Coast Guard, Partners Conduct Operations Targeting Illegal Hawaii Charters

Cutter Galveston Island (WPB 1349)
Cutter Galveston Island (WPB 1349)
U.S. Coast Guard members aboard the cutter Galveston Island (WPB 1349) patrol offshore in Maui, Hawaii. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa McKenzie.

U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement partners worked together throughout the month of September under Operation Kapena Kohole to curtail illegal boat charters within the Hawaiian Islands.

“Coast Guard Sector Honolulu (conducted) Operation Kapena Kohole alongside NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement to target and prevent recent cases of sea turtle, monk seal, and dolphin harassment reported from beachgoers and waterborne tours,” said Chief Warrant Officer Omar Perez, Sector Honolulu’s command security officer.

The state’s various harbors and marinas house a large commercial charter boat fleet. Within these legitimate operators, illegal charters disguise themselves as alternatives for hire, threatening the safety of an unaware public.

The master of a charter vessel must have appropriate merchant mariners credentials in order to legally operate a charter with passengers for hire. These credentials show that the operator has met certain proficiency requirements in navigation, seamanship, as well as steering and sailing rules.

Not possessing proper merchant mariner credentials or operating vessels not properly outfitted for commercial use poses significant risk to public safety and significant impact to the local economy, according to the USCG.

“Passengers should refrain from employing charters and tours from captains who do not advertise Coast Guard certification or possess valid merchant mariner credentials,” Perez remarked. “The credentials must be present at all times on all voyages; the dangers from engaging with unlicensed captains can be life threatening.”

The Coast Guard is urging anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and their merchant mariner credentials are up to date. For larger charter boats, or those with more than six passengers, ask for a Coast Guard issued certificate of inspection.

Also, charter vessels must have a sufficient number of personal flotation devices and other required lifesaving equipment onboard at all times for all passengers and crew. If the operator cannot produce appropriate credentials or equipment, passengers should not board the vessel.

Owners and operators of illegal charter boats can face up to $27,500 in fines for illegal passenger for hire operations. Illegal charter operations can be reported by contacting the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Command Center at (808) 842-2603 or