial shipping industry, and recreational boaters should consider doing so as well. The maritime industry and the International Maritime Organization have established self defense standards for commercial vessels transiting piracy risky regions, and recreational vessel owners should also develop a self-defense plan. If you intend to carry a firearm aboard your vessel, verify the latest gun laws for your specific state and any other areas you travel. All states have this information readily available to boaters on both permitting and boating requirement websites.

If a weapon is carried, boaters should implement plans for proper permitting and securing of weapons aboard and proper training in the use of your weapons for all aboard.  If you operate a charter, you should have written permission to inspect all bags and include a boarding procedure which includes checking all passenger’s thoroughly for weapons.

Capt. Robert L. Gardana is a licensed U.S.C.G. master and practicing attorney for over 30 years and may be reached at Gardanalaw@gmail.com (website: www.BoatLawyer.com).

This article was first published in the June 2013 edition of – All At Sea – Southeast.

About Robert

As a U.S.C.G. Licensed Captain-Master and Attorney for over 30 years, member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States, Southeast Admiralty Law Institute, Robert L. Gardana, P.A., located in Miami, Florida, home to the largest passenger port in the world, is available to handle cases against cruise lines for injuries, death, missing persons, rape, assault and excursion related injuries or death.
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  1. Hugh SMTIH says:

    So basically the boats we have spent a life time to build in “The land of the free” have become a public toilet. This is going to have to be taken to court. Very unconstitutional. The terrorist have won.

  2. What Haveyou says:

    This article lacks information about carrying guns on boats in international waters.

  3. edward says:

    i want to travel from alaska to international waters with my guns do i need a permit or permissions from the US government ?

  4. Mason Elliot says:

    I always fly into Florida with my gun (CCW) and we tour around Miami a week before our cruises. So instead of keeping my gun in the rental car on the port property (which is unlawful if they catch you), I now use a company called GunStorage.com They will meet you before the port, store your gun and return it to you before you fly back home for about $175.00. I highly recommend them because you don’t want to visit Florida without your gun. Neighborhoods change in a heartbeat.

  5. jay lumiere says:

    What about Canadians travelling through the U.S. on a boat with a
    home defense weapon – do we get to use the 2nd amendment clause
    or is that only for American’s and their rights?

  6. Rick says:

    I guess I take issue with “registering your weapons with the CBP guys. I don’t need to register my guns for any reason, let alone taking them in or out of the country.

    Never have, never had to, never needed it, never will.

    While I DO understand quite clearly that my rights are still my rights whether in or out of the country, some places simply don’t recognize my rights as “God Given”. My rights are not given by my country, government or man. My right to self defense trumps the rights of criminals to try to take my stuff, or my life.

    Sorry. I’ll stick to … er… “my guns” on this one.

    The article however was informative in one aspect. Criminals (smuggling weapons aboard a vessel they chartered) are assuming others won’t be armed or be able to do anything about it if the criminals are armed.

    Anyone who takes that much cash from someone for a “charter” (perhaps it was a legitimate charter company???? that wasn’t exactly addressed) is asking for trouble from guys who appear to be something other than they are.

    They accepted a cash fee, assumed the “girl friend story” was legit and placed themselves in danger. It’s not precisely legal to take people to another country without passports, now, is it? Seems to me, I NEED one to go there. Seems to me that as captain of my ship, I need to ensure everyone has one. Seems to me that taking a story for granted is crazy to begin with, and in this case was deadly.

    I guess I really can’t fathom the idea of taking on strangers, taking them without passports to foreign countries, and hoping I don’t get caught by the authorities dropping off “refugees” or “charged with smuggling people”.

    Kind of like people can’t fathom that many cruisers carry guns where and when they wish. Kind of like some anti-gun proponents calling those of us who do own weapons names because they can’g grasp the fact we own guns “because everyone is human and friendly”. Umm. Not.

    Guess I’m done with my rant.

    I’ll keep my guns. I’ll carry my guns where ever and when ever I feel it necessary, even in places and states “prohibited by law”, BECAUSE, the Second Amendment trumps those laws.

    (and for the record, any state with such laws, I don’t bother going to, stopping in, buying gas or food and refuse to pay taxes to them this way). So pound stand NY, MD, CA, IL….

  7. Steve Frazier says:

    I never, NEVER traverse “wild country” – meaning the deep woods or open water – without taking a defensive firearm along. While the naysayers and anti-gun nuts will call me a paranoid, uneducated war-monger, they’ve probably never been away from civilization – and any sort of law enforcement – and had to draw down on someone to save their families and themselves like I have (twice, actually). I was unsure of the law and found this article very informative, but regardless of the law, I would carry just the same. Your mention of the criminal thug who carried on his 9mm sums it up; the bad-guys sure aren’t going to worry about gun laws, which in my opinion, forces us those of us who try to follow the law to do the same. I’ve conceal-carried both legally and illegally since I was 18 years old, and still haven’t seen a single victim saved by them stating to their armed assailant, “Hey, you’re not allowed to have a pistol out here.” Lol ridiculous. I carry a 9mm and/or .40 cal whenever we sail out a few miles, and my AR-15 if we are out 8-10 miles or more. The weapons almost never even see the light of day while on these trips, but have actually been used to frighten off questionable marauders and even scary animals, on rare occasion. While I hate writing cliches – better to have and not need, and better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

  8. Jason says:

    The serial number on the firearm would probably be proof enough that the firearm was legally bought in the US so I dont think there would be a need to register especially if you still have the recite from a US Gun Store. If any antigun-biggot commies give one trouble over a legit gun I suppose a lawsuit would be in order.

    Also its not that hard to take a fishingpole with you every time you pleasure cruise and cast it a few times although its not hard to get a carry permit either.

  9. Ken Chumley says:

    I am the V.P. of MTOA and we have many times debated the pros and cons of firearms onboard. A big question we have at this time concerns snowbirds cruising to the Maryland waters this summer and the affects of the new gun laws. With you permission, I would like the to publish this article in our magazine as well as any comments concerning cruising to the Chesapeake for the summer.

    We have about 2200 members and many of our members travel up and down the coast every year – including us. Any comments would be appreciated.

    Thanks so much,

    Ken Chumley
    m/v MOSEY – 62′ steel trawler
    V.P. and Membership Director of MTOA.

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