Take a trip out to any of San Diego's docks and you’ll see people lined up to board a variety of charter boats that will take you out to the open ocean for a fee. But, you should know that some may not be in compliance with regulations.
“It was fun, the kids had a blast. They just loved it,” said San Diegan Hugo Godoy, as he pointed to his little ones walking next to him on the Imperial Beach pier.
He was talking about whale-watching. And boy, was he shocked when NBC 7 told him that some charter boats take on passengers without the required United States Coast Guard certification. Their main violations? Too many passengers and/or not enough life jackets.
“Wow, that’s crazy. It’s not safe… I would not get on a boat if I knew all my family did not have lifejackets," said Godoy with his eyes still fixed on his children.
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It’s already shaping up to be a busy summer for them when it comes to unlicensed charter boats, the Coast Guard told NBC 7. They just sanctioned and took out of service three of them in the last month or so.
“If something where to go wrong on the boat, I mean, vessels sink, it happens, being out in the bay without a lifejacket could be a big issue or if a fire were to arise,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Lucy Hamilton as she stood surrounded by several Coast Guard boats docked at their base.
The Coast Guard, along with other law enforcement agencies, have been ramping up their efforts to identify those charter boats operating illegally along San Diego’s coast, she said.
“We do get tips from people who boarded them but most of the time, we’ll come across them and do an inspection to make sure they have all their safety gear,” she added.
The Coast Guard also recommended consumers ask questions before boarding any charter boat, especially if they feel something is not right.
“If you’re part of a charter and you’re a paying customer, you always want to make sure you check the captain’s credentials. You’re able to ask to see their Merchant Mariner Credential and you could ask for a safety plan to make sure there is one for the entire evolution,” said Hamilton.
It's important to note that the vast majority of charter boats are licensed and operate according to the Coast Guard's certification process. In fact, boat captains who don’t follow the rules could face hefty fines and even Class D felony charges in some cases.
If you’d like to run a check on a charter boat you’re planning on boarding (that can support more than six passengers) or report one that might be in violation, contact the Coast Guard Sector Joint Harbor Operations Centers.
Consumers could also report illegal charter boats by calling the Coast Guard Sector San Diego Investigations Division at 619-278-7033 or by emailing them at D11-SMB-SectorSD-JHOC@USCG.MIL