Whether people are on vacation or a staycation, boating is a popular activity for people in the Tampa Bay Area, but finding a proper boat and boat captain can sometimes be elusive for people who don't know where to look.
The local chapter of the U.S. Coast Guard tells ABC Action News they've noticed a growing problem with what they call "Craigslist Captains" which is when someone hires a boat captain they find online but one who might not follow the rules.
"This is a growing problem in the boating community," says U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson PA1 Michael De Nyse. "People have the right to know they are paying for a safe voyage. All vessels taking passengers for hire must be operated by a properly credentialed Coast Guard mariner. People are using applications like craigslist to solicit rides for hire and many of these captains are not credentialed properly," adds De Nyse.
Boaters should ask to see a captain's "Coast Guard Credential." If they can't show you one, don't ride the vessel, says the Coast Guard.
"You wouldn't get on a commercial plane with an unlicensed pilot," De Nyse points out.
Another rule often ignored is that vessels carrying more than six passengers must be inspected by the Coast Guard. These vessels will have an inspection decal prominently displayed on the vessel. Additionally, all inspected vessels carrying more than six passengers will have a document called a "Certificate of Inspection" that explains how many passengers may be safely carried.
A captain who ignores these rules can face up to $35,000 in fines, and be subject to being forced back to shore immediately.
"All legitimate operators will happily produce these documents when asked," says De Nyse, adding that it would be unsafe to ignore these easy steps.