In early June, the U.S. Coast Guard took four vessels off the Lake of the Ozarks for illegal chartering.
The Coast Guard says the captains were in violation of having a passenger-for-hire excursion, no proper inspection and not having a credentialed mariner in charge. And this arrest begs the question: how much of a problem is illegal chartering at the Lake of the Ozarks?
“It happens every holiday, all during the season it happens. People are out there, they see an easy way to make a buck, somebody wants to pay them to take them out for a bachelorette or bachelor party. They’re taking a risk,” said Doug Beck, president of Lake of the Ozarks Captains Association.
Illegal chartering — vessels that are paid to take passengers out on the water without the qualifications that are required to legally captain a chartered boat — has been a perennial problem on the Lake of the Ozarks.
“It’s always going to be around. I don’t think they’re ever going to eliminate the problem,” Beck said.
And while he doesn't think there's been a substantial increase in illegal charters, Beck says the numbers also aren’t going down. The Coast Guard polices illegal chartering, but with their headquarters in New Orleans, 700 miles away, and with a large amount of waterway jurisdiction, they often have a limited presence at Lake of the Ozarks.
“For the limited resources they have and the fact that Section 8 covers the Great Lakes down to Texas, they’re covering a lot of riverways and waterways with limited personnel, limited resources and funding. They’re doing the best that they’re able to,” Beck said.
Avoiding Illegal Charters
For those looking for a cheap charter, it might seem like a good deal to hire someone without worrying about their licensing, but someone who’s chartering without the proper requirements has its own dangers.
“You don’t know if the person driving your boat is under the influence or are they physically or mentally able to drive the boat safely,” said Beck.
For anyone looking for a charter, Beck recommends requesting to see a captain's documentation before agreeing to hire them.
On their website, the Lake Ozark Captains Association writes, "A Licensed Captain, is concerned about safety, is insured, is skilled. USCG licensed captains are screened by FBI, Homeland Security, local law enforcement. They are drug tested on a scheduled basis. USCG licensed captains must have a minimum of 360 days of sea time average of 4 hours per day. They know what safety equipment is needed on board, what to do who to call in the event of an emergency. What this means to you, you your family and friends will have a fun, safe time on the water."
Before Hiring A Captain, Ask For:
-Their charter license, also called a “red book,” that looks a bit like a passport
-A drug card (licensed captains are regularly drug-tested)
-Proof of up-to-date insurance
For more information about how to find legal boat captains, check out https://lotocaptain.com