A Coast Guard investigation determined that Singing River Tours, who conducts boat tours of the Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers, operated their 24-foot pontoon vessel on two different tours while carrying ten passengers in excess allowed by law. Although the vessel was operated by Captain Jon Semmes, 39, a resident of Dunnellon, the vessel was not certificated for passenger service.
The Coast Guard is issuing Singing River Tours a citation and is seeking to suspend Semmes’ U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license for operating a passenger vessel without a valid Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection (COI).
Coast Guard regulations require each vessel carrying more than six passengers to have a valid COI onboard. The COI is a document issued to owners and operators of vessels following a satisfactory safety inspection by a Coast Guard marine inspector. The COI documents the vessel’s compliance with established structural standards, stability, lifesaving, firefighting and navigation equipment, as well as conditions of operating and demonstrated crew competency procedures.
The Coast Guard, in concert with state and local partners, actively investigates all reports of illegal passenger vessel operations, imposing civil or criminal penalties when required. In this case, an illegal and unsafe passenger vessel operation was stopped and lives protected.
If you are thinking of operating a vessel carrying more than six passengers, including at least one for hire, or you are a passenger, you should ensure the vessel has satisfactorily passed a Coast Guard inspection before the voyage. To verify compliance, simply observe a COI and a Coast Guard Inspection Sticker “posted” in a conspicuous location onboard the vessel.
To schedule a Coast Guard Inspection contact the Local Officer In Charge of Marine Inspection at 813-228-2191, Ext. 8122. To verify a vessel’s service and status you can log onto http://cgmix.uscg.mil/PSIX/PSIXSearch.aspx and search the vessel’s status. There are over 246 Coast Guard Certificated vessels operating in the West Coast of Florida.