The United States Coast Guard regulates charter boat operations. Although many charter companies operate legally, there are a handful who do not. Whether they don't know the rules or choose to ignore them, we don't know; however we suspect the latter. After all, who goes into business without knowing the rules/regulations of the industry in which they operate?
Here are 5 important things to know before chartering a vessel:
- Vessels carrying at least one passenger for hire but no more than six passengers require at minimum, a Coast Guard credentialed operator who holds a valid endorsement as an “Operator Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV)."
- Vessels carrying more than six passengers with at least one passenger for hire require a Coast Guard credentialed (licensed) Master. The vessel must also be inspected by the Coast Guard, with the vessel’s Certificate of Inspection posted in a location visible to passengers.
- Ask the charter operator for a copy of the COI (Certificate of Inspection) for that particular vessel. This is an official document issued yearly by the USCG which states how many passengers the vessel is licensed to carry,how many crew are required, and the waters in which they may operate.
- A "Safety Check" is NOT the same as a COI.
- If the charter company cannot furnish a COI and suggests a bareboat or demise charter agreement, beware! Some operators believe this to be a "work-around" for groups of more than six (6) passengers. It's not; it's illegal and puts the charterer (you) at risk legally and financially - not to mention the safety of you and your guests may be compromised!
Illegal passenger vessels pose a number of safety risks to passengers including:
- Captain and crew may lack necessary training & experience
- Inadequate or lack of drills, exercises, or passenger safety briefings
- A lack of required pre-employment and random drug testing program for crew members
- Insufficient lifesaving or firefighting equipment
- Substandard hull construction, stability, machinery, electrical, safety railings and navigational equipment.
In addition to the noted safety concerns, illegal passenger vessel operations adversely impact the livelihood of legitimate commercial passenger vessel owners that comply with all regulatory standards to conduct such operations. The Coast Guard will pursue enforcement action against vessel owners, operators and credentialed mariners who are found operating an illegal passenger vessel in violation of the U.S. Code and the Code of Federal Regulations.
Operating an illegal passenger vessel often violates several regulations and statutes potentially resulting in civil penalties in excess of $35,000 depending on the severity and violation.
If you would like to check on a vessel or report illegal operations, please contact the United States Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg: 813-228-2191.