Two recent back-to-back law enforcement cases in Florida demonstrate the aggressive posture the Coast Guard is taking to eliminate illegal passenger charter activities. Because Smartphone-based applications have made it easier in recent years for passengers to locate and hire charter vessels, the Coast Guard is more vigilant than ever in detecting illegal charter activities and seek maximum enforcement actions against the vessel owners and operators.
In separate incidents between 2017 and 2018, the Coast Guard issued COTP Order violations against the yachts No Rules II and the Golden Touch II for illegal charter activities. Both vessels were caught operating with more than six passengers for hire without a licensed operator on board or a valid Coast Guard inspection. The Coast Guard ordered the operators of both vessels to cease operating with passengers for hire until compliant with applicable laws and regulations, or face substantial civil penalties and/or prison time.
Subsequent to the COTP Orders, Coast Guard teams boarded No Rules II and the Golden Touch II again and found each to be in violation of the orders. It’s not uncommon for vessels with a history of citations to be targeted for additional inspection.
“Illegal charter operators should realize that if we know you’ve violated Federal boating laws in the past, there’s a good chance we’re going to follow up and make sure you’ve corrected whatever issues we found,” Lt. Cmdr. Byron Rios, who works in the Coast Guard 7th District Office of Prevention. “When you break the law, you’re opening yourself up to additional compliance inspections.”
The owners of the vessels were criminally charged under federal law and convicted for operating illegal passenger charters. A federal judge in Southern Florida ordered the owner of the No Rules II to pay a $96,000 fine and serve five years of probation, including the requirement that he stay away from any type of boat. The owner of the Golden Touch II was sentenced to 180 days of home detention, three years of probation and a $4,000 fine.
Passengers are taking an unnecessary safety risk by riding on a vessel without a credentialed mariner in charge or an uninspected vessel that needs to be inspected under federal regulations. The Coast Guard urges passengers to request to see the vessel operator’s valid credential and/or proof of any required inspection or examination before hiring any crewed charter vessel, water taxi, or other type of waterborne transportation, to ensure they possess a Coast Guard issued Merchant Mariner’s Credential suitable for the vessel’s service.
Credentialed mariners who work for multiple vessel owners/operators should be aware that if they accept employment from an illegal operation, they risk not only passenger safety, but also their own credential, livelihood, and reputation.
These cases, as well as the recent deaths of passengers aboard the illegal charters Jaguar and Miami Vice, highlight the need for continued coordination between the Coast Guard, the passenger vessel industry, and local law enforcement. Illegal operations by individuals who are either unaware of or avoiding U.S. laws and Coast Guard regulations governing operator credentialing requirements, vessel inspections, operational standards, and safety equipment pose serious safety concerns to the public and the environment, but also adversely impact the livelihood of legitimate operators who do comply with federal requirements. The Coast Guard is dedicated to investigating these violations and taking the appropriate enforcement actions to ensure compliance and public safety.
For more information on how to verify if a charter is properly inspected and licensed, or to report suspected illegal charter activities, contact your local Coast Guard sector.
This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.