Stanley Yacht Services: USVI Charter Yachts Get 12-Pack For The Holidays Coast Guard Bill Affecting Passenger Limits Passes

Saturday, December 20, 2014

USVI Charter Yachts Get 12-Pack For The Holidays
Coast Guard Bill Affecting Passenger Limits Passes

Christmas came a few days early for certain charter boat operators in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday when President Obama signed the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation contains a regulatory amendment which will double, up to 12, the number of passengers affected charter yachts can carry on board.

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Named in honor of the retiring congressman from North Carolina, who is also the only current member of Congress to have served in the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coble Act authorizes appropriations totaling over $17 billion for service operations during the next two fiscal years. The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), deemed the funds necessary to ensure "the men and women of the Coast Guard have the tools they need to carry out their critical missions, enforce our laws on U.S. waters and the high seas, and safeguard our Nation's maritime interests around world." According to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the legislation also "encourages job growth in the U.S. maritime industry by cutting regulatory burdens on job creation."

Operators of mid-sized charter boats have been dealing with one such regulatory burden since 1993 when the Passenger Vessel Safety Act placed a 6 passenger limit on boats weighing less than 100 tons. The so-called "6-pack" restriction had an especially negative impact on the crewed charter business in the U.S. Virgin Islands, resulting in $70-$100 million in lost annual revenue, as reported to Congress this year by the territory's non-voting delegate, Donna Christensen. Apparently, this was the result of charter yachts taking their business to the neighboring British Virgin Islands, where vessel inspection regulations are less stringent and the 6 passenger limit does not apply.

Sunny with a 100% chance of more guests on board
Now, with the passage of the Coble Act, and pursuant to an amendment practically hidden therein, an uninspected, U.S.-flagged vessel less than 24 meters in length (about 79 feet) operating in the U.S. Virgin Islands will be permitted to carry up to 12 passengers as long as the yacht meets safety standards identical to those imposed by the British Virgin Islands for similar vessels.

Needless to say, reaction in the British Virgin Islands to this "12-pack" amendment is lukewarm, if not, frigid. Some local commentators offered cautious optimism, seeing the change as possibly benefiting both territories in the Virgin Island archipelago. Others have expressed concern, especially given other factors, such as tax savings, which already make basing charter operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands more favorable.

Meanwhile, in a recent press release, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor John de Jongh, Jr. welcomed the bill's passage, stating, "This legislation is a critical first step in our journey to regain our position as the world's leader in this important industry sector."

Here on the mainland, our own charter captain and crew are waiting to see if lawmakers will give any consideration to making a similar passenger limit adjustment for mid-sized vessels operating in this region. It'd certainly add a sparkle to our future holiday season[s]. So, we're standing by, hopefully on the "nice list"....

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