The U.S. Coast Guard is back on the hunt for illegal charter boat operators in the Bay region this summer.
The Coast Guard says it has found and halted the voyages of at least five illegal charters up and down the mid-Atlantic since July.
The agency says it’s seeing an increase in illegal charters, those pay-for-hire operation where boat owners or someone they hire take passengers on the water without the proper credentials. In some cases, USCG says, they don’t even have proper safety gear or inspections.
Illegal charters can be dangerous because passengers often believe they’re hiring a professional mariner for a tour, excursion or fishing trip, but the boat operator may be underprepared to handle an emergency situation. Also, USCG points out, these charter operations can take business away from legitimate charters in the industry.
The Coast Guard reminds captains and their potential customers that any boat who take passengers out for hire are required to have proper credentialing and licensing. The vessel’s activity, size, and number of passengers determines the inspection requirements of the vessel. Passengers should always ask to see a valid license and ask if the captain is insured before getting underway.
In the last year, ten vessels have been issued Captain of the Port Orders from USCG Sector Maryland National Capital Region. Getting caught can bring serious consequences for charter captains, as “willful and knowing violation of the order” is a felony, punishable by up to six years in prison or fines up to $250,000–$500,000.
“The recent increase of illegal charters in the Maryland National Capital Region is a serious issue. Illegal charters pose a significant hazard to life, property, and the environment. ,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sonha Gomez, Chief, Investigations Division at Coast Guard Sector Maryland National Capital Region.
Anyone with questions about charter boat licensing can call the Coast Guard at 1-888-427-5662 or 1-888-IASKNMC.
-Meg Walburn Viviano