Do Six-Pack Charter Rules Apply to a ‘Boat and Breakfast’ Operation?

I own a four-stateroom motoryacht that I am setting up in a charter business. I understand that I am limited to six paying passengers, or a “six-pack” charter while I am under way. However, the boat will sleep eight people comfortably and I am thinking of setting up a “Boat and Breakfast” operation to cater to overnight guests. Do Coast Guard regulations apply to my dockside use of the boat?
The reader is referring to the Coast Guard regulation (46 C.F.R. sec. 2.01-7), which allows a vessel measuring under 100 gross tons to carry up to six paying passengers without undergoing a rigorous Coast Guard inspection (the limit is increased to 12 passengers if the boat measures more than 100 gross tons).

“Six-pack” charters offer a relatively inexpensive avenue for small sportfishing and excursion vessels to be used in a charter business, since they can avoid the expensive Coast Guard inspection process. These operations are not, however, completely free from regulation.

Regarding the reader’s “boat and breakfast” idea, we should first note that Coast Guard regulations apply to any boat that is carrying passengers for hire, whether it is tied to the dock, at anchor or under way. As such, the “boat and breakfast” will be subject to these regulations, and it will be limited to six overnight guests, even if they are staying aboard while the boat is dockside.

One regulation that is often overlooked for six-pack charters, and which would also apply to the “boat and breakfast” idea, is the U.S.-build requirement. The United States is one of many nations that protect their domestic transportation industries through “cabotage” laws. These laws require the transportation of passengers or cargo between U.S. ports to be performed aboard U.S.-registered and U.S.-built vessels.

The U.S.-build requirement may be waived in some cases by submitting an application to the U.S. Maritime Administration. However, many six-pack charters are conducted aboard foreign-built boats without a waiver, simply because this requirement is rarely enforced for uninspected boats. Regardless of the risk of getting caught, this is obviously not a good idea. An illegal charter may result in thousands of dollars in fines, and a possible denial of insurance coverage. 

Another regulation that would interfere with the “boat and breakfast” idea is the requirement that all vessels be operated by a licensed captain when carrying at least one paying passenger. Like the other regulations, this regulation is effective even when the boat is tied to the dock. A licensed captain of a “boat and breakfast” would therefore need to spend the night aboard the boat with the paying guests, even if the boat never leaves the dock.

Many of these regulations may seem unnecessary for a boat that will never get under way. The Coast Guard, however, looks at the ease with which a boat that is tied to the dock may be untied from the dock, and they err on the side of caution.

The only way to avoid the regulations would be to “remove the vessel from navigation” in such a way that it is impossible, or at least highly improbable, that the boat will ever leave the dock. Queen Mary in Long Beach is a good example of this, since it is stuck in the mud inside a rock breakwater.

A boat that is locked and chained to the dock may also qualify, but the local Coast Guard Marine Safety Office should be contacted before trying this approach. And, as always, a maritime attorney experienced in passenger vessel regulation should be contacted for more information.

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