Coast Guard says illegal charters are a growing problem. What you need to know before booking a boat.


JACKSONVILLE, Florida – Illegal charters are a growing problem, and because unqualified captains are dangerous, the Jacksonville Coast Guard is cracking down. People often throw parties on the Saint John River for events like the Florida-Georgia Weekend and the upcoming Boat Parade. But there is one vital safety test that the captain may have ignored, so the Coast Guard wants you to know the questions to ask before booking a boat.

News4Jax accompanied a Coast Guard crew as they ascended and descended the Saint John River. The crew told us that illegal charters appear to have increased in frequency over the past five or six years.

“So they’re in the river. Down in Daytona, St. Augustine. Wherever there are boats, you usually find people paying to go, ”said Lt. Gregory Velliky, who is a USCG investigating officer. “If that happens, our first and immediate goal is to end the journey. We will seek to end the journey in a safe manner.

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On October 30, during this year’s Florida-Georgia game festivities, the Coast Guard ended an illegal charter of the 53-foot vessel Dream Chaser for failing to have the proper license. There were 10 people on board: nine were passengers and one was the hired captain.

A crew from the Coast Guard station in Mayport ends the voyage of the 53-foot vessel Dream Chaser on the Saint John River. (US Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard points out that many boat owners are unaware that they are required to have a merchant seaman’s license to take paying passengers. Obtaining this license involves considerable training in safety.

But this license is essential for safe travel for everyone on the water, so the USCG will be on the river to watch over the weekend of November 27. during the Jacksonville Light Boat Parade. They’ll perform random stops and inspections while keeping an eye out for one telltale sign: Captains who don’t seem to have a relationship with the people on board.

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In addition to research on the river, USCG investigators are also conducting research online. They say there are many posts on social media and websites offering people a boat trip where the operator is not licensed as a merchant seaman.

“We do a lot of recreational safety inspections while on the water. Go out and interact with people. When we get on board. I’m going to make sure everyone has all their safety gear, ”said Brandon Cusick, USCG Marine Law Enforcement Specialist.

Cusick said they rarely cite illegal charters and only sought to make sure everyone was safe. However, if they find a repeat offender, they can impose fines or civil citations. And in some cases, it can be turned over to the USCG investigative agency that deals with criminal charges.

The USCG says owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels may face civil penalties of up to $ 60,000 or more for illegal passenger rental operations. Charters that violate an order from the harbor master can face more than $ 95,000. Some potential civil penalties for the illegal operation of a passenger ship are as follows:

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  • Up to $ 7,846 if operators are not enrolled in a chemical testing program

  • Up to $ 4,888 for failure to provide Coast Guard inspection certificate for vessels carrying more than six passengers for charter

  • Up to $ 16,687 for failure to produce a valid documentation certificate for vessels over 5 gross tonnage

  • Up to $ 12,219 for failure to receive a valid letter of stability before placing the vessel in service with more than six passengers for charter

  • Up to $ 95,881 for each day of non-compliance with an order from the Harbor Master

Anyone with information regarding an illegal charter is urged to report it to USCG investigators here.

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