Stars and Stripes – Coast Guard sees increase in illegal boat rental activities as tourism in Panama City Beach booms
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) – U.S. Coast Guard is increasingly concerned about an apparent increase in the number of illegal charter boats sailing in the Gulf of Mexico as tourism has increased in Panama City Beach This year.
Being a charter boat captain requires several certifications and inspections of the vessels used. The operator of a chartered vessel should be able to provide a USCG Merchant Mariner credential and documentation proving enrollment in a drug and alcohol program.
According to the Coast Guard, some boat captains do not provide this and charge a fee for people who come to Panama City Beach on vacation. While the USCG does not handle the case management portion of these issues, they do apply them on the water.
Mark Kannan, senior chief of the Coast Guard station in Panama City, said an increase in tourism may be part of the reason the Coast Guard has seen more violations this year.
“I think that’s probably part of it. This has been our busiest year in the past four or five years, probably related to COVID, ”Kannan said. “I’m just speculating, but it looks like we’re getting a lot more visitors, water traffic has increased and so we can probably see this as a hangover effect of COVID. “
There have been incidents in which people have been injured on board vessels whose captains were not properly certified. Fines for illegal operations can be up to $ 41,456 per day or more.
Kannan said he was not only trying to protect people who were riding on illegal charters, but also local charter captains who were following the rules.
“They take them as charter passengers and put people at risk because they’re not a licensed captain,” Kannan said. “They haven’t gone through the arduous testing requirements and experience necessary to operate their vessel safely and to ensure that their employees are also safe.”
Kannan added that there had also been an issue with people hiring non-rental boats, then carrying more than their occupant limit of 11.
In a situation where more than 12 people are on a rental boat, the captain of that boat must be an authorized sailor.
Kannan said if people are not sure which charter boats they plan to pay for, ask captains to show their USCG license. He said they’ll have no problem showing it if they have one.
He also said the ship must have a sticker indicating that it has been inspected and certified by the USCG.
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The US Coast Guard is increasingly concerned about an apparent increase in the number of illegal charter boats sailing the Gulf of Mexico, as tourism has increased in Panama City Beach this year. (US Coast Guard)