The Coast Guard halted eight illegal charters in South Florida President's Day weekend.

Coast Guard Stations Miami Beach and St. Petersburg law enforcement crews boarded multiple vessels and discovered these owners and operators were operating as illegal charters. Three of the operators violated Captain of the Port orders, which is a federal offense.

Coast Guard Station Miami Beach and Coast Guard Investigative Services personnel stopped two federal offenders, including the operator of the motor yacht Sweet Melissa III, near Miami Beach. The other COTP order violation took place in St. Petersburg. Read more about that case here.

"There's no guarantee you'll get your money back after your voyage is terminated," said Jesus Porrata, chief of investigations division, Coast Guard Sector Miami. "The Coast Guard along with state and local law enforcement agencies will continue to actively pursue and enforce all applicable laws to ensure your time on the water is safe and enjoyable."

The Coast Guard encourages those seeking to charter a vessel to ask for the captain's credentials. If an owner or operator cannot produce the red Coast Guard booklet, it is strongly recommended money not be exchanged. 

Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire-operations. Owners/operators that violate a COTP order can face over $95,000 in penalties. Some potential civil penalties for illegally operating a passenger vessel are:

  • Up to $7,846 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.
  • Up to $4,888 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire.
  • Up to $16,687 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over 5 net tons.
  • Up to $95,881 for every day of failure to comply with a COTP order.

The Coast Guard urges anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and a Merchant Mariner Credential. For larger charter boats or those with more than six passengers, ask to see a Coast Guard issued Certificate of Inspection. If the operator cannot produce appropriate credentials, passengers should not get on the boat.

For additional recreational boating safety information, visit

For more information about bareboat charters, please click here. Also be sure to check out our instructional videos on what to be aware of when chartering a vessel here.

Anyone with information regarding an illegal charter is encouraged to contact CGIS here or download their app.