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post #9 of Old 11-25-2011
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In the U.S. The relevant rule is USC 2101 (5a):

(5a) "consideration" means an economic benefit, inducement, right, or profit including pecuniary payment accruing to an individual, person, or entity, but not including a voluntary sharing of the actual expenses of the voyage, by monetary contribution or donation of fuel, food, beverage, or other supplies.

My understanding is this:

The Key word is " Voluntary" If you board a vessel that has advertised costs and the costs are " conditions" of travel; then it's not Voluntary then you are a paying passenger.
The Captain and the Ship must comply with all relevant Rules of licensing and inspection.
The Captain's license will control the waters he/she's allowed to operate in under the Authority of their license.

For fewer than 6 passengers, the vessel may not need to be " Inspected" but must comply with all relevant regulations regarding carriage of equipment. Depending on the tonnage it may or may not need to be " Documented" ( under or over 5 tons) for use as a UPV. ( as opposed to a " Recreational" vessel)

Reciprocity is addressed in the code for foreign vessels..but I would research it.
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