Coast Guard Licensing is Required on Lake Champlain

A Fishing Guide Or Tow Boat Operator
Must Be Sanctioned By The Coast Guard On Lake Champlain

US Coast Guard Licensed

Simply owning a boat and having a little fishing knowledge does not qualify a person to charter or guide fishermen on Lake Champlain. In fact, those of us who have gone through the considerable time, effort and expense to study, test and eventually obtain the Coast Guard Captainís license, and other associated credentials to work on Lake Champlain, take pride in being properly trained, sanctioned and insured. Becoming a NY State guide is an honorable achievement but that badge in and of itself does not meet the criteria for operating on Federal waters like Lake Champlain.

In accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations 46 on navigable waters like Lake Champlain a fishing charter operator, Captain or guide must first be tested and sanctioned by the United States Coast Guard. They must hold a current OUPV or Master Captainís license, and a Department of Homeland Security transportation workerís credential (TWIC). In addition these operators must be enrolled in a random drug testing program that is approved by the Coast Guard. Also, a Coast Guard Captainís license and an assistance towing endorsement are both required to charge compensation for aiding or towing distressed boaters. Donít be fooled; without these credentials a tower or a fishing guide is operating in violation of the law and cannot even be insured for business on Lake Champlain.

Clients like Marty pay our guides reasonable rates for legal, safe and successful charter fishing opportunities on Lake Champlain.

The Coast Guardís primary mission on Lake Champlain is search and rescue, but they have recently ramped up enforcement efforts to address illicit fishing guides and unlicensed marina operators who charge for towing disabled vessels. The following press release was issued in February 2013,

PORTLAND, Maine -- The Coast Guard imposed a $6,000 civil penalty to a Lake Champlain mariner for illegally operating an uninspected passenger vessel (UPV).

The civil penalty followed a Coast Guard investigation which found that the mariner operated a vessel as a for-hire fishing charter in 2012, without a valid Coast Guard-issued UPV Master's License or Merchant Mariner Credential, and without being enrolled in a drug and alcohol screening program, as required by federal law. The mariner had previously received formal warnings from a Coast Guard official for the illegal operation.

The Coast Guard investigates allegations of violations of federal laws and regulations to promote marine safety and pursue enforcement action against parties found to be in violation.

For more information, contact Mr. Ed Green, Detached Marine Inspector Burlington, Vermont, (802) 951-6792, Ext. 231

This illicit guide service was first given fair warning by letter from the US Coast Guard. As of this writing, the service continues to operate with unlicensed guides, in spite of that warning and their subsequent civil fine. What kind of integrity does this business operator have if he knowingly hires unlicensed guides and coaches those guides, and their paying clients, to lie to law enforcement agencies day in and day out over a period of many years? Why would a client pay good money for a fishing charter and then subject themselves to this kind of treatment? There are also reports from their former clients that fish and game laws are being broken. This is not the example that legitimate licensed Captains and guides want to set on their home waters! Charter Captains should be held to a higher standard. A responsible guide should mentor and lead their clients, both young and old, with stewardship and sportsmanship.

In light of the recent drowning of a whitewater client while on a guided river outing in downstate NY, the Department of Environmental Conservation as well as the Coast Guard have become active in assuring that operators are properly credentialed for the bodies of water and lands where they are guiding. Other agencies that monitor the lake are also becoming more vigilant regarding unlicensed guides and tow boat operators. When it comes down to the safety of the public, or misguided sportsmanship and blatant disregard for fish and game laws, complacency by any law enforcement agency is not an option! Captains who attempt to do the right thing in earning and maintaining their credentials respect and work in cooperation with law enforcement agencies on Lake Champlain, not the other way around.

It is understandable if some operators were not aware of CFR 46 and its restrictions. Hopefully the dissemination of information contained in this commentary will help educate those who aspire to guide or tow on Lake Champlain. The Coast Guard is also reaching out to marine business operators to make people aware of the laws. These efforts will likely level the playing field for legitimate Captains who have jumped through hoops and over hurdles to be sanctioned, by deterring those who would blatantly compete without licenses. And, it will certainly lead to safer and more professional operations on Lake Champlain.

Postscript - Captain Mickey Maynard is a 100 Ton US Coast Guard licensed Master Captain. He holds an assistance towing endorsement and a Homeland Security TWIC credential. Captain Mick also has an Able Bodied Seaman Unlimited Merchant Mariners Document with an STCW 95 certification. He is owner/operator of Lake Champlain Angler Fishing Charters and Lake Champlain Marine Resource and Services.
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