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US Coast Guard issues illegal charters warning as South Florida heads into summer boating season

Coast Guard wants people to steer clear of illegal boat charters
Coast Guard wants people to steer clear of illegal boat charters 02:32

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Getting out on the water is a favorite pastime of many in South Florida during the summer. But not everyone has a boat, so some turn to charters.  Now that's leading to a warning from the US Coast Guard.

"Within the last year we've had up to 10 incidents, we've had up to five deaths," Lt. Jody Stiger said. 

He's warning the public about illegal charters. 

"For recreational vessel or illegal charter, these people that are operating a vessel are not trained, so they'll be going full speed ahead and ground where passengers will fly off."

If that happens, the Coast Guard often gets called for help. Service members demonstrated how they recover people in the water Thursday morning. But there are other accidents, some of them gruesome.

"They'll be on a sandbar and tell people to come back into the vessel and once they come up to the swimming platform they'll start the engine and they'll be sucked into the propeller and be chopped up," Stiger said.

The reality is, it's fairly easy to operate an illegal charter – all that's really needed is a boat.

"We will observe illegal charters terminate them if so because of the safety of it," Stiger explained. 

Still, it is hard to catch every offender.

"If there's an accident it goes against everybody, people think it's unsafe to be out on the water," said Terri Lintner, a boat captain.

Lintner has been pilot vessels out to sea for 25 years.  He told CBS4 that getting out on a chartered boat is safe, provided the charter is certified. Currently, he's with Tropical Sailing, a charter company out of Bayside Marketplace. 

"We have a yearly inspection from the Coast Guard," he said.

That inspection makes sure safety equipment is in place and there are no problems with the vessel.  So, we asked, what should a person look for if they're interested in a charter? 

"Get the captain's license, just Google the boat, find out what kind of history it has, every boat out here has a vessel name," Lintner said.

Inspected boats will also have a US Coast Guard sticker.  He hopes people will look for that and consider operations that care enough to follow the law and keep safety a priority.

The Coast Guard also suggested that if anyone has questions to contact the agency before heading out.

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