The reader is referring to the type of charter commonly known as a “six-pack,” because it is limited to six paying passengers. A six-pack charter may be operated on a boat that has not been inspected and certified for passenger service by the Coast Guard, as long as the boat has a “coastwise” endorsement on its Coast Guard documentation.
A Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection will allow the carriage of more passengers, but compliance with the Coast Guard’s inspection standards is very expensive. The six-passenger limit is, therefore, an attractive option for small boats that are chartered part-time.
There are no specific limitations on the number of crew who may work on a boat during a legitimate six-pack charter. However, at the risk of offending the reader who asked this question, I suspect that he is not really interested in hiring a large crew. Instead, he is probably hoping to get around the six-passenger limit by claiming that a number of the passengers are actually crewmembers. This is a bad idea — for a number of reasons.
The mischaracterization of a passenger as a crewmember has been tried many times, and you may rest assured that both the Coast Guard and your insurance company are aware of the trick. An illegal charter may result in thousands of dollars in fines, and a possible denial of insurance coverage.
The passengers may play along with the scheme at first, because it may allow them to bring a larger party with them on an inexpensive charter boat. However, when confronted by an investigator, they are likely to tell the truth rather than face a charge of perjury or a claim of insurance fraud.
The test for this is not complicated. A legitimate “crewmember” on a charter boat will be paid some form of compensation, and have specific duties relating to the operation of the boat.
Passengers will make some form of payment to the boat for the voyage, either individually or as a part of a group. It may be possible for a non-paying guest of the owner to fall outside both of these categories, but that person will be counted as a passenger if he or she has any relationship at all to the paying passengers.
As noted above, a boat owner who engages in illegal chartering may have to pay a fine if the Coast Guard uncovers the scheme. The fine, however, may be insignificant when compared to the possible denial of insurance coverage.
A personal injury claim against the boat will give rise to a maritime lien that has priority even over a mortgage, and the boat will not be protected if the owner files bankruptcy. Further, if the injured person happens to be one of the passengers designated as a “crewmember,” that person may have additional rights as a merchant seaman under the federal Jones Act.
A charter business is a risky economic venture that is subject to a long list of complicated regulations. Compliance with these regulations requires careful analysis and planning, even where the boat owners are genuinely trying to keep everything legitimate. A competent maritime attorney should be consulted at the very beginning of the venture.