Boating Season in Pennsylvania is Officially Here

What do I need to know about my risk of being arrested for violating a stay at home order or social distancing requirements on my own boat or watercraft?

The Governor’s authority to mandate isolation, quarantine and related measures is based upon a 1955 statute found in our Health and Safety Code, entitled the Disease Prevention and Control Law. Violations of this law are categorized as summary offenses and finable between $25 and $300. 

The Disease Prevention and Control Law further authorizes prosecutions by the Department of Health, by a local board or department of health or by any person having knowledge of a violation of any provisions of this Act or any regulation (35 P.S. 521.20). Although this provision may appear to authorize any law enforcement officer to investigate and cite an individual, the authority of the Fish and Boat Commission to investigate and prosecute violations of the law are limited. Under the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Code, enforcement authority of Waterways Conservation Officers and Deputy Waterways Conservation Officers is limited to the following: 

  • Enforce all laws of this Commonwealth relating to fish and watercraft and make arrests for a violation of the Fish and Boat Code (Title 30, Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes); 
  • Stop vehicles or boats and search or inspect, where probable cause exists that a violation of Title 30 has occurred;
  • While in the performance of their duties, pursue, apprehend or arrest any individual suspected of violating any provisions of Title 18 (relating to crimes and offenses) or any other offense classified as a misdemeanor or felony. 30 Pa.C.S.A. 901(a)(b).

The Fish and Boat Code further authorizes waterway conservation officers to enforce all the laws of this Commonwealth, and rules and regulations promulgated thereunder, relating to game, parks and forestry, under the direction of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) respectively. 30 Pa.C.S.A 902

What happens if a Waterways Conservation Officer boards your boat, or orders you to stop your boat because he believes you are violating the Governor’s social distancing requirements?

If social distancing is the only basis for the investigation and prosecution, then there is a legal argument that the Waterways Conservation Officer lacks the legal authority to conduct the investigation, stop your boat or issue you a citation for violating the Health and Safety Code. 

What if, as a result of an illegal detention, he discovers evidence of an unrelated crime which would not have been discovered but/for the illegal stop and detention, for example boating under the influence?

Based upon the powers conferred under the Fish and Boat Code, it appears that Waterways Conservation Officers and their deputies are not authorized to investigate, charge, or prosecute summary violations of the Disease Prevention and Control Act.

How Colgan & Associates Can Help You

If you are cited by a Waterways Conservation Officer for any offense, contact Attorney David Hershey at Colgan & Associates, LLC for a free initial consultation.

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