The Federal Aviation Authority requires maintenance logs and weekly inspections of commercial jets. But the U.S. Coast Guard is only required to inspect commercial boats once a year, unless there's a reportable incident.
In October, the Island Lady crashed into its dock after a transmission cable broke, tearing up the passenger waiting area. "Lack of maintenance" was cited as the cause, but the boat was allowed to resume operations the next day.
Last March, inspectors discovered a blocked fuel-shut off valve, a missing fire extinguisher and electrical issues on the boat.
“They're really blessed that there wasn't more loss of life,” said fourth generation Captain Dylan Hubbard who runs Hubbard’s marina, which operates fishing, sightseeing and dolphin cruises.
Hubbard says his passengers get safety briefings, and his crew gets lots of training.
“If you don't practice it, you're not gonna know what to do or how to react,” said Hubbard.
He says safety compliance is often based on the honor system.
“You want to make sure the captain and crew are very experienced and know what to do when,” said Hubbard.
The U.S. Coast Guard is stretched thin, regulating 35,000 commercial boats in Florida alone, in addition to rescuing boaters, patrolling the coastline and seizing drugs being smuggled into the country.
In 2004, another shuttle boat owned by the same Port Richey gambling operation caught fire. Crew members were rescued by a passing boater.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the NTSB determined then that the company, at the time "Sun Cruz", didn't have a preventive maintenance program.
The company continued to operate, despite dozens of incidents — ranging from fires, to running aground, to passenger deaths.
Tropical Breeze officials didn't respond to several requests for comment.
“They started up just a few days later,” Adam Brum said of the business.
The 27-year-old Tropical Breeze I casino boat itself hauls passengers into the Gulf and back multiple times a day.
During its last two inspections, the Coast Guard found maintenance problems affecting its firefighting system and forced it to replace missing life jackets.