Classic Chartering in the Pacific Northwest

This page is to list available information and links of all kinds related to classic vessels operating charter services in the Pacific Northwest.

Pacific Northwest, definition:

In Canada it's really their Pacific Southwest, and in Alaska it's their SouthEast, and it's the Northeast of the Pacific Ocean, but for simplicity let's say Pacific Northwest refers to the Northwest portion of the North American continent that borders the Pacific Ocean.  (However, Central Alaska and the Aleutians are generally not included.)

Regions covered:

  • Puget Sound.  Olympia, Washington to Canadian border, including San Juan Archipelago.
  • British Columbia, including three diverse regions: inside Vancouver Island, Outside Vancouver Island, and the northern coast from Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert.
  • Southeast Alaska, from Ketchikan to Juneau, Sitka, Glacier Bay, etc.
  • Note: Puget Sound was named by Vancouver to generally cover the area south of Port Townsend.  However the name has come to be applied to the region as a whole, including the San Juans.  Recently, the name "Salish Sea" has been adopted to include all of the waters from Olympia to Port Hardy at the north end of Vancouver Island. 

Classic Charter Vessels:

U.S. Regulations:

  • Bareboat Charters:  Any vessel may be chartered as a bare boat charter, in which the charterer becomes in essence the Owner.  To be legal, the actual owner cannot specify a captain or crew for the boat, which could be construed as a way around the regulations for passenger for hire vessels. For example, to operate with a crew and take passengers for hire, the boat would be required to meet stringent Inspection regulations, or be limited to a small number of passengers.  If the owner could charter the boat to someone, but still specify the crew, they would be operating as a yacht and not have to meet any of the regulations.  So that is not allowed, and the Coast Guard is quite strict about it.

    Nevertheless, bareboat chartering is a big business for smaller boats that people can charter and run themselves.  They can hire their own crew too.  For classic yachts however, turning the boat over for charter to the general public is not usually done, as the boats require a level of care and upkeep beyond the typical modern fiberglass production boat, and most owners would not want to turn them over to just any captain and crew.

  • 6-Pack Vessels. Vessels can be offered for charter, with an owner or other captain, crew, and up to 6 paying passengers.  For this the vessel merely needs to meet the basic requirements for fire extinguishers, life jackets, etc. The Master must hold a U.S. Coast Guard license however.
  • 12-pack vessels.  For boats that are over 100 gross tons (but under 300 GT), as listed on their certificate of documentation, the same rules as listed for 6-pack vessels are applicable for up to 12 passengers. (But note that there are additional safety equipment requirements for vessels over 20 meters, which most boats over 100 tons are.  See Captain Mike Maurice's list here: Again the Master must hold a U.S. Coast Guard license, but it must be a 100-ton or above.  (Yes, a 100-ton license is acceptable to operate one of these vessels up to 200 tons, with no more than 12 passengers.) [ <-- This may be in error, seeking verivication.]
  • "Certified", or "Inspected" Vessels.  A vessel may be used for passengers for hire with more than 6 passengers by becomming an Inspected Vessel.  This involves hull construction plan approvals, specific arrangement requirements, detailed mechanical and electrical system approvals, and stability tests in order to obtain a Certificate of Inspection (COI).  Also, periodic Coast Guard inspections (generally annually for wooden vessels) must be done to keep the COI in force.
  • Wooden Vessels:  the Coast Guard will not accept wood as a construction material for passenger vessels over 100 gross tons, although there are some in that category that have been grandfathered in since they were certified prior to the change prohibiting wood. This is why they allow wooden vessels over 100 gross tons to operate Uninspected with 12-passengers instead of 6 -- 6 would not be commercially feasible, yet there would be no other option for carrying more without the ability to become certified. 

    So most larger wooden vessels (over about 80 feet) operating charters, do so as Uninspected 12-pack vessels, which works fine for the longer cruises in the Pacific Northwest, but rules them out as day-party-boats for larger groups like weddings, etc. This makes for an odd situation: a 65-foot wooden classic can be certified for say 35 passengers and go out and do weddings and party cruises, yet a larger, presumably safer, vessel is limited to 12 passengers no matter what.

  • Manning Requirements: For Uninspected Passenger Vessels under 200GT, a licensed Master is required, and generally no additional licensed crew.  Inspected vessels will have their manning requirements written into their COI's. For Info on obtaining a U.S. Coast Guard Master's License: Masters License Info
  • Jones Act:: To be used for carrying any number of passengers for hire between US ports, a vessel must be U.S.-built, U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged, and U.S.-manned (per Passenger Vessel Services Act and Jones Act.) Exemptions may be granted -- boat must be at least 3 years old -- see this page at the PVA site for details.
  • International Voyages:  Although STCW certification of crew members is normally required for International voyages, the Coast Guard’s website says: “STCW only applies to Mariners employed on vessels greater than 200 Gross Register Tons (Domestic Tonnage), or 500 Gross Tons (ITC Tonnage), operating seaward of the boundary lines specified in Title 46 CFR Part 7.”   NOTE: In the United States, certain mariners are exempted from the STCW requirements. Specifically, you do not need STCW ratings if you serve on vessels less than 200 gross tons, that sail on voyages which begin and end in a United States port. This is called a "Domestic Voyage".

    Charters should begin and end in the US, otherwise STCW requirements and possibly SOLAS requirments will apply.

    Charter trips into Canada
    (Applies to Inspected or Uninspected Passenger Vessels, but not bareboat charters):

    USCG National Vessel Movement Center  For info on requirements for passenger lists and checking OUT of US Customs.

    Note: Foreign private yachts require the use of a Canadian pilot if over 500 GT. This was changed from 350 GT in January 2010. (Passenger vessels, including charter vessels with with an advertised itinerary and paying passengers, must still obtain a pilot if over 350 GT.)

    Advance Notice of Arrival (Section 160.202, 160.203)
    You must file an NOA at least 24 hours before leaving Canada. If weather causes a delay more than 6 hours, you must report the change.

    All ‘Commercial’ vessels and vessels over 300GRT entering the US must electronically report an Advance Notice of Arrival to the National Vessel Movement Center, which fulfills vessel reporting requirements for both the USCG and Customs and Border Protection, via To file electronically, the master, owner, agent, or person in charge of the vessel must create an account, so have all your vessel documents and crew passports handy, and expect to spend some time setting it up the first time. (Note – filing electronically, regardless of whether you are required to file electronically, is the way to go. Once your profile is set up on NVMC, it is much easier than filing locally.)

    US recreational vessels are exempt from filing. However UPV's are considered commercial service and therefore must file NOA's. [See comment below.]