Coast Guard Clarifies Charter Rule

September 04, 2017

The rise in popularity of boat-sharing apps that let people book online has led to some confusion about charter operations. In response, the Coast Guard, which has been cracking down on all types of illegal charters, has recently issued a clarification of the law.

If a customer doesn’t have “full possession and control of the vessel,” then the Coast Guard has a duty to enforce vessel inspections, documentation and crew credentialing requirements.

Having an owner as crew is not allowed, nor can the customer have a crew that’s paid, selected or under the authority of anyone else. “Any attempt by the owner or agent to influence the customer invalidates the bareboat charter operation,” explains Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Sean Haley.

Bareboat charters may carry a maximum of 12 without a Certificate of Inspection (COI). The law requires a boat to be inspected and meet safety codes if it carries more than six people with at least one paying passenger. Operators must be licensed to legally carry up to six paying riders.

Commercial operators with six or more onboard—with at least one paying—must have a master’s license and a COI. The Coast Guard has several enforcement options including taking control of the vessel, civil penalties up to $35,000 a day, violation notices, and revoking a master’s license.

Owners of legitimate charter operations welcome this clarification, arguing that illegal charters have not just cut into their businesses, but have raised the number of accidents on the water.  As Capt. Bob Zales, president of the National Association of Charterboat Operators puts it, ”It’s a national problem. Safety is the key issue for us.”