The Coast Guard continued its campaign to intercept illegal charter boats in south Florida, boarding seven vessels over 72 hours last weekend and exposing their operators to potential penalties exceeding $58,000.

First the 55’ Sea Raven with 12 persons on board was stopped Friday near Miami’s Marine Stadium by a Coast Guard crew on a 33’ special purpose craft – law enforcement that has been getting regular use with enforcing federal regulations on for-hire passenger operations.

Coast Guard stations at Miami and Miami Beach stepped up vigilance during the Ultra Music Festival on nearby Virginia Key. Another 27’ boat with 12 aboard was stopped Friday near the America Airlines Arena, followed by a third boarding of a 36’ vessel, also with 12 passengers.

The Coast Guard crackdown has roped in a number of Florida and Illinois Great Lakes vessels being nominally operated as so-called bareboat or  ‘12-pack’ charters for a dozen passengers. But Coast Guard officials say the way those operators conduct business has been outside the parameters for legal bareboat chartering.

On Sunday a law enforcement crew from Coast Guard Station Fort Lauderdale, operating jointly with the Bal Harbour, Fla., Police Department, boarded three vessels at Haulover Inlet, at the northern end of Biscayne Bay.

Operators were cited for what has become a familiar laundry list of violations during the Coast Guard campaign, including: failure to have a valid Certificate of Inspection, not having a credentialed mariner in control while operating a small passenger vessel, failing to have a drug and alcohol monitoring program for crew, and failure to have a valid stability letter.

Later on Sunday a Miami Beach station crew terminated a fourth vessel’s voyage, issuing the operator citations for failure to have a COI, stability letter, and drug and alcohol monitoring.

The Coast Guard Seventh District and U.S. attorney’s office for Southern Florida were the first to successfully bring criminal charges against two Miami-area operators for disregarding captain of the port orders to cease illegal passenger voyages.  

“People illegally chartering vessels and putting their passengers as well as other boaters in danger is something we take very seriously," said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Tilghman, prevention duty officer at the Seventh District headquarters in Miami in announcing the latest cases. “We will continue to maintain a presence in the water and seek out maximum penalties for people who put others at risk through these illegal operations."

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.