This is an excerpt from an article by Charles Fort, published by BoatUS. The incident in question happened recently, involving a couple aboard a Hatteras 71. The case underscores the need to be educated on firearms laws and how they differ throughout the U.S. and Caribbean basin. After the excerpt, we make a case for a unique TrawlerFest seminar called Guns & Governments.
Angela O'Connell and John Hallbauer, a Florida couple who has cruised the Bahamas for years, were boarded by the Bahamas Customs and Border Patrol in April while anchored at the remote island of Great Sale Cay in the Abacos. O'Connell recounted that seven agents boarded their boat, inspected their paperwork, and began to, as the couple put it, "aggressively go through" their lockers and drawers.
The agents found a discrepancy in the number of declared shotgun shells (for a gun kept on board for security) reported to Bahamian officials on entry. At that point, she told us, things got even more aggressive. Hallbauer and O'Connell, one of whom is a retired attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the agents told them they would have to go back and appear before a magistrate in Freeport, Bahamas, and possibly spend six months in jail if they did not pay a $300 cash fine on the spot.
O'Connell said they were told that this type of inspection was "a new policy" started in early 2018 and that border agents were now going out to remote islands. She also said the agents could not cite any guidelines to show that the fine was legitimate. O'Connell said she and Hallbauer, both in their 70s, were terrified and had to scramble to find the cash before they were given a receipt and allowed to go. They noted that several other boats in the anchorage were also boarded by the same agents.
While this was an unfortunate — and intimidating — event for the couple, their experience is a good reminder for foreigners who cruise the Bahamas or other ports outside of the U.S. The couple's bullet miscount was likely an innocent mistake, but firearms laws are very strict in the Bahamas, as they are in many parts of the world. It could have meant the missing ammunition had been fired during the couple's visit or that it was sold to, given to, or stolen by someone local — all serious infractions. In this case, the fine may have been legitimate and allowed them to continue their trip without having to return to a magistrate's office on another island.
Guns & Governments: Local Laws on the East Coast & Down Island
With attorneys Todd Lochner, Greg Singer & Steve Ross
8:30-10:30 am., Thursday, Sept. 27
First of all, let us say what this seminar is not about. It’s not about advocating for or opposing guns aboard cruising boats. This seminar is for the coastal cruiser who has already decided to carry guns or is leaning toward that decision.
The fact is anyone who cruises the East Coast between Canada and the Caribbean will pass through multiple jurisdictions whose gun laws vary wildly. What is legal in Georgia might very well result in serious legal consequences in Massachusetts or Puerto Rico. This seminar identifies the places that can cause problems for even the most conscientious armed cruiser.
Presenters Todd Lochner and Greg Singer are Annapolis attorneys, specializing in maritime law. Attendees will receive a bridge card-style hand-out, which breaks down the differences in laws in an easy to understand format.
Seminars: Tuesday through Saturday, Sept. 25-29.
In-Water Boat Show: Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 27-29.
Open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (Seminar participants enter in-water boat show free on day of seminar.)
Questions? Contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 761-7073.
Interested in being an Exhibitor or Sponsor? Contact Ryan Davidson (954) 328-7573 or email@example.com.
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