Operators who take on paying passengers are considered to be a commercial vessel and must be operated by a mariner with a Coast Guard credential (license), the USCG clarifies.

Operating as a commercial vessel without the required documents and credentials is a violation of federal law, and if caught, the operator could be subject to criminal or civil liability. Vessels that operate with a captain who is not licensed put passengers and surrounding boats in danger.

When the USCG encounters a boat that is non-compliant with regulations, measures will be taken with the goal of bringing the vessel/operator into compliance. Those measures may include:

  • education,
  • verbal or written warnings,
  • civil penalties,
  • vessel voyage termination,
  • arrest or vessel seizure.

When reserving boats, prospective passengers should ask the operator in advance for proof the vessel is compliant with Coast Guard requirements. Availability on a website is not a guarantee of regulatory compliance. Passengers have the right to see the captain’s license and Certificate of Inspection to ensure the vessel and captain are certified, and a right to know they are paying for a safe voyage before handing over their money.