You can disagree all you wish, But the the public is paying for a cruise and that puts you in the charter business as far as the USCG is concerned.
John says that his insurance company says they would cover it. I would get that in writing. Because thats what a Charter policy does, not a recreational policy.
This issue is not about, if the Capitan gets paid or not. The pubic is being charged it makes it a charter. You in turn are being "hired" at no compensation by the charity to provide the service.
A legal opinion:
By: David Weil, Esq.
I have been asked by my yacht club to research Coast Guard vessel and operator licensing issues relating to our club’s activities. We conduct several charity auctions every year, and our members will sometimes donate time aboard their boats for fishing trips to be auctioned. Will these fishing trips be subject to Coast Guard charter vessel regulations?
Our reader is referring to Coast Guard regulations, which require passenger vessels to be inspected by the Coast Guard and the vessel operators to be licensed captains.
Generally speaking, Coast Guard inspection and a licensed captain are required for any boat that is carrying any passengers for hire. An exception to the vessel inspection requirement exists for vessels carrying six or fewer passengers (commonly known as “six-pack” charters), but the operator must be licensed whenever a vessel is carrying at least one passenger for hire.
Federal law (Title 46 U.S. Code, sec. 2101) defines a passenger for hire as a person for whom an economic benefit is contributed as a condition of carriage on the vessel, where that benefit flows directly or indirectly to the owner or any other person having an interest in the vessel.
The “for hire” definition isn’t as clear as it could be, but if consideration is paid as a condition of carriage, it’s pretty clear that a license is required. A gray area arises, however, when we look at who is receiving the consideration.
As noted above, a licensed captain is required when the economic benefit directly or indirectly flows to “the owner or any other person having an interest in the vessel.” In this case, since the charity (presumably) has no interest at all in the vessel, a license would not be required — even if the charitable gift is a condition of carriage.
Regardless of the inspection and licensing requirements, the boat owners on these charitable voyages should review the provisions of their boat insurance policies carefully. Policies may limit or even exclude coverage for this type of voyage, and a casualty at sea without insurance coverage could turn a charitable gesture into a financial nightmare. A maritime attorney experienced in marine insurance and charter operations should be consulted for more specific information.
David Weil is the managing attorney at Weil & Associates (Maritime Law Firm - Small Business Law Firm - The Law Office of Weil & Associates - Lawyer - Law Firm - Attorney) in Long Beach. He is an adjunct professor of Admiralty Law at Loyola University Law School, a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and is former legal counsel to the California Yacht Brokers Association. If you have a maritime law question for Weil, he can be contacted at (562) 438-8149 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Personly I would not willing to risk my house, boat, and such on a "Grey area of the law." Thats why I am licensed and have commercial insurance.
I diagree with the attorney also, as the charity has a vested interest in
economics of the sunset cruise. Therefore you as the caption of the vessel are acting as a agent of the charity and should something happen, you all could go down with the ship.