The Coast Guard is reminding the public that unlicensed vessel charters are both illegal and unsafe to consumers.
Hiring an unlicensed charter is dangerous because the charter may not have the proper emergency safety gear, navigation and communication gear, and may not have undergone the proper license exams and inspections which are put in place to ensure passenger and crew safety.
“Illegal charter operations create a great safety risk to passengers and will not be tolerated,” Capt. Ladonn Allen, commander, Coast Guard Sector Mobile, said in a statement.
Legal passenger vessel operations fall into one of these three categories:
- Uninspected Passenger Vessel: Can carry up to six passengers and must be operated by a credentialed mariner.
- Small Passenger Vessel: Can carry more than six passengers, must hold a Coast Guard issued Certificate of Inspection, be inspected by the Coast Guard annually, and must be operated by a credentialed mariner.
- Bareboat Charter: Can carry up to 12 passengers and the customer must hire the operator.
Passenger vessel operators must adhere to safety regulations set forth by the Coast Guard. Violators are subject to civil penalties and/or a captain of the port order. Failure to comply with the captain of the port order may result in a civil penalty of up to $94,219 for each day of continued operation. A willful and knowing violation of this order constitutes a Class D felony, which may lead to jail time up to 10 years and a fine up to $250,000.
The Coast Guard is currently conducting five investigations and issuing violations to owners of vessels offering unlicensed charter services in the states of Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.
When reserving boats, prospective passengers should ask the operator in advance for proof the vessel and captain are compliant with Coast Guard requirements. Availability on a website is not a guarantee of regulatory compliance. Coast Guard Sector Mobile can be contacted via VHF Ch. 16 or at 251-441-2611.