Coast Guard halts illegal charter near Tampa Bay

A Coast Guard Station St. Petersburg 29-foot Response Boat – Small boatcrew, and Coast Guard Investigative Officers board a suspected illegal charter boat near Maximo Marina, St. Petersburg, Florida, July 16, 2020. After investigation, the 33-foot boat was deemed to be operating illegally as an uninspected passenger vessel and the voyage was terminated. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson)

A Coast Guard Station St. Petersburg 29-foot Response Boat–Small boatcrew, and Coast Guard Investigative Officers board a suspected illegal charter boat near Maximo Marina, St. Petersburg, Florida, July 16, 2020.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Coast Guard terminated an illegal charter Thursday near Maximo Marina in St. Petersburg.

A Coast Guard Station St. Petersburg 29-foot Response Boat–Small II boat crew, along with Coast Guard Investigating Officers, boarded a 33-foot boat that was operating as a bareboat charter with eight passengers for hire.

After investigation, Coast Guard officers deemed the boat was operating as an illegal uninspected passenger vessel, terminated the charter’s voyage, and escorted the boat and passengers back to Maximo Marina.

“Under a bareboat charter contract, the person who rents the charter must be given the option to hire any captain of their choosing, or operate the boat themselves,” said Brian Knapp, Senior Investigating Officer at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “If a bareboat renter is assigned a captain without any options, the bareboat charter designation no longer applies, and the boat is deemed an uninspected passenger vessel. Which is exactly what happened in this case.”

The violations include:

  1. Violation of 46 C.F.R. 176.100 (a) for not having a valid Certificate of Inspection.
  2. Violation of 46 C.F.R. 16.201 for failure to have a drug and alcohol program.
  3. Violation of 46 C.F.R. 170.120 for failure to have a valid stability letter.

Federal law requires uninspected passenger vessels carry only a maximum of six passengers for hire with a Merchant Mariner Credential. Bareboat charters, when properly applied, transfer complete ownership of a vessel to the charterer as a recreational vessel.

“We urge bareboat patrons to review and become familiar with the bareboat charter regulations before paying for a charter,” said Knapp. “Anyone paying for a trip on a traditional passenger vessel should ask to see the Merchant Mariner Credential of the boat operator to verify their captain is properly licensed by the Coast Guard. If the captain can’t produce their license, don’t get on the boat.”

Owners and operators of illegal charter vessels can face maximum civil penalties of over $50,000 for illegal passenger-for-hire operations.

“The Coast Guard aggressively investigates reports of illegal passenger vessel activity,” said Capt. Matthew Thompson, Sector Commander. “We urge anyone suspecting a vessel of violating the law to report the alleged violation to Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg at 727-502-8720.”

Some potential fines for illegally operating a charter vessel are:

  • Up to $18,477 for failure of an inspected vessel to be under the control of an individual with the appropriate Coast Guard license.
  • Up to $7,250 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.
  • Up to $4,685 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers.
  • Up to $15,995 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over 5 gross tons.
  • Up to $11,712 for failure to have been issued a valid Stability Letter prior to placing vessel in service with more than six passengers.

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