Coast Guard unveils new boating rule for Virgin Islands

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Uninspected Virgin Islands boats of less than 24 meters, or 78.7 feet, are now allowed to carry as many as a dozen passengers within the Virgin Islands and to international ports, but not to another port in the United States, under rules the U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday.

The regulations were based on a bill Congress passed in December that exempts uninspected Virgin Islands boats of less than 24 meters from the current six-passenger limit, according to the St. Croix Source.

Charters to the British Virgin Islands from St. Thomas and St. John are fine under the new rules, but if a boat captain wanted to take a charter boat with as many as a dozen passengers on board to Miami or other points north, that would not be allowed.

The change comes under the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014.

The change is expected to revitalize the territory’s marine industry and bring back to St. Thomas boats that now operate in the BVI, where uninspected boats have been allowed to carry as many as 12 passengers.

Kelly Kiernan, a member of the V.I. Marine Economic Council and a member of the territory’s yachting industry, told the St. Croix Source that boat captains who operated in the BVI already met the certification criteria.

The difference is that now they are picking up passengers in St. Thomas instead of Tortola.

“It’s the ease of guests not having to take the ferry to Tortola,” Kiernan told the paper, adding that guests get to start their charter sooner.