Photo by Dorie Cox
Correctly interpreting yacht rules and regulations is a challenge for yacht captains and crew to navigate. Fortunately, for the past few years at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Shows, a panel of experts has answered questions and clarified complexities of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami and U.S. Customs and Border Protection rules.
The audience of captains, crew and industry professionals asked questions, usually based on a previous or current situation with yachts. Topics included:
“No-go” zones officially known as Regulated Navigation Areas (RNA)
Several recent incidents have had larger vessels inadvertently navigate or anchor where they are not supposed to be throughout the country. An example that highlighted the topic was a yacht that anchored in a regulated area in the Florida Keys over the Christmas holiday.
There are six different categories of regulations that can be found on floridakeys.noaa.gov for protected areas, according to Benjamin Adrien, Chief of Waterways with U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami.
“We can interact with vessels to prevent problems,” Adrien said. There are diverse regulations, and mariners need to carefully check each area. Because of depths, coral reefs, currents, and other factors, there is no one rule for every yacht tonnage, draft, and length in every RNA.
“Each area’s regulations are different,” Adrien said. Yacht captains may think the yacht size doesn’t matter, but it does.
Non-vessel tank response plans basically detail procedures in case of an incident, such as an overfilled fuel tank, vessel grounding, boat collision or a hull failure.
“We re-released information for vessel response plans and Notice of Arrivals for over 300gt on Homeport [homeport.uscg.mil],” said Krystyna Rogers, Port State Control branch chief with U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami. “We noticed lots of violations, so we re-published last week.”
The USCG is considering one-time wavers, she said. “A one-time waiver is a port specific determination to determine if it will be accepted. At the end of the day, it comes down to the captain of the port in each area.”
Yacht crew were considered essential workers during the pandemic, and that still stands.
“Crew are considered essential, they will fall under the exemption,” said Paul Shoupe, chief of Port Everglades with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). But enforcement falls to others.
“We have no formal guidance on vaccine requirements. CBP is not the enforcer of that. We will not check vaccine status,” Shoupe said. “That is the requirement of [airline] carriers or owners of yachts to confirm that requirements are met.”
USCG vessel stops
An audience member said he noticed the USCG doing more courtesy checks in the South Florida area.
“For federal rules, we can stop any vessel,” said USCG Commander Elliott. “There have been lots of illegal charters. There may be telltale signs that an officer may see. Maybe that is why there is an uptick. We have seen a 230% increase during COVID. It is a top priority for us.”