Recently I assisted in yet another legal review following an accident involving serious injury to a passenger on a Center Console. The consequences will be with some of the involved parties for the remainder of their lives, and some of the people aboard one of the boats will likely just forget about all of it and move on.
Illegal charterboat Operations have been going on for years, and in many cases the US Coast Guard has known about it. But due to limited resources, little to no consequences of outcome, and optics they have not actively pursued operations to crack down on illegal charterboat operations.
In areas like Miami these operations are everywhere, and often the operators don’t even know what they are offering is illegal. And if they do they know, they have a good chance of getting away with it because if they are caught the consequences are minimal. Craigslist and vacation brokers have many charter options, and most are illegal.
The Basics: If you own a boat and charge any type of consideration for carriage aboard the boat you must, at minimum, have a Uninspected Passenger Vessel Operators (UPV) license commonly refereed to as a 6-pack, and operate the boat as a Uninspected Passenger Vessel complying with the provisions of 46 CFR Subchapter C. If you wish to carry more than 6 persons you have to complete a Certificate of Inspection process that usually begins with reviewing all of the boats plans to prescriptive standards before the boat is built.
Since the US Coast Guard has allowed third party private schools to offer licenses, for some who offer guarantees of completion to obtain a Coast Guard license, the knowledge, skill, and competency of the license holders around the country has dropped significantly, while the number of license holders has grown well beyond exponential value. The result is average day rates for qualified license holders has dropped to all time lows. Additionally, since the course of instruction is knowledge only and held to a terribly low standard of oversight and review by the US Coast Guard, many of these new license holders just don’t know what the correct information and law is.
I sat in the back of one of these sessions and witnessed the instructors confuse U.S. regulations with international SOLAS standards, cite old regulations that have been cancelled or superseded, and tell students they could carry up to 12 people on their boats no problem, again a international standard, not the US law. My review and written critique of this course was ignored and disregarded.
Something must have happened at a higher level because yesterday the U.S. Coast Guard issued Safety Alert 05-16 seeking to raise awareness about the requirements for vessels carrying paying passengers on U.S. Navigable Waters. I can also tell you enforcement in the Miami area has already been increased and will continue to until the illegal operations cease and legal operators are no longer forced to compete in an active market place with illegal operations that can afford offer boat rides at a much cheaper price.
More information can be obtained from the U.S. Coast Guards National Maritime Center