Full disclosure, I’m a legally operating charter captain in compliance since I started this business. My boat is permitted to participate in the fisheries I charter for. I am fully insured for my customers to do all of the activities I offer you and I am a legally operating my business in the state and county.
A few days ago I upgraded some of my advertising and it opened my eyes to how things are and how they are perceived from your end, the consumer. I was also boarded by the Coast Guard for a routine safety check recently. It was the first time I have been approached by any law enforcement agency in 3-4 years. I’m on the water in high traffic areas 300 days a year. Statistically, I have a 1/1000 chance of being boarded, but I’ll explain that later.
Real news first. The biggest problem for you is there is no way to check this:
Am I a licensed Captain?
Have I passed my random drug tests by the consortium I am required to be active in? Am I active in a random drug testing program?
Do you know my criminal history?
Do you know what I am insured to do?
Are you able to search any claims or past claims against my business?
Can you find any failure to comply with safety equipment or issues that involved the Coast Guard or FWC?
Do I fish legally or have the permits or licenses to fish these fisheries?
The back story is I was finally boarded as I intersected a Coast Guard patrol boat as I was going home from a charter. It was a crappy weather day and they came to me and I went to them. I know the drill and helped their inspection go smoothly. I was required to produce my drivers license, boat registration and basic safety equipment for 1 person. They did not inspect your safety equipment. They did not look at any of my fisheries permits. They did not look at my insurance, my operators permits, captains license, my TWIC card, my drug consortium card or my documentation that I was a business operating in Florida and Monroe County. They looked at 1/5th of my credentials and 1/5th of my most basic safety equipment on board. If I was running an illegal charter with the most very basic aspects in place, I would have 100% passed this inspection!!!!!! Ok, that’s really bad, but that’s half the problem.
The internet is the brain of money, information, lies and the manipulation of perception. I started my business from scratch and organically social review sites and social media led to my traction in the charter market. The game has and is evolving rapidly and the amount of deception is nothing short of fraudulent. Google recently bought Yelp. I hate hate hate Yelp. The most aggressive telemarketers that harass me daily. TripAdvisor and Google has always been the market standard, but yelp is a bought player now. Anyways, The number one Yelp ranked business was blank. Out of the next 5 ranked, I have heard of 1 business. I was number 6. I have never put any time into it, responded to reviews, paid any money or keep any info current. All of my “competition’ was further down in rank. I do not have competition. We all serve you, the visitors to the Keys and there are plenty of you. Nobody steals or takes business from anybody else. Generally, there are many tourists looking to charter to go around.
My point is simple. Do you understand when you search a charter company, the first 3 listings are paid placement? Do you understand that at least the top 5 pay to manipulate what you see? I’m top 5 generally speaking. I don’t pay to have or hide my reviews. Actually, I was shocked to learn Yelp hides some of my reviews so I can pay them to unlock them to make them visible to you and increase my ranking. It’s a horrible game that does not at all represent reality. The system of information you see is corrupt and bought and sold. It is completely biased advertisement.
Likely, I will have to raise my charter rates for many reasons. My boat insurance went way up because you are insured to be IN the water on my trips. Other operators may let you in the water. If you cut yourself on the dive ladder or step on something sharp on the bottom or have a medical issue in the water, neither of you are covered if their insurance company is not aware of you being in the water. That insurance clause adds 60% to a regular insurance policy. Nobody is checking. Nobody is asking either! That is the easiest corner to cut, saving $700-$900 a year.
There is a lot of seasonal residents here that offer charters to their friends and neighbors. They brought their boat down from New Jersey or wherever and are running it like they are there. That’s an even bigger nightmare if you had to go to court over a civil negligence or personal injury issue!! Many guys are operating and they have no website, no social media presence or no documentation. They take your credit card information over the phone. Personally, I don’t do that for obvious reasons. I have a secure booking site and use 3rd party retailers that protect your transactions. The same guys that take your card info by phone can buy their way into the top 10 of Yelp and they don’t really exist. It’s that easy to fool you. Nobody checks or discourages this from happening. For $500/month I could be an ex-con smoking meth with no captains license and buy my way into a top 10 ranking on Yelp or a social review site. I can create all the social media pages in a day and 10 pics a month from google images would make me look active and legit. It’s all bs smoke and mirrors now.
Daily/weekly/monthly I see the cheats and the corner cutters. I see you go on their boats and you have no idea. You have NO IDEA what boat you’re stepping on to!!! It’s fine when it works. I get it, you paid less. You probably got less too. And you put yourself in a really bad position, but nothing bad happened. Here’s my last story. I was looking for stock pics on google images to support this story. I found a boat in my neighborhood in stock images. It was a story about them being rescued as the boat was sinking offshore. He’s a local dealer of commodities and runs illegal charters. You are getting on to that boat with your family and 100 others like his boat!! Nobody is looking out for you. You are looking for the best deal. Those matches are made daily. I promise you that on a consumer level, you ignore what you don’t want to believe and coach yourself into believing what looks reasonable on the surface.
In September of this year, the requirements will be increasing for how I and others legally operate and who I report to. It is horribly intrusive and adds an extra 30 minutes a trip to office work. It will weed out many of the illegal guys in short order. The legal operators will nail every guy not operating legally and you may be on board when that goes down if you picked the wrong guy. The crack down on illegal charter operations is coming. If you paid $100 less or better than my rates, you are likely on an illegal charter. If you can’t find a wealth of information on your charter operator across multiple platforms, you are definitely on an illegal charter. If it doesn’t look like what the other guys are doing, you are on an illegal charter. I completely understand you have no way of knowing who is who. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to spot. You have to look out for yourself because nobody else even cares. I ask the guys that boarded me what they are doing about the enforcement of illegal charters and he seemed confused. The response was they are more concerned about safety violations and illegal immigrants. Well, we have a few go fast Homeland Security boats and immigrants don’t really come here anymore do to the policy shifts with Cuba. If they cared about safety equipment, they knew I was a charter captain and didn’t check your safety equipment or to see if I was a legal charter operator. Think about it.
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