Coast Guard announces civil penalty for illegal charter operation on Lake Michigan

CHICAGO – A U.S. Coast Guard Hearing Officer imposed a $14,000 civil penalty to Jim Finnegan of Prospect Heights, Illinois on March 19, 2018 for operating a commercial passenger vessel in violation of federal regulations.

As part of a concerted effort by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, officials were able to determine that on July 29, 2017, Finnegan operated the 31-foot cabin cruiser Irish Wake as a passenger vessel. Nine of the 11 passengers onboard paid Finnegan via a web-based application to get underway for a four-hour-voyage.

Operators who take on paying passengers are considered to be operating a charter vessel. Operating a charter vessel without the required documents and license may be a violation of federal law, and the operator could be subject to criminal or civil liability.

The owner was found violating the following federal regulations:

  • Operating in commercial service without a licensed operator onboard – $5,000,
  • Failure to enroll in a drug testing program – $5,000,
  • Operating with more than six paying passengers without a valid Certificate of Inspection – $2,000, and
  • Operating with more than six paying passengers without a “Stability” letter issued by the Coast Guard – $2,000.

If the boat is carrying more than six paying passengers, it is required to be inspected by the Coast Guard. The Certificate of Inspection should be displayed in an area accessible to passengers.

“Regulations are in place to help ensure the safety of passengers,” said Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago. “Illegal Passenger Vessel operations pose a significant hazard to life, property and the marine environment.”

Anyone who wishes to verify the inspected status of a vessel, or who wishes to report a vessel suspected of operating illegally, may contact Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago at 630-986-2155.

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