Coast Guard, partners target illegal vessel charters near Chicago

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(CHICAGO) — Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago and the Chicago Harbor Safety Committee hosted an uninspected passenger vessel and bareboat charter workshop Saturday to help deter the growing number of illegal charter operations on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and Chicago Area Waterway System.

The workshop was held at the Chicago Yacht Club and was attended by a standing-room only crowd of more than 120 commercial and recreational vessel operators.

Representatives from the Coast Guard, Chicago Harbor Safety Committee, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago Police Department Marine Unit, Chicago Fire Department, City of Chicago and Westrec Marinas participated in the workshop to educate boaters on federal, state and local safety and licensing requirements for taking paying passengers and the dangers of operating illegally.

"The safe and legal operation of passenger vessels on Lake Michigan and Chicago Area Waterways System is one of my top priorities," said Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, commanding officer of Marine Safety Unit Chicago. "Educating boaters is the Coast Guard’s primary tool for compelling compliance. Forums such as this workshop and the unity of effort from our partnering agencies are critical to preserving the safety of passengers, promoting safe and legal boating practices and facilitating commerce."

In addition to education and outreach, Coast Guard stations conduct routine law enforcement boardings to verify vessels are legally carrying paying passengers and have the required safety equipment on board. Upon discovering an illegal passenger vessel operation, the station notifies Marine Safety Unit Chicago to convene an investigation.

Marine Safety Unit Chicago is responsible for executing the Coast Guard’s port safety and security, and commercial vessel safety missions on Lake Michigan and the Chicago Area Waterway System. In that role, the unit investigates credible reports of illegal passenger vessel operations. Within the last year, Marine Safety Unit Chicago has investigated 22 reports of illegal passenger vessel operations and the number of reports is expected to significantly increase due to extensive outreach efforts.

Vessels proven to be operating illegally can be subjected to fines of up to $42,750 or more per day. Repeated violations or an accident leading to injury or death on non-compliant vessels can lead to felony criminal charges.

Legitimate commercial passenger vessels are required to be operated by a Coast Guard-licensed captain.

The Coast Guard strongly urges potential customers to be mindful of the dangers of using unauthorized boat operators. For your safety and the safety of others, please ensure that your boat operators are licensed by the Coast Guard and are operating vessels with the required safety equipment on board.

Anyone aware of an illegal passenger vessel operation should reach out to the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago’s Investigations Division at or call (630) 986-2155.

By Professional Mariner Staff