PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The 17-foot boat that was stopped and cited by the U.S. Coast Guard for allegedly operating as an illegal charter along the Willamette River on Oct. 6 was the first boat to be cited for illegal charter activity in the Portland area this year.

The enforcement, the USCG says, was the result of officials working to crack down on illegal charters across the country.

USCG 13th District spokesperson Travis Magee told KOIN 6 News that the citation was issued to the boat’s owner, who was reportedly giving two people an illegal sightseeing tour near Oregon City when the USCG intervened. The unnamed owner received a $10,000 fine and a Captain of the Port Order preventing them from using the boat for any commercial purposes.

USCG officials could increase the fine to a maximum amount of $103,200 during a scheduled civil penalty hearing.

“Although this was the first detection of an illegal charter this year in Portland, this is a common problem across the U.S.,” Magee said. “The Coast Guard is always on the lookout for illegal charters to promote the safety of the boating public.”

Magee said that illegal charters are a growing problem in the Portland area and that they pose a significant danger to passengers and other boaters. When asked why the USCG considers illegal charters to be so unsafe, Magee said that they create an increased risk of boating accidents.

“In general, the Coast Guard sees a much lower accident rate with vessels operated by licensed captains,” he said. “Illegal charters are a serious risk to their passengers and to other boat operators on the water. We are increasing efforts to combat illegal charters to prevent loss of life and promote safety on our waterways.”

Annual Oregon State Marine Board boating incident and fatality data. | Courtesy: OSMB

The Oregon State Marine Board provides annual boating incidents and fatalities data. However, these statistics only include recreational boating incidents and do not include deaths or accidents that occur on commercial charter boats.

Based on this data, the number of boating incidents fell sharply last year. In 2020 the Oregon State Marine Board recorded 91 boating incidents across the state, including 26 deaths. In 2021, there were 48 incidents and 19 deaths.

While the USCG is seeking to stop illegal charters, the average law-abiding boater is still welcome to take friends and family out for a day on the water. This includes any people with pre-existing relationships who may pool money together for gas or boat-related activities.

“The Coast Guard isn’t interested in ruining anyone’s weekend,” Magee said.

However, if a transaction is made between a passenger and a boat operator for charter services, the USCG says it must be done in accordance with regulations governing passenger vessels. Operators interested in obtaining a charter boat captain’s license can complete the application process on the USCG website.

“Americans have a reasonable expectation that when they pay for a boating trip, the operator is trained and knowledgeable,” Magee said. “Regardless of the body of water, rivers, lakes and oceans are dynamic environments, and when things go wrong, the vessel master is responsible for the safety of the crew and passengers. The Coast Guard is charged with ensuring vessel masters are trained, randomly drug tested and operate safely.”