Coast Guard steps up enforcement on unlicensed guides

 DULUTH, Minn. — The Coast Guard is stepping up enforcement measures on boat operators illegally taking passengers for hire.

This summer the Coast Guard will conduct operations to stop illegal passenger vessel operators in northern Minnesota and western Lake Superior waters. A similar operation was conducted last summer in the vicinity of Chicago, and during those operations 50 percent of stopped vessels were found to be operating illegally on Lake Michigan.

Operators who take on paying passengers are considered to be a commercial vessel and must be operated by a mariner with a Coast Guard credential (license). Operating as a commercial vessel without the required documents and credentials is a violation of federal law, and if caught, the operator could be subject to criminal or civil liability. Vessels that operate with a captain who is not licensed put passengers and surrounding boats in danger.

When the Coast Guard encounters a boat that is non-compliant with regulations, measures will be taken with the goal of bringing the vessel/operator into compliance. Those measures may include education, verbal or written warnings, civil penalties, vessel voyage termination, arrest or vessel seizure.

When reserving boats, prospective passengers should ask the operator in advance for proof the vessel is compliant with Coast Guard requirements. Availability on a website is not a guarantee of regulatory compliance. Passengers have the right to see the captain’s license and Certificate of Inspection to ensure the vessel and captain are certified, and a right to know they are paying for a safe voyage before handing over their money.

The Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit Duluth is able to administer testing to become a credentialed mariner. For questions on how to obtain a credential, please contact the Regional Exam Center (REC) Toledo at 1-888-427-5662 or by email at

Anyone who wishes to verify a captain’s license or the inspected status of a vessel, or who wishes to report a vessel suspected of operating illegally, may contact Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie Command Center at (906) 635-3236.

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