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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

So You Want To Be A Charter Boat Captain, Chapter 2

Having chosen to ignore perfectly good advice and become a charter boat skipper it's time now to make some hard and fast decisions about what kind of a boat business you want to own and run. Do you want to go the full Monty and buy or build a USCG Inspected Passenger Vessel, or will you be happy with a six-pack boat? For those who don't know, the difference is substantial. It's like the difference between running a barbecue in your back yard and opening a full-service restaurant.

A small USCG inspected passenger boat under 100 gross tons, known as a T-Boat or a K-boat (the latter for overnight passengers or boats with more than 150 passengers; H-boat for vessels over 100 GT) as designated in the Code of Federal Regulations, must meet certain regulatory standards. These are checked routinely on your boat by the U.S. Coast Guard. A safety inspection is every 12 months, while a hull and engineering inspection is every 18 months to two years; the latter depends on what type of vessel you own and of what material it was constructed. Wood vessels with plank on frame construction and marine fastenings are required to have more frequent inspections.

The Coast Guard doesn't conduct these inspections for free like they do for the recreational and commercial fishing sectors. You have to pay annually. The fee is based on the size of the vessel and/or the number of passengers you carry. Although the fee will increase like everything else does, I can tell you that at the moment the fee for a passenger vessel of less than 49 passengers is about $800. That includes the annual safety inspection as well.

Most skippers look on these inspections as a matter of course and appreciate the extra sets of eyes they get to look over their boats. Others, however, get a little adversarial during the inspections. Without question, a bad attitude during an inspection does little to expedite the process. I would no sooner get short with a Coast Guard Inspector than tell an IRS auditor what to do with their briefcase. Besides, these guys are just doing their job, and in fact, they're helping you out. If you comply with all the US Coast Guard guidelines and regulations for T-boats or K-boats, you're limiting your exposure to liability. The bottom line in this business is to make sure you run a boat that is in full compliance with the law. Any infraction, however small, will end up biting you in the ass if something like an accident ends up happening aboard the vessel.

Granted, you will have Coast Guard personnel on your boat who are cutting their inspection teeth on your nickel. Get over it. It's all part of the process. Some of these men and women are young and inexperienced and it behooves you to be patient and do you best to help them understand the systems and equipment you have aboard. If you have any problems, simply go to the guy in charge of the inspection (usually a Master Chief or Leutenant) and explain your logic. Not all boats are created equal and not all inspectors will require a strict adherence to the letter of the law. There is some wiggle room, and the logical, most appropriate way of doing things aboard your vessel will prevail.

As far as the six-pack or 6-passenger boat is concerned, my advice is to comply with the same guidelines and regulations set-up for T-boats. Other than the construction requirements (rail heights, bulkheads, watertight doors, seating, etc.), you're better off with a boat that's thoroughly CFR compliant. In fact, I would consider the standards as minimums for six-pack vessels. In many respects, six-pack boats find themselves in even more extreme situations than sub-chapter T boats.

So, whether you decide to go with a USCG Inspected passenger boat or a six-pack boat, my advice is to adhere to the standards set down by the USCG in the Code of Federal Regulations for Small Passengers Vessels. It might not be possible or necessary in a six-pack boat to do it in terms of design, construction, and stability, but from a safety, equipment and systems installation standpoint, you can't go wrong.


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