Coast Guard steps up illegal charters enforcement

Congestion on the waterways is a growing concern. Commercial operators must constantly be on the look out to avoid collisions with a variety of recreational craft and boats.

People who have little or no understanding of the rules of the road operate many of these boats. Some of these recreational craft are daily rentals that provide minimal safety instruction. The fact that there have been so few accidents involving commercial vessels is a tribute to the professionalism and skills of our mariners.

Unfortunately, however, the problem continues to grow and we are faced with increasing numbers of illegal charters in most U.S. ports. Many of these illegal charter operations are being marketed via the internet.

For the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA), it is one of its most important issues, with the association’s leaders and staff working closely with the Coast Guard to promote nationwide enforcement. This issue is of critical importance to all commercial operators. Illegal charter operations compromise safety, placing commercial mariners in harm’s way and potentially exposing the maritime industry to negative publicity.

But it appears that PVA’s efforts are starting to pay off. The Coast Guard has stepped up its enforcement efforts in several U.S. ports. In Chicago in August, the Coast Guard boarded 39 recreational vessels and terminated voyages of 22 vessels for allegedly conducting illegal charter operations on Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. In taking the action, the Coast Guard acknowledged that it had increased its “deterrent operations” as part of ongoing efforts to ensure passenger safety and to combat boat owners and operators who are illegally chartering or renting out their vessels. During that operation, the Coast Guard issued violation notices of more than $50,000. The Coast Guard has also taken steps to crack down on illegal charter operators in other U.S. ports including Hawaii and Los Angeles/Long Beach.

Many of these illegal charter vessels are not up to current safety standards, are not built to inspected vessels standards, and do not carry proper insurance for an inspected vessel in business to carry paying passengers. These are major deficiencies, especially when an accident occurs. I commend the Coast Guard for stepping up its enforcement of illegal charters and I encourage them to continue this effort in the name of safety.


About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or

1 Comment

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    Captain Todd Nelson on

    While I applaud the sentiment, the picture being painted here is deceptive. Most of the vessels involved in the “illegal charters” are not of the daily rental variety. Lumping them together is a total disservice to the captain’s argument. Not one of the daily rental trips has been stopped because they are legal. It is quite scary to know people are on the water, running boats with hardly any knowledge, but this is not what the captain is talking about. The vast majority of these “illegal charter” boats are run by licensed captains, and most boats are luxury yachts. Many are built overseas, so they violate the Jones Act, and the rest are not built to the exacting standards of inspected vessels. The way most vessels get around this is to offer the vessel as a bare boat charter, and the crew is, technically, hired by the charter guest. Some have gotten too brazen and have failed to keep the boat and the crew separate in the charter contract. The foreign built boats just run and hope they don’t get stopped. I know all this because I have run several boats used in this manner. All the boats I ran were American built. They were not inspected vessels and did not have insurance for an inspected vessel, but, because the value of the boats involved being well over $10 million each, and the assets of the owners being over $100 million, we carried the best insurance available for ANY vessel. Our safety and cleanliness standards were even higher than the inspected vessels because our guests were also quite rich and expected everything to be right, and they all had great lawyers in case anything went wrong. The captain may argue that vessels like those I ran cut into his business, but the clientele for each is totally different. The passengers I carried would never have thought of going on an inspected vessel, and I never had any passengers who were not part of the same group, and those who inspected vessels carry, generally” could not afford our prices. Any boats simply picking up passengers off the docks need to be inspected.

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