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Does that passenger boat meet requirements?

“It’s your responsibility,” Mike Jendrossek says, addressing skippers of the thousands of uninspected U.S. vessels that don’t carry more than six or 12 passengers for hire. The Coast Guard does not inspect these “six-pack” and “12-pack” boats, so it’s up to the operators to be sure they comply with federal safety standards, especially in their construction, says Jendrossek, a Coast Guard marine investigator and boating safety specialist.

“It is the responsibility of U.S. Coast Guard-licensed masters that operate uninspected passenger vessels in passenger-for-hire operations to ensure compliance with all federal requirements applicable to the vessel,” the Coast Guard says in a marine safety alert. “Rules apply,” the alert says. “Know them!”

Jendrossek says marine investigators have noticed, in some recent accident investigations, uninspected passenger boats that do not meet even the minimum requirements for recreational-type boats. They are not certified to recreational standards. They don’t carry load capacity plates, so the boats often are overloaded. They don’t meet safe powering requirements — the engine often is too big for the boat — and don’t satisfy flotation, electrical system or ventilation standards. Nor do they have start-in-gear protection, Jendrossek says.

He says some manufacturers are building boats — cheaper models — that don’t meet recreational standards and are legally sold “for commercial use only.” These boats wind up in the hands of operators who carry passengers for hire and who wittingly or unwittingly operate in violation of federal statutes. “We want to make the uninspected passenger vessel operator aware that there is a minimum standard that they have to meet,” he says. If an uninspected passenger boat does not meet the recreational standard, the operator’s license “is in peril,” Jendrossek says. “That is prima facie misconduct. There is a higher standard of care for operators who take passengers for hire. The Coast Guard expects them to meet that standard.”

Richard Hiscock, a boating safety advocate for more than 30 years, has put together a checklist of the requirements for uninspected passenger vessels, and they are considerable. He points out that there are no navigation limits on an uninspected passenger vessel other than the limits that the operator’s license sets. “If they have a license that allows them to go 200 miles offshore, they can take an uninspected passenger vessel 200 miles offshore,” he says, regardless of how seaworthy the vessel is. He says that argues persuasively for making sure the boats meet at least the minimum recreational standard.

Jendrossek also warns manufacturers: “If you’re building a boat that’s not compliant with minimum recreational standards, don’t use a recreational manufacturer code as part of the [hull identification number].”

Boats that do not meet recreational boat standards cannot be sold as recreational boats, he says. He also is encouraging state investigators to look closely at boats represented as recreational to be sure they meet the recreational standards.

Among the requirements

• certified to minimum recreational boat standards

• proper hull identification number

• capacity information properly displayed

• certified safe loading capacity, powering and flotation (boats under 20 feet)

• electrical, fuel and ventilation systems meet standards

• start-in-gear protection

• approved navigation lights

• licensed operator

• safety orientation for passengers before setting out

• Type I or V PFD of suitable size for each passenger

• fire extinguisher

• pollution placard

See related articles:

- Silverton sinking: Were 27 people too many to carry?

- Keep a lookout and remain alert

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue.