Red Flags To Watch For: Illegal Fishing Charters and Tours 

For a fishing charter or boat tour, the Captain must have a U.S. Coast Guard Captain's License and on a fishing charter, the Captain must have a state-issued fishing license that covers all the clients on board. 

The fishing licenses are available for up to 4 people or 6-10 people. 

Make sure you are covered for the number of people on your charter. 

In addition, any fishing charter offshore more than 9 miles when fishing for Reef fish like Snapper & Grouper or Pelagic fish must have Federal Fishing Permits which should be affixed somewhere on the boat. These permits are upwards of $30,000 and are a Federal offense to be caught past 9 miles offshore on a charter targeting Reef fish or pelagic fish without them. 

If the Captain doesn’t show you a Captain's license or any of the other required licenses you need to ask to see them and if they can’t be produced get off the boat.

what to look for with illegal fishing charters

Red Flags of an illegal charter

1. When booking a fishing charter they tell you that you need to purchase your own fishing license.

This is a huge red flag! The Captain must have a state-issued fishing license to take you out fishing and this license should cover all the passengers on board. If they tell you that you need to purchase your own fishing license, it's likely an illegal charter.

Be sure to ask the Captain for their U.S. Coast Guard Captain's License and state-issued fishing license before getting on the boat. Make sure these licenses are up-to-date and valid. If the licenses can't be produced, don't get on the boat!

Illegal charters can result in hefty fines so it's best to do your research ahead of time and avoid taking chances.

2. The Captain tells you if we get checked by law enforcement to tell the officer we are just friends fishing or on a tour.

Don't get on the boat if you are told to lie about being on a fishing charter. If they tell you that they take illegal charters out all the time, don't believe them. You may think you're getting a great deal by booking an illegal charter but it's not worth the risk of hefty fines and jail time for both passengers and crew! Book with someone who is properly licensed and insured so everyone has fun without any unexpected surprises.

 

3. When asked the Captain tells you a license isn’t required. 

This is another huge red flag! If the Captain tells you a license isn't required, it's likely an illegal charter. As mentioned earlier, any fishing charter offshore more than nine miles when fishing for reef fish like snapper and grouper or pelagic fish must have federal fishing permits which should be affixed somewhere on the boat. Without these permits, you could be fined up to $30,000!

Don't take chances - always ask to see licenses before getting on the boat. It's not worth risking a hefty fine or worse, jail time.

Do your research ahead of time and avoid illegal charters altogether. Book with a reputable company that has the proper licenses and insurance so you can enjoy your day out on the water.

4. When the Captain says he can take more than 6 people.

The most common Coast Guard license what’s called a 6 pack is only up to 6 people on bigger vessels or inspected vessels more than 6 people are possible.  So if the Captain is trying to take more than six people on a boat that’s not inspected by the Coast Guard then they are likely not licensed which again is illegal.

This illegal activity can result in hefty fines and even jail time for both passengers and crew, so it's best avoided by doing your research ahead of time. Stick with reputable companies that have the proper licenses and insurance so you can enjoy your day out on the water without any surprises.

Make sure to always ask to see licenses before getting on a fishing charter or boat tour. It's important to know that all Captains should have a U.S. Coast Guard Captain's License as well as state-issued fishing licenses for each passenger on board - no exceptions!

red flags of illegal fishing charters

Thinking Of Chartering A Fishing Boat?

Here are some things you should be asking your captain for:

  • A Merchant Mariner's Credential from the United States Coast Guard. If you must provide money, fuel, or supplies before or after the operator allows you to depart on the boat, the boat is operating as a charter and should be sailed by someone who holds a valid Merchant Mariner's credential which should be presented on board.

  • An Inspection Certificate. If there are more than six passengers on the vessel, it must meet all Coast Guard safety standards for an examined passenger boat. Uninspected Passenger Vessels (UPVs) carrying six or fewer people may take a voluntary but strongly suggested Uninspected Passenger Vessel (UPV) exam.

  • A certificate of completion from a drug and alcohol testing program. Drug and alcohol testing is required for all charter workers. Commercial vessel operations, even small charter companies with only one or two staff, are obligated by law to conduct drug and alcohol testing. A letter (from a third-party administrator) or a wallet-size enrollment card with the employee's name and date of expiration can be used to establish proof.

Bottom Line

Although there are a lot of great Captains & Guides in the area we also have a select few that don’t want to follow the laws. This article should provide a general outline of important red flags to look out for when chartering a boat for fishing that will ensure your charter is legit and everyone is following the rules!

We hope this helps everyone and you all learned something new. As always, feel free to contact us if you have any more questions.

Be sure to get in touch for the best St. Pete fishing charters!

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