Coast Guard Cracks Down on Illegal Va. Charters

The U.S. Coast Guard is targeting charter boats operating without a license, in a new push to protect charter guests in Virginia waters.

USCG Mid-Atlantic says it’s actively investigating and issuing violations to owners of boats offering unlicensed charter services in Virginia, calling the practice “both illegal and unsafe to the consumer.”

The Coast Guard says hiring an unlicensed charter is dangerous because it may not have the proper emergency safety, navigation and communication gear, and may not have undergone the right license exams and inspections to ensure passengers are safe.

USCG Sector Hampton Roads wants to remind all potential guests to ask questions before hiring a boat and captain.

“Be vigilant and inquisitive when hiring a vessel for an underway trip. Before you take an excursion, ask to see the vessel operator’s license, and if the vessel is carrying more than six people, ask to see the Coast Guard-issued inspection sticker,” says Capt. Kevin Carroll, Hampton Roads commander.

Boaters caught operating an illegal charter may pay dearly for it. Law states that in these violations, “the owner, charterer, managing operator, agent, master and individual in charge may be liable for a civil penalty up to $10,519 per violation per day.”

The Coast Guard acknowledges that some boat operators aren’t trying to be sneaky. Rather, they may not realize that using their boat to take members of the public out for hire is illegal. But anyone doing passenger-for-hire operations must have a valid Coast Guard Merchant Mariner credential.

If you’re considering chartering or operating your boat with passengers for hire in Virginia, the Coast Guard asks you to contact Sector Hampton Roads Marine Inspections at [email protected] to see how regulations apply to you.

Anyone in the boating community who is aware of any suspicious operations should report them to USCG at 757-668-5555 or email [email protected].

-Meg Walburn Viviano