How to avoid using unlicensed fishing charters

5:32 PM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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MUSKEGON, Mich. (WZZM) -- Conservation officers with the Department of Natural Resources are charging three lakeshore men with operating unlicensed charter boats. The men didn't have insurance, required safety equipment, and investigators say their customers were in danger out on the water.

13 On Your Side explains what you should know before booking a charter fishing trip. Most charter fishing operators abide by several laws and requirements intended to protect customers.

"We want them to have a great time but we want them to be safe," explains Jon Blatt, president of the Muskegon Charter Boat Association. Blatt says he is disappointed to know three lakeshore men took paying customers on fishing trips while ignoring those laws. He says customers shouldn't be shy when asking any charter boat captain for a few things before leaving the dock.

Things like: What organizations are they affiliated with?

"The Michigan Charter Boat Association and the Muskegon Charter Boat Association are not going to have unlicensed captains," says Blatt.

Boat Captains should carry a license. They are called merchant mariners credentials. It means they passed a U.S. Coast Guard's examination.

You should also ask to see the boat's proof of insurance. The illegal operators recently busted didn't have any. Operators are required to have their boats inspected at dry dock every five years and in the water every two years.

It's easy to tell what boats passed inspection. "Those will have stickers on the side with the current year and you can see those when you walk up to the vessel," says Blatt. 

Blatt's organization has extra safety measures in place as well. "We are required to carry extra safety equipment. We have a man overboard light. We have class one pfd's with lights."

A legal charter will have a captain's license, insurance, proof of inspection, a class one personal flotation device, and a man overboard light.

Blatt says if a captain seems fishy, he probably is. "We are happy the DNR is catching up with them. Maybe it will discourage others from doing it."

The men caught recently all have upcoming court dates. They each face jail time, fines, and possible seizure of their boats.
The DNR has a hotline to report illegal charters and other hunting and fishing violations. That number is 1-800-292-7800.

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