Port of San Diego finally releases draft of illegal charter ordinance

District will hold an outreach meeting on Oct. 10 to discuss changes and record feedback.

SAN DIEGO—The best things come to those who wait? Turns out a group of charter boat operations in San Diego have waited quite a long time for a formal policy regulating illegal chartering activities at California’s southwestern-most harbor. A proposed policy is finally on the table for legal charter operators to review – and they will have a chance to provide the Port of San Diego with some feedback. Time will tell whether the port district and stakeholder arrived at the best possible outcome.

The port district, nonetheless, is hosting a meeting on Oct. 10, giving interested parties the opportunity to review proposed changes to charter vessel regulations. Attendees will also be able to provide port district staff with feedback on the proposed ordinance.

Port district staff has specifically proposed the following changes to charter vessel operations:

  • Issue permits
  • Collect license agreement fees
  • Appeals process for denied, revoked or suspended permits
  • Insurance requirements.

The updated regulations, if approved, would apply to all charter vessels operations at San Diego Bay marinas and sportfishing landings. The regulations would also allow the port district “to issue permits to qualified charter vessel operators who conduct their businesses outside of a marina or sportfishing landing.”

Charter vessel operators have been complaining about illegal charters for several years. The port district took a more proactive role on the issue during the past two or three years, seeking to update its codes to be as up-to-date as possible on alleged illegal charter operations within San Diego Bay.

An illegal charter task force was created in 2018 to start addressing complaints on the issue.

“In recent years, members of the public have raised concerns about illegal vessel charters that do not comply with laws or the port’s permitting requirements,” port district staff stated. “Concerns have included non-compliance with Coast Guard licensing and regulations, lack of adequate insurance, unsafe conditions or operations, lack of an appropriate agreement with a marina or sportfishing landing and avoidance of rent payments to the port for conducting charter vessel operations.

“Businesses that don’t follow the rules may risk public safety and may have an unfair competitive advantage over legitimate charter operations,” port district staff continued.

Legal charter vessel operators in San Diego Bay are currently required to obtain a permit from the marina or sportfishing landing where they board passengers – there is no official oversight by the port district.

“There are more charter vessel operators than there are available slips at the marinas and sportfishing landings on San Diego Bay,” port district staff stated.

Legal charter vessel operators added their counterparts have another competitive advantage: no payment of fees. Illegal operators do pay any fees to the port district, marinas or sportfishing landings, meaning they have more money for advertising or using other means to “steal” customers away from legal charter vessel operations.

The Log last covered the issue of illegal charter operations in January, when a few interested parties expressed frustration about the port district’s slow-moving process to regulate wrongdoers. A draft policy on updated illegal charter vessel operations was to be presented to interested parties at the beginning of 2019. The draft policy was finally made available on Sept. 27.

It could still be a little while before any changes are implemented. The port district would likely refine the draft policy after the Oct. 10 outreach meeting and before presenting it to the Board of Port Commissioners.

The commission would likely make a few recommendations, as well – meaning port district staff would have to update its draft policy. At some point the board would vote on the policy and set a timetable for implementation.

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