Coast Guard urges public awareness of illegal charter boat operations for upcoming boating season

united states coast guard 

News Release  

U.S. Coast Guard 11th District Pacific Southwest
Contact: 11th District Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3325
After Hours: (510) 772-8865
11th District online newsroom

Coast Guard urges public awareness of illegal charter boat operations for upcoming boating season

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Coast Guard anticipates increased recreational boating traffic throughout the Bay Area this summer and encourages the public to ensure charter vessel captains are licensed and Coast Guard certified before booking a charter.

Advertisements for these boat rentals and charter trips portray inexpensive excursions that often put the public’s safety at risk and the Coast Guard has cited illegal charters in California for failing to have a credentialed mariner, not having enough life jackets aboard and overloading boats.

The Coast Guard conducts patrol operations to deter and stop illegal passenger vessel operations on federal waterways, but the public can protect themselves by being knowledgeable about requirements. If you pay for a trip, the operator should state that they hold a Coast Guard license and meet Coast Guard requirements.

Violations of law could lead to law enforcement intervention and a termination of the voyage. People chartering a vessel should choose a licensed captain and well-trained crew, and check all of the safety equipment prior to departing, especially life jackets, for the correct amount, size and serviceability.

Typically, a vessel that carries more than six passengers for hire on federal waterways will have a valid Coast Guard inspection decal clearly visible and display a posted Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection.

Smaller uninspected passenger vessels, carrying six or fewer passengers, are not required to have similar decals or a certificate of inspection but can undergo a voluntary Coast Guard safety exam. Vessels that meet safety requirements may display a Coast Guard decal for successful completion of that inspection.

All operators carrying passengers commercially are required to hold a Coast Guard license and have their credentials aboard when operating the vessel.

The Coast Guard urges anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and a Coast Guard license. For larger charter boats or those with more than six passengers, the public should ask to see a Coast Guard issued certificate of inspection. If the operator cannot produce appropriate credentials, passengers should not get on the boat.

It is advised that boat owners consult a maritime attorney when using a vessel for commercial purposes. Violators of passenger carriage laws could be subject to civil penalties. Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire-operations. Some specific civil penalties for illegally operating a passenger vessel are:

  • Up to $7,846 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.
  • Up to $4,888 for failure to provide a Coast Guard certificate of inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire.
  • Up to $16,687 for failure to produce a valid certificate of documentation for vessels over five gross tons.

To report suspected illegal passenger operations, contact:

  • Northern California Zone: Coast Guard Sector San Francisco (510) 813-9636
  • Southern California Zone: Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach  (310) 521-3770
  • San Diego and Inland Lakes: Coast Guard Sector San Diego (619) 278-7033

For more information, Rob Lee, the Eleventh Coast Guard District Passenger Vessel Safety coordinator can be reached at or (510) 437-5960.