Beware Illegal Boat Charters
Illegal charters are becoming more of a menace, not just cutting into commercial passenger vessel operators’ business but also raising the specter of accidents leading to higher insurance rates and more regulation. The boats are a draw for licensed captains who may not know the risks.
That was the message delivered at the Passenger Vessel Association’s annual convention in Seattle.
The problem has become a lot more prevalent in recent years, said Mike Borgström, president of Wendella Sightseeing Co., a Chicago tour boat operator. The problem is usually found with charter motorboats, but some sailboats are operating illegally as well.
“Why is this important to us as an industry as small passenger vessels?” he asked. “For starters, some of these boats are doing the same thing we’re doing, without the inspection criteria. That’s putting people in jeopardy because the boats aren’t inspected, and the crew’s not licensed.”
The law requires a boat to be inspected if it carries more than six people with at least one paying passenger. Operators must be licensed to legally carry up to six paying riders. Commercial operators with six or more onboard — with at least one paying — must have a master’s license and a Certificate of Inspection (COI). Bareboat charters may carry a maximum of 12 without a COI. The Coast Guard has several enforcement options including taking control of the vessel, civil penalties up to $37,500, violation notices and revoking a master’s license.
“The Coast Guard has been made aware of more incidents of individuals operating illegally,” said USCG Lt. Cmdr. Tim Tilghman, who’s based in Miami. “Good citizens and responsible marine operators” are feeling easier about reporting suspicious charters.
Misled into thinking it’s safe
“I don’t think people fully understand the laws that apply to bareboat charters,” Borgström said. “The public is being misled into thinking it’s safe. Many of these boats wouldn’t stand up to Coast Guard inspection. People have gotten away with it without any repercussions. We need a couple of these guys to get busted big time.”
Borgström showed a few slides of alleged illegal charters and what to look for. One slide showed a boat that operates in Chicago with a crew outfitted in matching shorts. “The boat is not inspected, has no registration numbers, and is registered in the Cayman Islands. They take anywhere from 10 to 30 people out on that boat in and out all day. This is one of those things that you see and something’s not right there. But how do you prove it? That’s up to the Coast Guard.”
Borgström said the Coast Guard is now trained to look for suspicious charters and can take action. He added that it’s important to note “a lot of this illegal activity is not necessarily being done intentionally. It’s ignorance of the law, ignorance of insurance requirements, it’s whether I think I have a license or I don’t. In most cases, I think all of us on the panel here feel that people that are breaking the law or operating illegally don’t realize it.”
Let’s Go Sail, safely
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