Coast Guard cautions public against illegal charters, investigates in San Diego

SAN DIEGO — As the Labor Day weekend approaches, the Coast Guard is reminding the public that unlicensed vessel charters are both illegal and potentially unsafe.

Coast Guard Sector San Diego investigators work with local law enforcement to identify and terminate unlicensed and illegal charter boat operations along California’s southern coast in the interest of passenger safety.

“Without proper training, experience, inspections, equipment and credentials an illegal charter operator may dangerously overload their vessel, utilize an unlicensed operator, engage in negligent operations, lack safety and lifesaving gear, or fail to comply with vessel maintenance and construction standards,” said Cmdr. Ronald Caputo, chief of prevention for Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “The primary goal of ending illegal charters is to increase passenger safety,” said Caputo.

Coast Guard Sector San Diego personnel have terminated seven illegal charter voyages within the past year.

Failure to comply with federal passenger vessel requirements may result in civil penalties of up to $59,000 per operation per day for the owner or operator.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is standing ready to prosecute offenders whose illegal actions put the public at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer of the Southern District of California U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We will do everything we can to protect unwitting passengers from unlicensed and illegal charter boat operators,” Brewer said.

The Coast Guard reminds boaters to exercise caution before operating or chartering a vessel and to consider these key questions:

  • Does the vessel have a credentialed master aboard?
  • Are the master and crew enrolled in a Department of Transportation Drug and Alcohol Testing Program?
  • Does the vessel have proper documentation and safety equipment aboard?
  • If carrying more than six passengers, does the chartered vessel hold a Certificate of Inspection issued by the U.S. Coast Guard?
  • If it is a bareboat charter rental, (one without a crew provided), are you exceeding the maximum of 12 passengers allowed plus the charterer? Are you given the opportunity to select a crew or provide your own crew in order to operate that vessel?

For additional recreational boating safety information, please visit

For information regarding passenger vessel operations or charter regulations, please contact Sector San Diego Investigations Division at (619) 572-2904 or email at

To verify a captain’s license, verify the inspected status of a vessel carrying more than six passengers, or report a potential illegal charter contact the Coast Guard Sector San Diego Joint Harbor Operations Center at (619) 278-7033 or

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