Coast Guard Cracks Down on Illegal Charter Boats

Unlicensed charter boat captains could find themselves in hot water this spring.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Unlicensed charter boat captains could find themselves in hot water this spring. The U.S. Coast Guard is cracking down on illegal charters on the Gulf Coast near Tampa Bay.

Coast Guard Station St. Petersburg and members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission cut short voyages on uninspected passenger vessels Saturday and Monday.

Coast Guard investigators and FWC officers terminated the voyage of a 22-foot uninspected passenger vessel for hire with six passengers on Saturday near Naples.

A Coast Guard law enforcement crew also halted a 50-foot passenger vessel for hire carrying eight passengers Monday near Treasure Island.

The captain of the 22-foot boat was cited for not having a credentialed mariner in control while operating an uninspected passenger vessel. Uninspected passenger vessels are only permitted by Coast Guard regulations to carry six passengers for hire with a master who holds a Merchant Mariner Credential.

The captain of the 50-foot was cited for:

  • Not having a valid Certificate of Inspection.
  • Not having a credentialed mariner in control while operating a small passenger vessel.
  • Failure to have a drug and alcohol program.
  • Failure to have a valid stability letter.

The Coast Guard escorted the boats back to their original moorings.

“The Coast Guard will continue to aggressively pursue vessel operators who needlessly place the lives of patrons at risk by not complying with Coast Guard passenger vessel regulations,” said Brian Knapp, senior investigating officer at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “We urge anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to ask to see the Merchant Mariner Credential of the vessel operator to verify their captain is properly credentialed by the Coast Guard. If the operator cannot produce a Merchant Mariner Credential, don’t get on the boat.”

Owners and operators of illegal charter vessels can face maximum civil penalties of more than $50,000 for illegal passenger-for-hire operations. Some potential fines for illegally operating a charter vessel are:

  • Up to $18,477 for failure of an inspected vessel to be under the control of an individual with the appropriate Coast Guard license.
  • Up to $7,250 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.
  • Up to $4,685 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers.
  • Up to $15,995 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over 5 gross tons.
  • Up to $11,712 for failure to have been issued a valid Stability Letter prior to placing vessel in service with more than six passengers.