Coast Guard cautions public concerning illegal charters in Virginia

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — As we head into the warmer months and more people head out onto the water, officials at Coast Guard Sector Virginia encourages the public to be informed and ask questions when chartering a vessel. Illegal charter operations and unlicensed operators are a risk to the passengers and other boaters.

“It is critical that the public immediately report signs of illegal charter operations to the Coast Guard,” said Cmdr. Dean Horton, chief of prevention for Sector Virginia. “Virginians may be excited to engage in more activities this summer, and unlicensed captains may attempt to take advantage of the demand.”

The primary goal of ending illegal charters in Virginia is to increase passenger safety. Illegal charter vessel operations pose a threat to passenger safety. An illegal charter operator may dangerously overload a vessel, possess an unlicensed operator that is more likely to engage in negligent operations due to a lack of training, possess inadequate safety and lifesaving equipment and often fails to comply with vessel maintenance and construction standards.

Unlicensed vessel operators may not be aware that using their boat to take members of the public out for hire is illegal and may view it as a way to supplement income; however, it is against the law.

As we head into the busy summer, the Coast Guard urges the public to exercise caution before operating or chartering a vessel. For their safety, charter passengers are asked 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 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 your boating operations or charter regulations, please contact Sector Virginia Investigations Division at (757) 434-0800 or via email

We urge the boating community to remain vigilant and report any suspicious operations to (757) 483-8567 or email

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