Illegal charters have been a thorn in the side of the passenger vessel industry for years. These charters are mainly privately owned, uninspected vessels that carry passengers for hire, sometimes without a licensed captain aboard.
The Coast Guard said they are a danger to public safety, for both the people aboard and those on the waterway, and unfair competition for licensed commercial operators.
The Coast Guard has been working to apprehend, fine and even prosecute the offenders, but that is difficult given limited resources, and the fact that these boats are elusive. A complaint may come in one hour and by the next there is no visible violation.
These non-compliant businesses proliferated during the early days of the pandemic when commercial operators were idled. They have not gone away. Since they pay no overhead for regulatory compliance, they have the money to pay huge salaries to their captains and mates, something passenger vessel operators such as Bob Bijur and Island Queen Cruises in Miami cannot do.
“Captains and mates can make a lot more money with them than they can with a normal commercial salary, so that’s where they work,” Bijur said. “We have enough staff to operate the tours we advertise on our website. But we cannot operate a third boat for an event cruise because we can’t pull in the staff. Something needs to be done.”