The Coast Guard says illegal charters are a growing problem. What you need to know before booking a boat.

The Coast Guard says illegal charters are a growing problem.  What you need to know before booking a boat.

Jacksonville, Florida. – Illegal charters are a growing problem, and because unqualified captains are a hazard, the Jacksonville Coast Guard is taking strict action. People often plan to party on the St. Johns River for events like this weekend in Florida and Georgia and the upcoming boat parade. But there is a vital safety test that the captain may have overlooked, so the Coast Guard wants you to know what questions to ask before booking a boat.

News4Jax rode with a Coast Guard crew as it sailed up and down the St. Johns River. The crew told us that illegal pacts have increased in frequency in the past five or six years.

“So they’re in the river. Down is in Daytona, St. Augustine. Anywhere there are boats, you usually find people who pay to go out on board,” said Lt. Gregory Felici, an investigative officer with the US Coast Guard. Our first and immediate goal is to finish the journey. We will endeavor to end the journey in a safe manner.”


On October 30, during celebrations for this year’s Florida-Georgia game, the Coast Guard terminated an illegal charter for the 53-foot-tall Dream Chaser for failing to obtain the proper license. On board were 10 people: nine passengers and one was the hired captain.

The Coast Guard Mayport crew ends the 53-foot Dream Chaser’s cruise on the St. Johns River. (US Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard notes that many boat owners are unaware that they are required to obtain a Merchant Mariner’s license to take paying passengers. Obtaining this license involves a significant amount of safety training.

But that license is key to everyone’s safe trip on the water, so the USCG will be out on the river to monitor the weekend of November 27 during the Jacksonville Light Boat Parade. They’ll make random stops and searches paying attention to a telltale sign: captains who don’t seem to have a relationship with the people on board.


Besides actually searching the river, USCG investigators are also searching online. They say there are many social media posts and websites offering people a boat ride where the operator is not licensed as a Merchant Mariner.

“We do a lot of recreational safety checks when we’re out on the water. Going out and interacting with people. When we step on the plane.” Brandon Cusick, a USCG marine law enforcement specialist, said I’m in the process of making sure everyone has all of their own safety equipment.

Kosik said they rarely mention illegal charters and just look to make sure everyone is safe. However, if they find the offender a repeat, they can impose fines or file civil citations. And in some cases, it can be turned over to the USCG investigative agency, which deals with criminal charges.

The USCG says owners and operators of illegal passenger ships could face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger transport. Charters that violate a harbor captain’s order could face more than $95,000. Some of the possible civil penalties for the illegal operation of a passenger vessel are:


  • Up to $7,846 for operators failing to enroll in a chemical testing program

  • Up to $4,888 for failure to present a Coast Guard Inspection Certificate for vessels carrying more than six passengers for charter

  • Up to USD 16,687 for failure to provide a valid Certificate of Authenticity for ships over 5 gross tons

  • Up to $12,219 for failure to issue a valid Letter of Settlement prior to placing a vessel in service with more than six passengers for charter

  • Up to $95,881 per day of non-compliance with a harbor captain’s order

Anyone with information regarding an illegal charter is requested to report to USCG investigators here.

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