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Crackdown on illegal San Diego charter boat operators

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Posted at 6:10 PM, Oct 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-11 14:05:43-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - An effort is underway to crack down on illegal party boats and other charter vessels operating on San Diego Bay.

The Port of San Diego wants to create new charter permit requirements to make it easier for those who want to operate legally to do so.

Currently, legal charter vessel operators must obtain a Permit from a marina or sportishing landing where they board passengers, and according to the Port there are more charter vessel operators than there are available slips at the marinas and sportfishing landings on San Diego Bay.

To address this problem, the Port proposes to issue all Charter Vessel Operation Permits (Permits) for all Charter Vessel Operations and collect license agreement fees from qualified Charter Vessel Operators who do not have an agreement to operate from a marina or sportfishing landing.

“San Diego Bay great place to do charter business because it's almost entirely landlocked, not subject to swells, makes for great party boats, cruising,” says Captain John Valente of San Diego Bay Cruises.

Valente spent 15 months and almost $200,000 to get his boat in compliance with federal regulations. The figure does not include the price of insurance.

Last year Harbor Police discovered roughly 200 charter vessels operating illegally in San Diego.

“It’s very disheartening and it hurts because that's revenue lost. I need to pay the bills, I need to pay my rent,” says Valente.

Officers and the Coast Guard are conducting joint patrols to stop the illegal operators.

"It's not easy, the enforcement, but this does strengthen the rules and make it pretty clear who can and cannot be charter operators,” said Chief Mark Stainbrook, who added he would consider undercover operations if necessary.

Stainbrook said the deadly diving boat fire off Santa Barbara's coast is another reminder at why getting this issue right is so important; they can't risk unsafe charters on the water.

Valente says he's glad the Port is amending regulations, but isn't sure the current proposal goes far enough.

The Port’s proposal is online and an updated ordinance will go before commissioners in December.