Division of Boating and Waterways continues crafting For-Hire Vessel Licensing program

California’s oversight of non-navigable waters continues to evolve, according to a presentation at the May Division of Boating and Waterways Commission meeting.

BAKERSFIELD—State officials are progressing toward finalizing regulations for California’s For-Hire Vessel Operator program, according to a presentation given at the recent Division of Boating and Waterways Commission meeting.

California’s regulation of for-hire vessels applies to non-navigable waters – whereas the Coast Guard’s jurisdiction is over navigable waters.

Non-navigable waters are those that don’t lead to the ocean, Shaw explained. She added the Coast Guard is responsible for navigable waters, while the state’s jurisdiction is limited to non-navigable waters.

Paris Shaw, administrator for the state’s For-Hire Vessel Licensing and For-Hire Insurance Carrier programs, spoke to commissioners about California’s new role in regulating the charter boating space.

“A for-hire license is required by vessel operators who carry more than three passengers for compensation in non-navigable waters,” Shaw told commissioners. “Typical for-hire license holders are held by individuals who operate vessels for fishing excursions, summer camps, tours, water taxis, water skiing services and other related activities.”

California’s Division of Boating and Waterways had 301 active for-hire operators during the 2018 fiscal year and a $10,000 budget to proctor annual exams for for-hire vessel operators, Shaw told commissioners.

“During federal fiscal year 2018, the division issued 60 new licenses and 15 renewed licenses. The Division of Boating and Waterways has contracted with retired Lt. Doug Powell, who holds a 100-ton captain’s license through the United States Coast Guard and we continue to proctor exams statewide,” Shaw said.

Shaw added the division has a few goals for the upcoming year, such as establishing a fee for provided services. Collecting a fee would help the division operate a more cost-effective service, Shaw explained to commissioners.

Division of Boating and Waterways staff defines a for-hire vessel as “any vessel propelled by machinery carrying more than three passengers for-hire for valuable consideration, whether directly or indirectly flowing to the owner, charterer, operator, agent or any other person interested in the vessel.”

Anyone licensed to operate a for-hire vessel on non-federal waters must be at least 18 years old, have a minimum of one year’s experience in operating the type of boat for which the license is sought and maintain good physical condition. Licensed for-hire users must also possess proper training and education in the safe operation of a passenger vessel.

The division is also working to require all for-hire vessel operators to be properly insured.

“The division will be operating under the Public Utilities Commission general orders until the division is able to establish regulations,” Shaw told commissioners. “We will provide outreach to for-hire vessel carrier companies to inform them of the program guidelines and requirements. And we are working diligently with commercial marine insurance companies to educate them on for-hire company insurance requirements.”

Division of Boating and Waterways was, according to its staff, granted authority in 2018 to regulate for-hire vessels on state (non-navigable) waters. One of the initiatives the division took on was the For-Hire Vessel Carrier Insurance Verification Certificate program.

“The For-Hire Vessel Carrier Insurance Verification Certificate program verifies and documents mandatory insurance for all for-hire vessel companies that performs passenger transportation services for compensation (e.g. fishing charters, sightseeing tours, sunset cruises etc.) in California waters,” Division of Boating and Waterways staff stated.

“The division requires every for-hire vessel company to procure, and continue in effect so long as the for-hire vessel company continues to offer its services for compensation, adequate protection against liability imposed by law upon a for-hire vessel company for the payment of damages for personal bodily injuries, including death resulting from those services, and property damage as a result of an accident,” Division of Boating and Waterways staff continued.

There are 101 active applicants for the division’s For-Hire Vessel Carrier program, with more applications rolling in, according to Division of Boating and Waterways staff. Applicants must pay the division a $25 application fee.

Shaw can be reached at 916-327-1590 or for follow-up questions or general comments about the For-Hire Operator Licensing program.

The Division of Boating and Waterways Commission met in Bakersfield on May 30.

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