Coast Guard cautions public, investigates illegal operations in San Diego

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Coast Guard cautions public, investigates illegal operations in San Diego

Coast Guard cautions public against illegal charters

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SAN DIEGO — As activity on the water increases, the Coast Guard cautions the public that unlicensed vessel charters are both illegal and potentially unsafe.

Coast Guard Sector San Diego investigators work with local law enforcement to identify and terminate unlicensed and illegal charter boat operations along California’s southern coast in the interest of passenger safety.

“One of our top missions here at Sector San Diego is maritime and passenger safety,” said Lt. Kristin Kam, chief of investigations for Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “Coast-Guard-wide, we’ve been battling against illegal passenger charter operations due to the inherently dangerous nature of these activities. Often these illegal charters are operated by an unlicensed captain, lacking proper lifesaving training, experience and maritime awareness that we require of a credentialed mariner. The vessels themselves are frequently loaded with more passengers than the manufacturer’s specifications, lack the proper safety and lifesaving equipment, or fail to comply with construction and maintenance standards. Our ultimate goal is passenger and maritime safety and reducing the threat these charters pose to our local economy.”

Failure to comply with federal passenger vessel requirements may result in termination of the voyage and civil penalties of up to $59,000 per operation per day for the owner or operator.

On Feb. 3, 2020, the Coast Guard imposed civil penalties against the owner of the Gato Gordo, a vessel charged with illegal charter operations in San Diego, totaling $24,591. 

The Gato Gordo was cited during two separate illegal passenger operations and, in June 2018, a Captain of the Port Order was issued to the Gato Gordo to cease illegal passenger operations in an attempt to remove the threat to maritime safety that the vessel posed.

The Coast Guard reminds boaters to exercise caution before operating or chartering a vessel and to consider these key questions:

  • Does the vessel have a credentialed master aboard?
  • Are the master and crew enrolled in a Department of Transportation Drug and Alcohol Testing Program?
  • Does the vessel have proper documentation and safety equipment aboard?
  • If carrying more than six passengers, does the chartered vessel hold a Certificate of Inspection issued by the U.S. Coast Guard?
  • If it is a bareboat charter rental, (one without a crew provided), are you exceeding the maximum of 12 passengers allowed plus the charterer? Are you given the opportunity to select a crew or provide your own crew in order to operate that vessel?

For additional recreational boating safety information, please visit

 For information regarding passenger vessel operations or charter regulations, please contact Sector San Diego Investigations Division at (619) 572-2904 or email at

To verify a captain's license, verify the inspected status of a vessel carrying more than six passengers, or report a potential illegal charter, contact the Coast Guard Sector San Diego Joint Harbor Operations Center at (619) 278-7033 or