Dock Lines

Illegal charters and short-term vacation rentals: two peas in a pod

SAN DIEGO — Staff at several marinas report their jobs now entail daily whack-a-mole duties, searching websites for illicit charter and short-term vacation rentals – or STVRs – located at their marinas. Illicit overnight rentals are difficult to police, they explain. As soon as they identify one and shut it down or boot the offender from the marina, more show up.

As with STVRs, one owner reaps the financial benefits of unauthorized overnight boat rentals or charter operations, while surrounding slipmates endure the negative behavior and loss. Remember when a pleasure craft was just that, a boat used for recreational purposes? When people bought a boat or home they could reasonably afford, not one they intend to finance by renting it out for illegal charters or questionable “vacation” occupancy?

Operators of illegal charters and vacation rentals, whether on land or water, bear striking similarities.

Increasingly I’ve heard about boat owners’ intent to “maximize the profitability of my asset.”

I first heard this phrase bandied about during endless public hearings I’ve attended focused on reining in and regulating short-term vacation rentals of homes and condos. Just to be clear, I feel these STVRs are destroying the residential character of our communities in California and elsewhere just as they’re reducing our already-scarce housing stock.

I loathe how vacation rentals are ruining quality of life for hard-working residents. I’ve looked in the faces of my neighbors, young professionals, booted from their apartments to satisfy the greed of their already-rich landlord, who now receives in one week what he previously charged monthly. Opportunistic property owners have evicted families and seniors from their long-term rentals, now STVRs, leaving former tenants nowhere to go.

This new attitude towards extracting maximum profits from property assets has spread to our recreational boating community. Illegal conversion from personal vessels to charter boats or unauthorized B&Bs has become rampant.

Why not let others pay for our pleasure craft through their part-time rental? Well because it usually violates well-established laws or regulations that protect the boating public.

Regarding such “AirBnB”-type boats: I’ve endured the noise and erratic behavior of unruly dockside “vacationers” clueless about boats and marine systems – and seen the results when an ignorant crowd of drunken party-goers unbalanced and sank a houseboat. Yes, the owners lost their “asset,” but mostly such owners milk their assets without paying any taxes or regulatory fees.

It’s quite a comedy observing boat owners who’ve proclaimed their intent to “maximize the profitability of their asset,” welcome “friends,” clearly strangers, aboard their boats for paid cruises.

Are the owners licensed captains, required under Coast Guard regulations, if they’re taking paid guests on cruises or fishing trips? Do they have required permits, inspections, safety equipment and insurance? Are they paying local taxes or port fees?

Boat owners seeking to rent their boat illicitly, as with many STVR owners, assert it’s their property and they can use it as they wish. Besides, all those licenses and rules are too costly and time-consuming when they’re ready to profit from their asset. Scofflaws often dismiss these rules, regulations and zoning laws as just an irrelevant nuisance, designed to collect money for the government, even though most rules originated with a tragedy and/or were enacted to protect public safety.

For boats, marina rental contracts determine whether tenants can operate a business from their boat. Some marinas allow limited overnight rentals and charter operations, usually under special contracts with specified insurance and other requirements, designed to protect the marina, the operator and other tenants.

For this complex issue we need more public hearings and rules and regulation, not less, as well as considerably more and consistent enforcement.




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9 thoughts on “Illegal charters and short-term vacation rentals: two peas in a pod

  • Michael M

    In a free country, what right do you or the government have to tell people how best to utilize their own private property? What, our government isn’t oppressive enough, so let them become even more oppressive? The problem with our country is too many regulations and too big of a government! Plus, too many people stealing the liberty of other people. That is why we now live in a benevolent police state and not a free country anymore.

    • Lance

      This article is disturbing! Rules and more regulations to what is a “leisure” and should be able to do what ever your leisure owner of your assets or wants to do with its leisure time aboard it’s vessel! Do it with class, taste and don’t bother others. Chose your tenets, guests or passengers with consideration and respect of others so everyone can enjoy what a great opportunity it is to be on the water! Share, care and teach others the amazing boat world to the younger generation instead of being locked on to video games and tv! Rules, regulations, taxes is the reason kids don’t even want to play outside anymore then learn be isolation indoors. Then again people wonder why there are mass shootings and so much hate…. Starts with people that think like this article!

  • Sailboat Scotty

    I don’t feel like saying the government is oppressive helps to address the issue. I think the issue is what do you want, or expect your community to look like? My community heavily regulates zoning / buildings / use and I appreciate that; some (like Mike above) may fancy the opposite and that’s fine for them. However, short term rentals are disrupting vacation towns that negatively affect full-time residents. I see this happening in marinas the same way. If I knew the 34 Carver next to me at the marina was a short term rental I would not appreciate it. Bottom line: regulating private property (homes or boats) is a balancing act that needs to reflect what the community wants.

  • Do marina communities have rules and covenants similar to HOA’s (home owners associations)?

  • Families with kids appreciate vacation rentals because they are generally less costly then staying in hotel rooms without kitchens. I’m not sure how they can disrupt residential communities or marinas more than longer term tenants or homeowners would. Rowdy parties are usually organized by locals with friends in the community and not by the typical vacation rental guests.

    • Alice S

      Gated marina communities are a different beast. The boat owner, responsible for those within the confines of the marina, are held responsible. HOWEVER, during vacation rentals, as with homes on land, there is no owner present and the boat is entrusted to the tenant. But unlike homes, the vacationer has access to all properties there. As mentioned, marinas are GATED for a reason: only paid vessel owners are given permission to enter and sign off on ALL the governing rules (not at all unreasonable). When unescorted strangers are allowed, this opens up a whole new set of safety concerns for the marina as well as the PAYING owners. The point being, no matter how secure one makes the vessel, those unruly strangers can and do illegally board other boats, and as you may have read, cause damage to the one being rented. This is a rightful concern.

  • I have been allowing my boat to be chartered for 5 years now. I use a management company that has sailing classes and offers charters to those certified new sailors or other vetted sailors. I also have served as captain on other boats. Yes, I am a USCG licensed captain to 50 ton. I think the problem I am seeing in my marina is the lack of respect that these people who know nothing about boats, marinas, or being neighborly show to others around them. And the boat owners take little to no responsibility (the real problem). The bottom line is if you are taking money for either allowing people to stay on your boat or to take them out, you are a business. You are required to pay all fees and taxes associated with owning a business, and should not be allowed to run your business in an area that is not zoned for such a business. Furthermore the renters should absolutely not be allowed to use/destroy the marina facilities.

  • First of all marinas are the private property of the marina owner. When you lease a slip you agree NOT to rent out your boat as a vacation rental. It is a part of all slip rental agreements. Secondly, as a slip holder, I want to enjoy the use of my slip without having a constant flow of non-boaters, partying next to me. This was promised to me when I rented the slip. Your logic about a free country is rediculous.

  • Marla Keith

    The code of federal regulations covers the use of all vessels. When a boat owner takes money for people to “use” his boat, a captain must be aboard. If there are sleeping passengers aboard there must be a night watch. These are not options, and ignoring them can cost you a lot of money, your vessel ceased and possibly jail time. The US Coast Guard takes their responsibility quite serious.



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