September 1, 2020

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The Coast Guard has discovered and halted the voyages of at least five illegal charters discovered across the Mid-Atlantic since July.

An illegal charter is a pay-for-hire operation where boat owners or someone they hire take passengers on the water without the proper credentials, and in some cases without proper safety gear or inspections.

All charter boat captains 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.

Illegal charters pose a danger to the public, as without the proper credentialing, licensing, certified safety gear, emergency plans and drug screenings in place, consumers may be hiring someone who is underprepared to safeguard them in emergency situations when they believe they are hiring a professional mariner for things like tours, excursions or fishing trips. In addition to potentially endangering the public, illegal charter operations undercut legitimate businesses.

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“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. “As a boat owner or operator, you are expected to comply with applicable State and Federal regulations to ensure safe operations for patrons.”

The Coast Guard recommends consumers who are considering hiring a charter for a tour, excursion or fishing trip, ask the charter captain to see a valid license and ask if they are insured before getting underway.

Ten vessels were issued Captain of the Port Orders from the Coast Guard Sector Maryland National Capital Region over the past year. Failure to comply with the order is punishable by a civil penalty of up to $94,219 for each day the vessel is in violation. Willful and knowing violation of this order is a class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison (18 U.S.C. 3581) or fines of up to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for an organization (18 U.S.C. 3571).

“Charter boat patrons should request to see the Merchant Mariner Credential of the boat operator to verify proper operation of the vessel,” said Gomez. “Prior to paying for a charter, patrons should become familiar with bareboat charters to ensure all parties are safe.”

For members of the public who would like to operate licensed charters, all steps and documents can be found here. For a license that allows the ability to carry up to six passengers for hire, information and forms can be found here.

Media interested in interviewing a Coast Guard member on illegal charters should call 410-576-2541.

Members of the public who suspect someone is operating an illegal charter should call their nearest Coast Guard unit.

Members of the public who have licensing questions may call the Coast Guard at 1-888-427-5662 or 1-888-IASKNMC.

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