TAMPA, Fla.-- Getting out on the water here in Florida is a way of life.
Whether you're trying to charter a boat for the Labor Day weekend or something bigger like Gasparilla, it's critical to make sure you know who exactly is in the captain's seat.
Illegal charters might be cheap but they hurt Tampa Bay area businesses and even put your life at risk.
That’s why the U.S. Coast Guard will be out in full force this Labor Day weekend to crack down on those illegal vessels through “Operation Passenger Defender.”
Crews will be pulling over boats to inspect if they have all the needed safety equipment onboard such as fire extinguishers and life jackets.
They’ll also be asking to see the proper documentation: Like a captain’s license.
The problem with illegal charters is it looks like any other a lavish yacht or fishing boat.
The only way to really know is to ask questions.
The second boat we came across, Capitan Craig Weaver had to show all his safety equipment.
He passed the test, which means it was a legal boat business. Weaver said illegal charters have been hurting his company.
“They're unsafe and they undercut our business running at a lower price and taking business from charter captains that have the right licenses and insurance,” says Weaver.
Weaver spends thousands of dollars keeping his boat up to code, but illegal charters don't have too.
Some will bend the rules to carry more people than their licenses allow, which means they may not have enough life jackets. They can also have crews who aren't properly trained.
A captain’s license looks similar to a passport.
The Coast Guard has a hard time regulating them because there are so many.
They’re also easy to book through apps
That's why they conduct sting operations often, but ultimately need your help on shutting those illegal businesses down.
Another thing to keep in mind is if a boat owner is allowing more than six people on a boat it must have a Coast Guard sticker on it. That way you know it was properly inspected.
Their license will also say how many people can be on board.
Back in 2016, a charter boat employee and a student from China died off the shoreline near Pass-A-Grille.
Coast Guard investigators said the captain of The Jaguar, the boat they were on, did not have a proper license.
The deaths prompted Tampa Bay area charter companies to form a coalition.
The Tampa Bay Passenger Vessel Association pushes for stricter penalties against illegal charter crews.
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