In response to an an increase in the illegal and unsafe operations of passenger boats less than 100 tons, the U.S. Coast Guard will be stepping up enforcement in the waters along Florida’s coast prior to and during Labor Day weekend.

The Coast Guard is encouraging passengers to educate themselves about safety regulations and check that operators are in compliance before paying for boating services.

“It’s important for people to know what is required of boat operators before they embark on a commercial voyage,” said Cmdr. Michael Capelli of the Coast Guard 7th District’s Inspections and Investigations Branch. “All they have to do is ask their captain.”

Whenever a passenger pays to be on board a boat someone else is operating, the operator is required by law to have a merchant mariner’s license. If there are seven or more people on the boat, the boat is classified as a small passenger vessel and the boat is required to be inspected by the Coast Guard. Captains must have their license readily available, and small passenger vessels must display inspection certificates.

If the Coast Guard comes across a passenger boat operating illegally and/or unsafely, the voyage will be terminated and passengers could lose any money used to pay for boating services. Captains operating illegally are subject to civil penalties up to $35,000.

“You wouldn’t board a commercial flight or train being operated by someone who is unlicensed,” said Capelli. “People have the same right to be safe on a passenger boat.”