USCG recently discussed the critical issue of combating illegal passenger vessel operations due to the danger they pose to unsuspecting or ill-advised passengers, as well as to the legitimate commercial passenger vessel industry.
In recent years, the introduction of certain smart phone apps to the hospitality and transportation industries has exacerbated the issue by making it easier for property owners to enter into agreements to temporarily lease, charter, or rent their homes or vehicles to interested parties for compensation. As expected, emerging business ventures are now dedicated to boat rentals and water taxis using similar business plans and smart phone apps.
However, these new ventures also make non-compliant operations more accessible, which increases the threat to public safety, licensed mariners, and those who follow federal safety, security, and environmental protection regulations.
USCG noted that owners and operators must comply with federal regulations governing the operation of commercial passenger vessels regardless of the mode customers use to reserve the vessel. Failure to adhere to federal regulations can result in significant civil and criminal penalties.
Credentialed mariners who work for multiple vessel owners/operators should be aware that if they accept employment from an illegal operation, they risk not only passenger safety, but their own credential, livelihood, and reputation. The Coast Guard strongly advises licensed mariners to avoid unlawful and dangerous operations including, but not limited to:
- Operating a bareboat charter with a pre-designated crew or that carries more than 12 guests aboard. A “bareboat charter” is defined as paying for the use of a vessel only and does not include fuel, crew, insurance, etc. To qualify as a bareboat charter, the owner of the vessel must provide the charterer with full authority to choose the composition of the guests to be carried, including any potential crew members.
- Operating a vessel without a required Certificate of Inspection (COI). Vessels that carry more than six passengers with at least one for hire are required to be certificated by the Coast Guard.
- Operating a 6-Pack that does not meet the Uninspected Passenger Vessel (UPV) requirements.
- Failure to have the appropriate level of license or endorsement, such as a charter service that carries “passenger(s) for hire” without a valid Coast Guard issued Merchant Mariner’s Credential suitable for the vessel’s service. “Passenger for hire” is defined as an operator who takes or accepts compensation, including compulsory donations or payments for fuel or supplies in exchange for services aboard a vessel.
- Violating a Captain of the Port (COTP) Order. After identifying noncompliance with the federal safety requirements, COTPs leverage their authority by placing administrative controls on noncompliant vessels. These orders direct the vessels to immediately cease operations as commercial passenger vessels until they comply with all federal laws and regulations. Failure to comply with the order can result in action against the owner or operator.
- Inappropriate insurance and liability coverage. Although outside the scope of the Coast Guard’s regulatory authority, failure to carry appropriate insurance coverage should be a concern for any credentialed operator.