Not just anyone can hire out a boat to take passengers on the water, US Coast Guard warns

While not new in Europe or the States, so-called ‘Uber for boats’ is drawing a closer look from law enforcement as it grows in popularity, with the US Coast Guard warning passengers and captains alike that unlike an automobile not just anyone can hire out a boat to take passengers on the water.

Fishing charters, dive trips or pre-wedding parties – it makes no difference, according to Coast Guard Ensign Phillip VanderWeit. They all need to carry state and federal certifications and licenses, safety gear and other required equipment.

“If you’re paying someone to go off in their boat, they have to have it,” VanderWeit told the Charleston Post and Courier.

Growing in popularity in tourist-rich destinations like Florida, where the weather can change at a moment’s notice, the selling point to both passengers and charter captains alike is the promise that an excursion can be booked in just three hours, reducing the risk of a cancellation or rough day on the water.

A growing number of commercial passenger boat violations saw the US Coast Guard and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources stepping up inspections and education efforts with officers out in force over this past Labour Day holiday.

The stepped-up patrols are taking place throughout the Southeast. The seriousness of the issue was demonstrated last April in Florida when an unlicensed captain ran over and killed a passenger on a for-hire luxury yacht as the passenger swam behind the boat.

It’s not just a matter of sticking to the rules, it can mean life or death. Several violations are reported or cited per month; everything from the wrong grade of lifejacket to overloaded boats.

Charter rentals can cost hundreds of dollars, and there always seems to be someone around ready to pocket a cheaper rate, never mind the legalities.

Between state and federal violations, the fines can range from US$155 to $10,000 and loss of a captain’s license. The problem has become widespread enough in South Carolina that the Coast Guard now supplements DNR patrols on the inland lakes of Moultrie, Marion and Murray where the Guard has jurisdiction but hasn’t often been seen in the past.

Passengers hiring captains or vessels have a right to ask to see valid credentials and safety equipment – the use of which a captain is supposed to demonstrate to passengers.

Not so surprisingly, a large number of the violations reported come from calls from other charter boats. “That guy is affecting the bottom line of every other captain,” said DNR Sgt Gregg Brown.

“Most of these guys are safe. They are good business people and good conservationists,” VanderWeit said.

Charter rentals can cost hundreds of dollars, and there always seems to be someone around ready to pocket a cheaper rate, never mind the legalities.