U.S. Coast Guard warns of illegal charter boats

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 8:38 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The upcoming 4th of July weekend is known as one of the busiest of the year for boaters. But the U.S. Coast Guard is warning people that many charter boats are charging for rides without being properly licensed. So before you take off on your next water adventure, take the time to make sure your ride is legitimate.

Lieutenant Steve Browning said some boat owners are taking people out on the water claiming to be a charter service.

“It’s a serious concern. I mean the Coast Guard, we want everybody to be safe,” Lt. Browning said.

There are a few things to look out for before you and your family get on board one of these illegal charters. Lt. Browning said you should ask things like, “Is this a captain credential? Does he have a license? Is it an inspected vessel?”

One of the key credentials to check before stepping aboard is a registered captain’s license.

“Similar to if you board a plane or you get in a taxi, that person that’s driving you around on that mode of transportation, has a license to take you from point A to point B,” Lt. Browning said.

That license goes for anything from dolphin tours to fishing charters.

“If ever you are looking to charter a vessel and the captain tells you, you need to go to Walmart and buy a fishing license, that is not a legit charter service,” Captain Anderson’s Marina Marketing Director Chelsea Ray said.

Lt. Browning said they’re stopping unlicensed charter captains every single day. That means those boats haven’t been inspected either.

“If you go out on a vessel and you’re paying, and you have more than six people on board, that boat is required to be inspected. It has to have a certificate for inspection from the Coast Guard, from a marine inspector, saying it’s safe to operate on the water, stability, lifesaving, firefighting,” Lt. Browning said.

Certified charter boat captain Eric Washington said it really comes down to safety.

“We have all the training, all the safety equipment. If anything were to go wrong, we’re certified CPR. We’re going to be able to help you out. We’re going to have the safety equipment if we have some type of failure,” Washington said.

U.S. Coast Guard officials said all illegal charters are investigated if brought to their attention. If caught without a proper license, operators can face up to $46,000 in fines.

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