Coast Guard commences operation to detect illegal passenger vessels

BALTIMORE — The Coast Guard, in partnership with the Prince George County Police Department and the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, commenced a summer-long enforcement and awareness initiative Friday aimed at combating illegal charter and passenger vessel operations in the Maryland-National Capital Region.

The goal of Operation Pier Pressure is to ensure public safety by detecting and deterring illegal passenger vessel operations through a robust on-water presence, education and outreach, termination of unsafe operations, and justified enforcement actions.

While patrolling the waters Friday night, Coast Guard and partner agency members suspended the operation of one illegal passenger vessel and provided safety information and educational outreach to others.

Combating illegal passenger vessel operations is a persistent and dynamic issue the Coast Guard faces throughout the country. Illegal passenger vessels may be dangerously overloaded, operated by an unlicensed and inexperienced individual who is more likely to engage in negligent operations due to a lack of training, lack adequate safety or lifesaving equipment, and fail to comply with vessel maintenance, repair, and construction safety standards.

The Coast Guard urges the public to exercise caution before operating or chartering a vessel.

“It’s important the public be aware of the dangers associated with illegal passenger vessel operations and immediately report signs of illegal operations to the Coast Guard,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sonha Gomez, chief of investigations for Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capital Region. “Not only is it against the law, unlicensed operators and uninspected vessels pose significant risk to passengers and other boaters on our waterways.”

For their safety, paying vessel passengers are asked to consider these key questions:

  •  Does the vessel have a Coast Guard licensed master aboard?
  • Does the vessel have proper documentation and safety equipment aboard?
  • Are the master and crew enrolled in a Department of Transportation Drug and Alcohol Testing program?
  • If carrying more than six passengers, does the vessel hold a valid Certificate of Inspection issued by the Coast Guard?

Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire operations and over $100,000 for violating a Coast Guard Captain of the Port Order. Moreover, a violation of a Captain of the Port Order is a felony, punishable by up to six years in prison or fines up to $500,000.

To report illegal operations or for information regarding charter operations or passenger vessel regulations, please contact Coast Guard Sector Maryland-NCR at (410) 576-2693 or For questions about merchant marine licensing, contact the Coast Guard at 1-888-427-5662 or 1-888-I ASK NMC.

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