Coast Guard host workshop to discuss safe operation of commercial passenger vessels

CHICAGO — Representatives from Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago and the Chicago Harbor Safety Committee co-hosted a workshop for mariners and the boating public interested in learning how to comply with federal regulations when renting a boat, bringing paying passengers aboard, or when operating as a chartered boat, Saturday.

The workshop coincided with the start of National Safe Boating Week, which runs from May 18 – 24.

Vessel owners and vessel captains attended the seminar, held at the Chicago Yacht Club, and participated in discussions about how to comply with city, state, and federal regulations, boat captain licensing, and enforcement actions taken by the various agencies.

Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, commanding officer of Marine Safety Unit Chicago, spoke about the partnerships between the Coast Guard, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the local industry partners such as the Chicago Harbor Safety Committee.

Lt. Kate Woods, chief, Inspection Division, and Lt. Brian Hennessy, chief, Investigation Division, both from Marine Safety Unit Chicago, discussed how to come into compliance with federal commercial passenger vessel regulations, and gave examples of recent civil penalties.

“Operators who take on paying passengers are considered to be a commercial vessel and must be operated by a mariner with a Coast Guard license,” said Woods. “Operating as a commercial vessel without the required documents and credentials is a violation of federal law.”

Technology has made it easier for people to advertise their vessels for hire leading to an increase in the number of vessels conducting illegal charter operations. As a result, the Coast Guard has stepped up efforts to educate boat owners and operators, as well as passengers, about the dangers and consequences of operating illegally and the steps needed to come into compliance.

In addition to educational outreach, Chicago area Coast Guard units and local partner agencies, including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, conducted enforcement boardings the past two summers to crack down on boat owners and operators conducting illegal charter operations on Lake Michigan resulting in voyage terminations and suspensions of mariners licenses. More than $250,000 in federal and state fines and civil penalties have been levied.

The Coast Guard is committed to commercial and recreational boating safety on our shared waterways. Questions about operating a charter business or to inquire if a particular boat you plan to rent is in compliance with laws and regulations can be directed to

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