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Coast Guard Shuts Down Illegal Charter Vessels in San Diego Bay

The US Coast Guard has shut down charter boats in San Diego Bay over unlawful operations. “Sector San Diego boarding team members and investigators identified three illegal charter boats operating in the bay and terminated all three voyages due to unsafe overloading conditions, insufficient lifesaving equipment and failure to provide a qualified or licensed operator while carrying passengers for hire,” a USCG press release said.

All three vessels were issued a captain of the port order that restricts the boats from operating until they have satisfied “all valid charter requirements to the Coast Guard.”

Cmdr. Ronald Caputo, of the Coast Guard Sector San Diego Prevention District, said, “Illegal charters are a serious risk to their passengers and to other boat operators on the water. There is a reason for the regulations we put in place; we don’t want lives to be lost.”

The Coast Guard says that while passengers booked their charters through online booking systems, responsibility for compliance with Coast Guard passenger safety laws and requirements rests solely with the boat owners, not the online application administrators.

To clarify, the Coast Guard states, “Any boats carrying passengers for hire are required to hold a Coast Guard license and meet minimum safety standards. Proper emergency safety gear, navigational systems and communication equipment are required for safe operations. Un-inspected passenger vessels are only permitted to carry up to six passengers for hire under Coast Guard regulations.”

The Coast Guard urges anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and a Merchant Mariner Credential. For larger charter boats or those with more than six passengers, ask to see a Coast Guard-issued Certificate of Inspection. “If the operator cannot produce appropriate credentials, passengers should not get on the boat.”

USCG inspected vessel decal
US Coast Guard inspection decal examples.
© 2022 USCG

Most of us have heard about boat crews being called upon for random drug tests. What we don’t usually hear is that operators that fail to enroll in a drug and alcohol testing program can be fined $7,710. And that a vessel carrying more than six passengers must be able to provide a Coast Guard certificate of inspection or face a fine of $4,803. And those are the cheaper fines! Fines can exceed $59,000 for illegal passenger-for-hire-operations, and charters that violate a captain of the port order can face over $500,000 in penalties and possible Class D felony charges.

For information regarding your boating operations or charter regulations, please contact Sector San Diego Investigations Division personnel at (619) 572-2904 or via email at [email protected].

To verify a captain’s license or verify the inspected status of a vessel carrying more than six passengers, or if you would like to report a potential illegal charter, please contact Coast Guard Sector San Diego Joint Harbor Operations Center personnel at (619) 278-7033 or D11-SMB-SectorSD-[email protected].

For additional recreational boating safety information, please visit



  1. Barbara E Livsey 2 years ago

    3?! Only 3??! I see it all day long, especially at Dana Landing in Mission Bay!!

  2. Jesse thomas 2 years ago

    People doing this are usually pretty safe mainly it’s about the license charters feeling disenfranchised about a possible opportunity cost.

  3. Jeffry Matzdorff 2 years ago

    Bravo Zulu!

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