Coast Guard warns of illegal charter boats, unlicensed captains

The following is the text of a press release issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:
(BALTIMORE) — Coast Guard Sector Baltimore cautions passengers who pay to go fishing in the Chesapeake Bay during the 2011 fishing season to avoid boats that do not have licensed captains, and in some cases, have not been inspected by the Coast Guard.
According to Coast Guard investigators, the number of vessels reported to be illegally charging to carry people has increased over the last two years and is most frequent in the areas of Kent and Tilghman Islands, Rock Hall, Annapolis and the Potomac River in Charles County.
Illegal charter boats are uninspected vessels or are operated by a captain without a mariner’s license, or in some instances both. The operation of a charter vessel without the required vessel documents and operator license is a violation of federal law, and if caught, the operator could be subject to criminal or civil liability. The regulations are in place to help ensure the safety of passengers. When all regulations are met a Certificate of Inspection is given, showing that a vessel has met the Coast Guard safety standards in regard to fire extinguishing systems, vessel de-watering capabilities, life saving and navigation equipment requirements.
A boat captain must also have a mariner’s license in order to legally operate a charter. Coast Guard issued mariner’s licenses show that the operator of a commercial vessel has met proficiency requirements in navigation, seamanship as well as steering and sailing rules. A paying passenger cannot be assured of the operator’s competency or the soundness of the vessel without a valid license and inspection certificate.
“While it might seem like a great deal, it’s important to remember that illegal charter boats can charge less because they do not have the added expense of complying with safety regulations,†said Cmdr. Kelly Post, chief of prevention at Sector Baltimore. “You get what you pay for, so beware of a deal that seems too good to be true.â€
The Coast Guard advises the public to ask the boat’s captain to show them his or her original Coast Guard license. If the boat is carrying more than six passengers, it is required to be inspected by the Coast Guard, and the Certificate of Inspection should be displayed in an area accessible to passengers.
“What’s astonishing is the number of people who knowingly pay to fish aboard illegal vessels just to save a few dollars,†said Post. “People would expect a commercial airline to have a licensed pilot aboard and the plane to meet safety standards, so people should not be willing to put their lives, and the lives of their family and friends, at risk by going out on the water aboard illegal charter vessels. The Coast Guard is dedicated to reducing loss of life, injuries, and property damage that occur on U.S. waterways. We need the public’s help by refusing to go out on vessels unless the captain can produce his original Coast Guard license, and for inspected vessels, the Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection.â€
If the public wants to verify a captain’s license or the inspected status of a vessel carrying more than six passengers, or to report an illegal charter operation, they can call Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, Monday through Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 410-576-2558.
By Professional Mariner Staff