Coast Guard warns of illegal passenger operations in Alaska

A Coast Guard decalsdisplayed by charter vessels. Smaller passenger vessels carrying six or fewer passengers are not required to have a Certificate of Inspection or an inspection decal, but they are still required to be operated by a person with a valid Coast Guard license. (U.S. Coast Guard graphic)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Coast Guard is encouraging public awareness of potential illegal passenger operations in Alaska this boating season.

The Coast Guard will be conducting operations to detect and deter illegal passenger operations.

Some boat companies operate vessels that have not received a Coast Guard inspection. Operators could be inexperienced and non-credentialed. They might not have completed required training or be enrolled in a mandated drug testing program.

The public can protect themselves by learning to identify legitimate businesses who are operating legally. If you are paying for an excursion, the operator should state that they have a Coast Guard issued Merchant Mariner Credential and that they meet all Coast Guard requirements.

The Marine Exchange of Alaska website lists charter vessels that are enrolled in the Coast Guard D17 UPV 5 Star Program , and is a reliable resource to identify vessels that go above and beyond the regulations.

Past marine accidents and Alaska’s harsh operating environment have pointed to the need for an increase in the level of safety equipment that extends beyond the minimum required by regulation. Charter operators who choose to participate in the 5-Star Safety Program have met all the regulatory requirements, received the UPV decal, and have voluntarily invested in additional safety equipment. There are a total of five voluntary safety related items. The level of additional equipment is indicated by the number of safety stars displayed on the UPV decal. One star will be awarded for each additional measure properly implemented and maintained aboard these vessels.

“It is important for the safety of all involved that you do your homework before selecting a charter company,” said Cmdr. Jason Boyer, Chief of Prevention, 17th Coast Guard District. “Your diligence will help ensure the company meets regulations for required safety equipment and Coast Guard credentials. Don’t place your friends or family at risk or chance having your voyage cut short by the Coast Guard.”

Violations of law by the operator could lead to law enforcement intervention and a termination of the voyage.

Typically, a vessel that carries more than six passengers for hire on federal waterways will have a Coast Guard inspection decal and will post its Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection (COI).

Smaller uninspected passenger vessels (UPV), carrying six or fewer passengers, are not required to have a COI. UPV operators may choose to undergo a voluntary Coast Guard safety exam and display a Coast Guard decal for successful completion.

All operators of vessels carrying passengers for hire are required to hold a Coast Guard issued Merchant Mariner Credential. Legitimate businesses advertise their compliance with Coast Guard requirements. If you do not locate any indications of compliance with Coast Guard requirements, please contact the Coast Guard at the numbers below.

Boat owners should not take passengers on federal waterways in exchange for money or other forms of consideration unless they are legally permitted to do so. The Coast Guard strongly advises consulting a maritime attorney when using a vessel for commercial purposes. Violators of passenger carriage laws are subject to civil penalties, federal orders, and may be subject to criminal prosecution. Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire operations, and more than $95,000 for violating a Coast Guard Captain of the Port Order.

Boating safety should not be overlooked. Over the past year, 77 percent of fatal boating accidents were due to drowning and 75 percent were related to a failure to wear life jackets. Alcohol and drug use was the leading cause of boating related deaths in 22 percent of adults and children.

To report illegal passenger operations or to schedule an Uninspected Passenger Vessel (UPV) Examination contact:

Western/Southcentral Alaska (907) 428-4100
Prince William Sound (907) 428-4100
Southeast Alaska (907) 463-2980

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