First things first, I wanted to thank Michigan Charter Boat Association, the Board, and Members for the opportunity to talk a little bit about illegal charter boat investigations.
Over the last year the Coast Guard has seen an historic increase in the registration of recreational vessels and applications for inspection of small passenger vessels. We believe that this is mainly pandemic driven, as families and small groups search out safe, viable ways to enjoy the outdoors, the waters of the Great Lakes, and generally socialize. The traditional small passenger vessel industry on the Lakes (<100 GT CG Certificated Vessels) had a rough year as State restrictions, and passenger hesitation drastically reduced the numbers of passengers, trips and large events typically held over the summer months. With this reduction, people turned to the 6 passenger or less, and bareboat charter areas, traditionally examined by the State. This has had a couple of different outcomes, some good and some bad.
On the good side, charter boat numbers are up, and enrollment in associations such as MCBA and others around the Lakes is growing steadily. This is a great thing, as we truly believe that the members of professional organizations only improve the safety of all passenger vessels on the Lakes.
On the bad side, we saw a substantial increase in the number of illegal charters throughout the Great Lakes region. It only makes sense, that if you put a large portion of the workforce out of work, and cut back drastically on the activities that people can safely pursue in groups, people will find a way to earn a couple of extra dollars, and the public will pursue those offerings. When you add in the advantages of social media/advertising, ease of electronic payments through multiple sites, and the ease of access, it’s a foregone conclusion that it is going to take place.
Where the Coast Guard can use assistance is through responsible Captains and Operators of Inspected and Uninspected Passenger Vessels. More than 75% of my illegal charter notifications come from legitimate charter and small passenger vessel operators. These notifications assist in the detection of illegal charters and assist greatly with the safety of the boating public and passengers, not to mention ensuring these operators aren’t taking money out of the pockets of operators who are playing by the rules.
Over the last three years, with the assistance of the CG Auxiliary, Stations, and DNR, we have posted signage warning of illegal charters in most local marinas within the State, conducted more than 50 investigations in Detroit alone, and provided free training, and presentations to multiple associations.
Through your efforts and our cooperative work, we can, and will make a difference in this area of critical public safety. To report an illegal charter in the Detroit River, Lake Huron, or Saginaw Bay area’s please call the Sector Detroit Command Center at 313-569-9559.
Jason Bartholomew, CIV, USCG
Senior Investigating Officer, Sector Detroit