Friday, March 25, 2016

More "Clarification" on Trolling Motors

Alright, Big Jim and I discussed trolling motors on the Missouri below Holter Dam and whether or not it's legal. I had made about 20 calls to various Coast Guard offices all the way from the national level to the regional offices in Seattle and we thought we had the answers but ten minutes after I posted the podcast on Podbean yesterday, I received another call that just illustrates how nobody really knows what is legal and what is not.

Here's the deal; we don't really care if people use trolling motors to guide with. It really has no impact on me but where this question came up, is some guys were contemplating getting the motor mount on their boat and buying the electric Torpedo but decided against it because they were informed that they needed a Captain's License or an OUVP also called a "6-pack." So I did some research and let me just detail what I found out.

I emailed Robin Cunningham of FOAM for clarification of where the line is as to who needs a Captain's License and if there's some exemption for trolling motors and he sent me this link. 
After reading the information on captain's licensing and specifically, "Why You Need a License," portion, I realized that it has nothing to do with motors at all. All they are concerned with is that you are for hire and you take passengers. There is NO mention of motors. This kind of got the wheels turning a bit because by their determination, we all should have a Captain's License if we are going to guide on the Missouri.

I started making calls to various Coast Guard offices starting at the national level and eventually getting to a regional office in Seattle, which was a real treat since they had no answers and kept sending me back to the national offices who would then tell me they couldn't advice on regional issues. I finally made my way to a gentleman by the name of Ken Heaton from the Regional Exam Center in Seattle who did his best to answer questions but still didn't have anything definitive on the topic of electric trolling motors and whether or not a Captain's License was required.

Let's back up for a minute. First of all, the Missouri River is considered by the Coast Guard as a navigable waterway. Somehow it's considered that way, not because of the dams, but because there can be interstate trade on the Missouri. However, what is considered to be under the Coast Guard jurisdiction is only from Three Forks down to Fort Benton. More specifically, or according to this link, 263 miles upstream from Fort Benton. :

This makes no sense since all of that portion of the Missouri is in Montana so there would be no interstate trading going on. The only thing I can think of is that at one point, way back when, there was an effort to run ferry boats up and down the river for transporting folks and livestock, etc. The bottom line here is that, this particular stretch is under the Coast Guard's jurisdiction and we know that for certain.

Ken was a little foggy on the specifics of the rules so sent me to the Prevention Department since they would be the ones to take away someone's license for violating rules. I was able to get the officer at the Prevention Department to slow down for a second and actually listen to what I was asking, which was specifically, on the Missouri River from Three Forks to Fort Benton where the Coast Guard has jurisdiction, is it legal to guide commercially from a man-powered boat without a license and would one need a Captain's License if he/she decided to put a electric trolling motor on it?

Apparently, there is something called a "local restriction," that pretty much tailors the rules to a specific waterway allowing for extenuating circumstances and other inherent risks or lack of risk and because of the that, according to the Prevention Specialist, we can guide commercially on the Missouri without a Captain's License as long as the "vessel" is man-powered. However, once that vessel is motorized, regardless of the size or nature of the motor, the operator would be required to have the Captain's License.

That sounds pretty straight forward but I received a call back from Ken about 2 minutes after publishing our podcast and he stated that as he interprets the rules, which includes comparing our situation out here to what they deal with around Seattle with commercial sailboats, we would need a Captain's License regardless of whether the vessel is manpowered or motorized. Holy...

I relayed to Ken what the specialist told me and he said he'd do some more research and get back to me. Here's the bottom line for me; I'm quite certain I'm not going to get a ticket for guiding commercially on the Missouri River in a manpowered vessel. I'm also pretty sure, after talking with the Coast Guard, that nobody is going to get a ticket for using a trolling motor either because 1) they just don't care that much because we are so remote and b) nobody really knows the rules so you do what you want with that info. As Ken stated in our discussion, the concern is that people taking out clients for hire in such areas is that they want everyone to have the necessary training to keep people safe and to treat people for medical issues when first responders are not readily available or access to EMS is not available.

So now we have a couple justifications for the Coast Guard overseeing what we do here although I'm really not sure if those justifications are reality or just excuses. One is the so-called, interstate commerce and the other is the safety issue for remote areas. As Ken admitted though, these rules and justifications of the rules are incredibly dated and may or may not have relevance in today's market.

Does this mean I'm going to go out and buy a trolling motor? No, because I know it's not legal and I just don't want to put myself in that situation and I'll definitely not buy a jet-sled and start running trips either because it's just not right. I guess I value and respect the time and effort put into getting a Captain's License by those guys who have gone through the process and don't want to step on any toes. (It's also just not my deal.) The real issue, I believe, is if you do run into problems while using a motor, does that make you more liable if you don't have the proper certifications? It's something to think about.

Keep 'em where they live...

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