Coast Guard halts illegal charter near Metropolitan Park

75-foot charter was carrying 22 passengers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday stopped a 75-foot charter boat, with 22 passengers aboard, on the St. Johns River near Metropolitan Park, spoiling a trip for several people during Florida-Georgia weekend.

It was a busy weekend with a lot of travel by boat, but Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Dickinson said the charter boat caught one officer's attention. 

"They were out there and they saw a vessel that looked like it had a little bit, not too much people, but had quite a bit of people on, and they just wanted to make sure that everyone was safe," Dickinson told News4Jax by phone on Monday. 

A Coast Guard Station Mayport 29-foot Response Boat crew said it boarded the pleasure craft and discovered three violations: not having a valid Certificate of Inspection, failure of person in command of documented vessel to produce current and original Certificate of Documentation upon demand of a person acting in official public capacity, and failure to have a stability letter issued before the vessel is placed in service. 

The party was over for the 22 passengers, and the captain was forced back to shore immediately. 

Capt. Austin Harris, with First Bite Fishing Charter, who is not affiliated with the case, said 22 is a high number of passengers for any boat, and the vessel would require many items for safety purposes.

"Life jackets, life rafts, all your safety equipment, VHF, first-aid kits, all that," Harris said. "You never know what will happen." 

It's still unclear whether the captain charged the people or not. The Coast Guard is still investigating. 

The owners of the illegal charter could face $59,000 for illegal passenger-for-hire operations.

The Coast Guard offered tips for anyone looking to hire a charter boat. 

"Always ask to see the captain's credentials, vessel inspection certificate and safety plan prior to leaving the dock," said Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Davis, a Coast Guard boarding officer from Maritime Force Protection Unit Kings Bay. "The Coast Guard will continue to be on the lookout for vessel operators who are not complying with Coast Guard passenger vessel regulations and putting their passengers at risk."

About the Authors:

Carianne Luter is a social media producer for News4Jax and has worked at Channel 4 since December 2015. She graduated from the University of North Florida with a communication degree.

Veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor