6 Pack UPV – Be One of the Few Legal Ones

Every week I get requests for my availability as captain for a charter, usually to take out paying passengers.  This is followed up by a couple of questions from me:

  • Does your boat have all legally-required items?
  • Have you taken out paying passengers in the past?
The answers to these questions are very often “yes”, and that’s when my next questions reveal the fact that 90% (my number) of the boats being used as either 6 pack UPVs or bareboat charters are doing so without being fully compliant.  Some with minor missed items, and many with major violations.
Here is a recent example.  The owner of a Sunseeker 70 (nice boat!) contacted me to run a paying passenger excursion the following weekend.  He explained that he had received complaints regarding his prior captain so he was looking for a new one.  I met him with my UPV checklist and we began going through the boat.
“OK, let’s look at the lifejackets,” I asked him.  “Sure,” he said and proudly opened a locker with slightly worn PFDs stacked inside.  I pulled one out and saw that they were not USCG-approved – in fact, all the writing was Chinese characters!  He had bought the boat in Hong Kong and had it shipped to California.  Same story for the fire extinguishers.  Remember – he had already been operating this vessel as a UPV (Uninspected Passenger Vessel).  There were several other discrepancies – inoperable navigation lights, no drug testing program, and perhaps the biggest one of all – no MARAD waiver.  The law requires that all passenger vessels in the United States be U.S.-built, unless the vessel has the required waiver which can be applied for.  Sunseekers are built in the U.K….oops!

The list of required UPV items is long and is not well known at all.  I finally spent quite a bit of time and effort going through the CFRs and compiled a two-page spreadsheet for use by my clients.  Actually two versions – one for vessels less that 100 Gross Register Tons (GRT), and another for 100-300 GRT (which are 12-Packs – and require a Master aboard).  For the captain who just got their Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) credential, they would have no idea of the complex regs and would probably unknowingly cut corners anyway – they just want to take some folks fishing on their little Bayliner.  

Here is a partial, brief list of what is required for a less than 100 Gross Ton 6-Pack vessel:

  •  Licensed operator, with original MMC on board (two if overnight)
  • Current and original state reg (if LT 5 GRT) or Cert of Documentation, endorsed for Coastwise Trade (NOT Recreational, and MARAD waiver if not US-built)
  • Drug & alcohol testing program in effect
  • Knowledge of accident reporting requirements
  • If greater than 20m – VHF radios, FCC license, Restricted Radio Operator Permit, Class A AIS, other requirements if operated in a VTS (like San Francisco Bay Area)
  • Up to date charts, Coast Pilot, Light List, Tide and Current Tables, Navigation Rules
  • Navigation lights (Matte black inboard screens if greater than 20m)
  • Sound producing device, and bell if over 12m
  • Various required placards (oil, pollution, waste management plan)
  • Certified marine sanitation device
  • Type I PFDs (this is a very common violation – Type II or III not allowed)
  • Ring buoy, 20″ OD minimum, orange for ocean routes
  • Visual distress signals, not expired
  • Fire extinguishers – proper size and quantity
  • Blower and backfire flame arrestor for gasoline engines
  • Safety orientation made prior to each journey
  • Passenger count left ashore
  • Emergency instructions posted
  • All systems properly engineered and operational
Clearly this is a daunting list for the guy or gal who just wants to take a few passengers out fishing for halibut on San Francisco Bay.  But it is the law. 

There are also several grey areas that are not obvious UPVs.  It gets complicated when an owner is using a recreational boat such as to entertain guests and where there might be a business relationship with those passengers as well.  The Coast Guard has interpreted that using your vessel in the process of even an innocent sales and marketing effort constitutes a quid pro quo relationship – where you might be inviting folks aboard who might be current or future clients.  This sort of outing constitutes a business relationship, and the vessel is actually a UPV – where all of the above requirements apply.


Charter Vessel

The other area which is a real problem is illegally run charter boats.  The USCG defines a “bareboat charter” as one which has a maximum of 12 passengers, and where the charterer assumes full command of the boat.  Also, the owner cannot provide the captain and also cannot be aboard.  

The popular online boat rental sites like Boatsetter and GetMyBoat have many boats for rent with “captain provided”.  This is not allowed, and these sites get around this requirement by having pre-approved captains who can be hired.  But, by law, the renter is allowed to use any captain they want or none at all.  At most, the owner can specify a minimum qualification for the captain.  If an advertisement includes requiring a supplied captain or the owner to be aboard, then it is a UPV and is limited to 6 passengers and all of the items in the above list are required.

It is difficult to comply with the regulations if you don’t know them, and the USCG doesn’t make it too easy to learn what is required.  But ignorance of the law is no excuse – violators are subject to a civil penalty fine of $60,000 or more for non-compliance.  Feel free to reach out to me if you are considering operating a UPV and want to learn more.  Happy to help.

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