The Marine Retailers Association of America is alerting its dealer members to a court ruling that some say could have serious consequences for boating. Judge Robert G. James of the U.S. District Court, Western Division of Louisiana, has declared it is a criminal trespass for the public to boat, fish or hunt on the Mississippi River and other navigable waters of the country.
"Even though this action seems like a horrible pre-April Fools’ joke, it is very serious," said MRAA president Phil Keeter, in a statement. "Because essentially all the waters and waterways of our country are considered navigable in the U.S. law, this ruling declares recreational boating, water skiing, fishing, waterfowl hunting and fishing tournaments – except if conducted in a navigable shipping channel — to be illegal and the public subject to jail sentences for recreating with their families."
In addition, the judge held 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, the MRAA reports, adding, “Boating has now become illegal in most of our country.”
In the Aug. 29 decision, Judge James rejected the findings of the magistrate judge who found earlier that the public had the right under federal law and Louisiana law to navigate, boat, fish and hunt on the waters of the Mississippi River up the normal high-water line of the river.
In that ruling, MRAA says Magistrate Judge James Kirk relied on long-established federal principles of navigation entitling "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 MRAA chairman Glenn Mazzella, in a statement.