Concealed Carry During Water Travel
This article is here because there’s been a lot of questions relating to carrying a concealed firearm on cruises and fishing trips. Many of the readers probably won’t like what I have to say on this topic – but I will try to be as direct as possible.
Concealed Carry in Territorial Waters
The Second Amendment is constitutionally valid on American soil. It is restricted by state law and federal law. You can say that’s illegal, immoral, or any number of other things – but unless you have a team of highly paid attorneys on speed-dial, a failure to acknowledge that will be extremely costly for you.
Why am I bringing up that uncomfortable fact? Because if you’re taking a pleasure cruise along the Aleutian Islands (mostly under the jurisdiction of Alaska), you’re probably okay to keep your concealed carry pistol on your person so long as it does not violate the rules of the company operating that line.
The second that boat drifts over into Canadian or Russian waters, however, you are no longer legally allowed to do that. If you’re caught, you will face serious repercussions.
For instance, if the Russian coast guard decides to board your fishing vessel for a routine examination (which they can legally do if you’re within Russian waters), you’re not allowed to have a gun unless the Russian government said it was alright. Did the Russian government tell you it’s okay to have your pistol on you? If not… Don’t have it on you.
Similarly, if you depart from the coast of North Carolina for a pleasure cruise to the Bahamas, you may be very surprised to discover Bahama* does not have the same gun laws as the United States. The same goes for Iceland, Mexico, and any number of other scenic destinations you may travel while aboard a vessel.
*The good news about the Bahamas is that there is a legal process to obtaining a firearms permit. But that’s not the subject of this article.
Concealed Carry In International Waters
There’s a thing called maritime law. Attorneys study it and study the criteria to meet certain qualifications of acceptable boundaries usually when it comes down to trade agreements and shipping lanes. Generally, so long as the captain of the vessel has no issue with you being armed – you’re fine If the captain of the ship forbids passengers from being armed – that’s the law. Concealed carry may not apply depending upon the vessel.
A country is theoretically only able to claim sovereignty over the waters to a certain extent. If the ship you are traveling upon is flagged as a non-US vessel, you become subject to the laws and restrictions of that country once you pass into international waters. So, for instance, if your cruise ship is flagged under Barbados, you are now under the penalty of that country’s laws should you be found to be in violation of any crimes of that country. At sea, the captain of the vessel is arguably the chief officer of the law. He can confine you to quarters or – in the extreme and not commonly done – even exile you from the vessel (“walk the plank”) if he sees you as a threat to himself, the vessel, its crew, or its other occupants. That’s his discretion and he has to theoretically answer for it once he returns to shore.
So the core facet you need to remember if you carry concealed out into international waters: at the discretion of the captain of the vessel.
If YOU are the captain of the vessel, you dictate those rules. You can have any type of small arms munitions and firearms governed under several treaties and conventions that you can research on your own. The summary of that: if you’re the captain, carry concealed as you wish.
Riverine And Cross-State Boundaries
If you’re taking a cruise down the Mississippi, your vessel will fall into a number of different jurisdictions depending upon its location. The captain of that vessel is responsible for the actions of his vessel and its crew. As you pass from Illinois into Arkansas or Missouri territory, you are bound under the reciprocity agreements of those states. If your concealed carry permit allows you to be in those states with a concealed handgun – you’re fine. Where it does not, you may not. It’s your job to determine that location. So, if your vessel is boarded in Louisiana and your concealed carry permit is not acknowledged by the state of Louisiana – don’t carry concealed.
Similarly, but to a greater extreme, if you cross from Washington into Canadian-held waters for an extended trip out of Puget Sound, you are subject to Canadian firearms restrictions.
In summary, when in doubt, consult with the captain of the vessel to ensure that you are in accordance with the laws of whatever country or state jurisdiction you’re in. It’s your responsibility to be informed of which jurisdictions you are in and what those laws entail. If you are found to have a concealed firearm on your person and the captain has not given you approval and it is in violation with local law, you will have a bad time.
James England is a former United States Marine Signals Intelligence Operator and defense contractor with over two tours spread over the Al Anbar province and two more operating across Helmand and Baghdis. He is presently a writer focused on Western foreign policy and maintains an avid interest in firearms. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, he presently resides in New Hampshire – the “Live Free or Die” state. He is finishing up his first novel, “American Hubris”, which is set to hit shelves in Fall of 2015.