RYA talks stop and search with the UK Borders Agency


Last year, the RYA wrote to the Government to challenge the UK Border Agency’s “stop and search” techniques. This followed a number of letters from members who felt that their treatment by the UKBA was heavy handed.

It’s a piquant question too: when does the reassuring presence of officials protecting our borders from drug smugglers, terrorists and illegal immigrants move beyond that and simply make us feel like we’re living in a police state?

It was a question which had the RYA membership fairly divided; some feeling that being boarded was actually quite reassuring, with others finding it an outrageous invasion of their privacy.

It was also an issue which clearly raised concerns at the UKBA headquarters, and they were very keen to get in touch with the RYA and stress that they were the good guys in this situation. After all, seizing drugs and catching terrorists and illegal immigrants is all very laudable.

What we wanted to know is why they were bounding aboard our yachts on coastal trips and storming aboard with what was reported to be all the subtlety and tact of the 'A' Team. Except in this case it was you, the boater, who felt you were on the run for a crime you didn't commit.

Mother Ships and Booby Traps
We met with them and it soon became evident that the reasons behind their tactics were multiple:

Firstly, the UKBA reports that 80% of drugs seized by the UKBA Cutter fleet in the UK come from yachts. Smugglers often transfer drugs from a Mother Ship offshore, on to a yacht to complete the shipment; hence the searching of coastal cruisers.
Secondly, the UKBA crews have been the victim in the past of 'booby trapped' boats, which destroy the drugs by blowing them up and sinking the evidence.
This means that the UKBA crews are always in a hurry to get down in to the saloon and ensure the boat is safe, before they do anything else .

Working together
The RYA's Gus Lewis met with the UKBA officials. He explained: "We pointed out that if UKBA Cutter boarding crews gave the impression to yachtsmen that they were unduly aggressive or intimidating then they were likely to alienate the yachting community.

"The upshot of the meeting was that it was clear that the UKBA officers are very keen to retain the support of recreational boaters. After all, we can be a vital source of intelligence to them, so our help and cooperation is invaluable.

"The UKBA said that they are happy to work with us, which we welcome. The crew of the UKBA cutters also pride themselves on their seamanship and were upset with some complaints from our members about careless boat handling.

“They stressed that if anyone had valid a complaint, they are more than ready to listen and take action, so feel free to contact the RYA and we will pass these on.”

The RYA will be holding regular meetings with the UKBA to address any issues that arise from HM Cutter activity in the recreational boating sector so please let us know of any 'stop and search' operations involving yachts that you would like us to discuss with the UKBA.