There's been a lot of chatter on the message boards about the US Coast
Guard "cracking down" on guides that work on the federally controlled
waterways in the area. Some of the waters that have been in the
spotlight lately are the Mississippi, the St. Croix Rivers and Lake
Vermilion. The law the Coast Guard is enforcing requires vessels for hire to
have the operator obtain an O.U.P.V. license that's issued by the Coast
It's very clear. The guides that haven't gone through the licensing are very, very unhappy about the law (and it's enforcement as of late) and the guides that have the license are happy. This means more business for them, although many are ducking for cover to keep a low profile. Why? Because they don't want to be targeted as the "snitch", turning in unlicensed guides. I can't blame them, everyone is connected in the fishing industry one way or another.
It's time for the guiding industry to stand up and take a lead on either following the laws or changing them. It's just plain wrong to feel uncomfortable because of following the law. The people that should feel uncomfortable are the guides that knowingly shrug off the law and the people that support this illegal activity!
When I spoke with Officer John Nay of th CG's St Paul office inquiring the purpose of this law, his response was "It's all about safety. When people hire a guide, they expect a certain level of safety." And safety is what the Coast Guard focuses on. They require a physical, a background check, random drug testing, CPR and basic first aid certificates along with a properly equipped vessel which includes boat registration.
About a week ago, I was contacted by the Neil McMillin the USCG District Staff Officer
from the Eighth Western Rivers Region. He's been contacting advertised guides to join in a voluntary boat inspection. The purpose of these inspections is to help ensure boaters have the proper safety equipment on board and are complying with the licensing laws. The CG offers this inspection to anyone that asks for one, not just guides. It's free. It's voluntary. These inspections are not a "gotcha". They are set up to increase safety and awareness on our waterways and help inform boaters and guides of what and how they can become safer boaters and to come into compliance with our laws if needed. The inspection information is not passed on to enforcement. Once passing the inspection, a decal that's good for two years is placed on your boat. I have one. Neil's attitude was pleasant. He was through in his inspection and we talked about many how's and why's of boating regulations. Even though we didn't agree on every point, he offered points of view that I hadn't thought of before. I encourage all guides to contact Officer McMillin for an appointment.
As professional guides we are the leaders of the industry.
As a friend of mine put it, I'm paraphrasing... no matter if you are for or against the Coast Guards licensing, with all the talk on the message boards and in the papers, the ball is in the customer's court to ask for verification of required licenses and insurance."
Whether you're a guide or not, contact Officer McMillin for your free inspection.
District Staff Officer
Vessel Examinations/Program Visitation
Eighth Western Rivers Region