Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners Approves Amendment to Charter Vessel Regulation

The proposed amendment to the existing San Diego Unified Port District Code Section 4.37 – regulation of Six Pac charters aims to ensure public safety, protect consumers, and create an even playing field for all charter vessel businesses.

SAN DIEGO— The Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance amending the section of district code regulating Six Pac charters to include all charter operations in San Diego Bay and district tidelands at its May 11 meeting.

The approved ordinance requires all charter vessels and operators meet safety requirements, provide adequate insurance, comply with all applicable laws and U.S. Coast Guard regulations, charters using tenant marinas and landings to display a decal on their vessels, and prohibits all charters from using the port’s public facilities for loading and unloading. Violations can be enforced starting July 1, except decal display, which will be enforceable starting Sept. 1.

“We are confident that what we have before you today is a good starting point for regulating charters in the bay,” said Annette Dahl, the Port of San Diego real estate department manager, at the meeting.

Illegal charters have been an ongoing problem in San Diego for years. The port has regulated Six Pac charter vessel operations since 2001 and has been working on amending the regulation since 2018 to include the many other types of charters now operating in the bay.

The amendment aims to ensure public safety, protect consumers, regulate and police unpermitted charters, and level the playing field for charter operators, according to the ordinance.

A first version of a draft ordinance was presented to the board in January after several months of stakeholder review. Public commenters still had some concerns and commissioners voted to direct staff to work with stakeholders one more time and come back with new revisions.

The first proposed ordinance would have required all charter operations to obtain a permit from the port, allowed charters unable to secure a place in a marina or sportfishing landing to use certain district facilities, and required charter operators to collect certain information for each passenger.

Port district staff said in their continued discussion with stakeholders, concerns were raised that the allowance of the use of public docks would result in unfair competition, that the requirement of a permit from the port would create a duplicative process for tenant charters, and that it was unclear what the cost for the permits and licenses would be.

To address these concerns, staff revised the proposed ordinance to prohibit use of public facilities, which may be reconsidered in the future; replace the permit process with a decal to be issued by tenants; and to limit the fee for the decal to the cost of producing it.

“4.37 when amended will serve to protect the public, help ensure passenger safety though vetting of charter operations and give the Harbor Police and other agencies the tools necessary to enforce compliance with for-hire ventures operating in San Diego,” said Frank Ursitti, president of United Sportfishers of San Diego Inc. and operator of H&M Landing, in a public comment supporting the ordinance at the meeting.

Troy Sears, owner of Next Level Sailing and The Yacht America, also spoke in support of the ordinance in a public comment at the meeting. While Sears said he supported the ordinance, he raised concern that it provided amnesty for charters that have operated illegally in the past and provides amnesty for illegal charters in the future.

“It definitely produces negative emotions for me as I watched over the weekend operators who have been performing unregulated charters for years will never have to pay the port for those charters,” said Sears.

“It certainly doesn’t correct something that may have happened in the past but we’re really looking forward to clear, established rules leading to again, in our view, an even playing field going forward,” said Simon Kann, deputy general counsel at Port of San Diego.

Throughout the first year, staff will collect data and report back with findings and recommended adjustments or changes.

“As Annett said it’s not perfect at this time but it’s a giant step forward and we’re moving in the right direction,” said Commissioner Garry Bonelli.


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