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US federal judge declares boating illegal in all US navigable waters

By IBI Magazine

In a rather bizarre ruling that has marine industry officials worried, Judge Robert G. James of the United States District Court, Western Division of Louisiana, has said that it is criminal trespass for the American boating public to boat, fish, or hunt on the Mississippi River and other navigable waters in the US.

In the case of Normal Parm v. Sheriff Mark Shumate, James ruled that federal law grants exclusive and private control over the waters of the river, outside the main shipping channel, to riparian landowners. The shallows of the navigable waters are no longer open to the public. That, in effect, makes boating illegal across most of the country.

"Even though this action seems like a horrible pre-April fools joke, it is very serious," said Phil Keeter, MRAA president, in a statement. "Because essentially all the waters and waterways of our country are considered navigable in the US law, this ruling declares recreational boating, water skiing, fishing, waterfowl hunting, and fishing tournaments to be illegal and the public subject to jail sentences for recreating with their families."

Last month, James rejected the findings of the Magistrate judge who found earlier that the American public had the right under federal law and Louisiana law to navigate, boat, fish, and hunt on the waters of the Mississippi river up to the normal high water line of the river. Judge James Kirk relied on the long established federal principles of navigation that recognized the public navigational rights "…entitles the public to the reasonable use of navigable waters for all legitimate purposes of travel or transportation, for boating, sailing for pleasure, as well as for carrying persons or property for hire, and in any kind of watercraft the use of which is consistent with others also enjoying the right possessed in common."

"MRAA is working with the Coast Guard, state boating law administrators, and NMMA to fight this onerous ruling," said Glen Mazzella, MRAA chairman, in the statement.

(14 September 2006)


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