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A leisurely charter boat ride ended abruptly in Marco Island, Florida, recently when the Coast Guard terminated the excursion after determining the captain of the vessel was not licensed.

In July 2019, the supposed charter service was promoting their passenger cruises on social media, even though the business was not following the required regulations for legally operating a charter vessel service. Coast Guard personnel saw the postings and determined the operator may be violating the law. They located and boarded the 23-foot boat, finding six passengers and one supposed “crew member” on board.

Coast Guard officials said the illegal charter vessel was placing passengers at risk by not complying with the required passenger vessel regulations.

The operator of the boat was charged with the following violations:

  • No valid Certificate of Inspection
  • Not having a credentialed mariner in control of the vessel
  • Failure to have a drug and alcohol program
  • Failure to have a valid stability letter

The owners and operators of illegal charter vessels can face fines of up to $50,000 if convicted.

Illegal Charters on the Rise

Just like renting out your house on the internet can be a lucrative proposition, people have discovered the same is true for renting out their boat. While there are many properly licensed and credentialed charter boat operators out there, there are an increasing number of those who are trying to make a quick buck while skipping the legalities of the rules and regulations of doing business.

The Coast Guard is stepping up their enforcement efforts to ensure the public’s safety, launching an increase in on-the-water patrols and boarding vessels suspected of illegal chartering. In the Miami area, the practice of renting out large yachts as party boats is very common, and legal, as long as all U.S. laws and Coast Guard requirements are followed. But just this year, two owners who allegedly continued to rent out their luxury boats for parties after receiving cease and desist orders were criminally convicted. The owner of the 60-foot sportfishing boat appropriately named No Rules II was sentenced early this year to five years of probation, a $96,000 fine and an order from the judge to stay off any boat.

The man openly showcased his clients having large parties on the boat on social media, and had been the subject of complaints from his neighbors in an exclusive waterfront community where the boat was docked. He is said to have ignored the proper licensing and credentialing requirements after repeated warnings.

Two Deaths on Illegal Charter Vessels

A passenger on the Miami Vice, an illegally chartered, 91-foot speed boat, was struck and killed by a propeller in April 2018. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission determined in their investigation that the owner of the boat had hired the vessel’s captain after seeing him operate a boat just one time. The so-called captain was unlicensed, had no training whatsoever and a history of drug abuse. He was arrested at the airport attempting to flee the country to Panama.

In another case in Tampa Bay, a 70-foot recreational charter boat set out with fifteen Chinese students on board during spring break, despite a small craft warning issued that day in 2017. The captain allowed the passengers to swim in the rough waters and high wind without life vests or safety tethers, and one of the students began to have trouble in the water. A crew member, 27-year old Andrew Dillman, jumped overboard to try to rescue him. Within minutes, both young men were swept away in the choppy seas.

The Dillman family filed a $110 million-dollar lawsuit against the owners of the vessel and the operators of the charter service that alleges the captain failed to conduct an immediate and proper search effort and did not immediately notify the Coast Guard.

“Its tempting to come down here for vacation and take the family out on a charter boat to enjoy the area waters”, says Fort Myers personal injury attorney Mike Noone of the Goldberg Noone Law Firm. “But unless you’re sure the captain has the proper license, credentials and safety approvals from the U.S. Government and the Coast Guard, you may very well be putting you and your family’s lives in serious danger”.

With the increase in illegal charter boat operators comes the greater risk of sustaining a serious injury. If you or a loved one has been hurt, the owners and the operators of the boat could be held liable, and you may be legally entitled to receive financial compensation for your injuries, medical care, future rehabilitation, loss of income from being unable to work, pain and suffering and more.

We invite you to contact a skilled boating accident injury lawyer at one of our Southwest Florida offices by calling 239-461-5508, or just fill out this short contact form and we’ll reach out to you immediately. We’re always available to answer any questions you may have, at no cost to you. We can help you make an informed decision about how to move forward to help put your life back in order.