News & DepartmentsNewsletter

Discussion About New Charter Boat Regulations in San Diego to Continue to March

Port of San Diego staff on Jan. 19 presented the Board of Port Commissioners with a draft ordinance aimed at curbing illegal charter activity.

SAN DIEGO—A culmination of the efforts of the Port of San Diego to address the issue of illegal charters in San Diego was presented to the Board of Port Commissioners in the form of a draft ordinance at the commission’s Jan. 19 meeting.

The proposed ordinance would amend the section of the Port Code dealing with charter operators to require all charter operations to obtain a permit, allow charters unable to secure a place in a marina or sportfishing landing to use certain district facilities, require all charters to pay a fee for use of district property and provide enforceable regulation and oversight for all types of charters.

“We believe the amended ordinance will create a level playing field by ensuring public safety and protecting consumers,” said Port of San Diego Assistant General Counsel Ellen Gross at the meeting.

Staff also recommended issuing a request for proposals to hire a manager of charter operations to oversee compliance, issue all charter permits and license agreements, collect permit and license fees, manage a database of legal operators and manage charter operations at district-approved facilities.
“We know that changes may need to be made, it will not be perfect, we will learn a lot of how much we don’t know but we know that we can come back and continue to perfect this,” Gross said at the meeting.

Staff recommended that the board pass the amendment, but after hearing about half a dozen public comments from current legitimate charter operations in San Diego, the commissioners voted to continue the item to the March board meeting and direct staff to work with stakeholders one more time.

“I like the licensing requirement, I’m fine with those portions of it, but when you get towards sort of the fundamental issue of these illegal charters, I too am not so sure we are actually addressing that fundamental issue,” said Commissioner Rafael Castellanos.

The proposed amendment would allow charters to operate from select district-approved facilities, starting with just the Shelter Island Guest Docks, the National City Pepper Park Dock, and the Chula Vista Launch Ramp. It would also add a permitting fee for all charter vessel operations regardless of where they are operating and another licensing fee for operators using district property. Those fees have not yet been set, another sticking point for some. Had the ordinance passed, it was expected those fees would have been set before the amendment took effect on June 1.

Many of the charter operators who spoke at the meeting raised concerns that the ordinance would not help curb the number of people operating in the shadows.

“I appreciate the efforts of this ordinance to potentially curb this criminal activity,” said Ken Manzoni, owner of Adventuress Luxury Catamaran, during the public comment period, “However, I am dubious as to whether this ordinance will have any effect on illegal charters at all. This resolution will however add direct and administrative costs to legitimate charter operators, thus making it harder and more expensive for legitimate operators to do business.”

The port district has been working on a policy to address illegal charters for the past several years. Since 2001, the Port Code has included a section regulating six-pack sportfishing charters operating from a marina or sportfishing landing. However, the current regulations do not regulate any other types of charters.

“Charter vessel operations now include whale watching, party boats, jet skis, kayaks, private event charters, and larger fishing vessels, just to name a few examples,” Harbor Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said at the Port Commission meeting.

Like many harbors nationwide, illegal charters have been an ongoing problem in San Diego for years. A team was assembled two-years-ago in response to public input about the number of illegal charter operators and demands to allow for charter operations at other locations due to no availability at marinas and sportfishing landings. The first draft ordinance was provided for stakeholder review and input in October 2019 and public comments were accepted through February 2020.

The topic is expected to be picked back up at the Board of Port Commissioners meeting on March 9.

Share This:


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *