You have the right to sail in territorial waters in complete privacy

As the sailing season gets underway I thought I’d recap on some blogs from last year that touched on the freedom of the seas and your rights when sailing on it.

Last year, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) carried out stops and searches on UK yachts coasting in home waters and demanded ID and paperwork. Understandably, this prompted complaints from readers.

I began to wonder if there was a wilful attempt by the UKBA to bamboozle sailors when a friend revealed he had been stopped on passage across the Bristol Channel and told to produce ID and paperwork because “England and Wales are two different countries”.

That’s bullshit, of course, and the UKBA officers surely knew it. If not, they need urgent retraining. Or just a basic education.

After several enquiries and some round the houses replies to my questions, the Home Office was  unable to put its finger on exactly what law allows the UKBA to ask citizens in territorial waters for personal information. That is almost certainly because parliament has given it no such right. Officers appear to be asking for this under the radar.

Eventually, the Home Office confirmed that while the UKBA may stop and search vessels at any time, if stopped you do not have to provide owner’s or crew’s ID or ship’s papers and there is no penalty for not producing them.

So should they call on you this summer, don’t be bamboozled into thinking you have to have to produce any paperwork.

And if you are told you must, please let us know or get in touch with the Royal Yachting Association.

One final addendum. When I investigated this last year a number of readers wondered what my beef was with the UKBA. Why not let them go about their work of border security?

I agree it’s a good thing the UKBA is being active in protecting UK waters. But be you a citizen or a journalist it’s vitally important to ask questions when agents of the state assume powers that parliament has not granted them.

And in this case most likely would not.

I say that because UK law stipulates that if police stop you on the street they may only ask for personal information if they are reporting you for an offence. Otherwise it is they who must offer you a record of their identity.

In other words, UK law sees this matter as a crucial safeguard of the privacy of the individual.