We Pride Ourselves in Doing Things Right
As sticklers for the rules, this includes being legal on all fronts, both domestically and internationally.
Our U.S. Business Operations
California - Because our offices are in California, we are properly registered by the California Attorney General's office as a Seller of Travel. In California, any company, whether a charter company or someone that arranges the tour and takes a deposit, probably needs to be a registered seller of travel complete with a bond or trust account This is a fundamental part of the business.
Working with a registered Seller of Travel is one more level of comfort knowing you are working with a professional. Find out why California feels it is important for consumers, click here.
Our company has also been vetted and certified by the ARC (Airlines Reporting Corporation), at a Verified Travel Consultant. Being accepted by ARC confirms that owners have no criminal records and are upstanding business operators.
Our Mexico Business Operations
Mexico - Our base of operations is in Mexico and there are numerous little known hurdles that all need to be taken care of in order to be a legal business in Mexico. Approvals from several Mexican government agencies are required. Certain business requirements are necessary and several nautical tourism approvals are required Each of these agencies require permits, some require physical inspections and proper insurance in order to operate in Mexico. Only then will a boat be allowed to take on paying guests.
Loreto is located within the within the borders of the national park (Loreto Bay Marine Park) and all commercial activities (chartering, diving, visiting islands) are only permitted by registered companies. Even paddle boards and kayaks need to be documented in advance when used in the marine park.
Some American operators do no know the rules and are operating illegally. Not knowing, or bothering to be in compliance is not just a bad attitude, but very risky and could result in confiscation of the boat at any time. That is the last thing a guest wants to be associated with. We do things by the book, which assures that we will always be operational and legal.
The Bel Gato is a documented U.S. vessel and is protected by U.S. laws even while in foreign waters. Numerous USCG rules and regulations apply at all times both for safety and charter operations.
We don't ignore the rules or look for loopholes
Six Passengers Rule - That is the legal limit. When you are not the owner of the boat, the USCG has a limit on how many passengers may be on the boat. For boats under 100 tons and classified as uninspected vessels, this 6-pack rule applies (this does not have any bearing on how many passengers the boat was designed for).
Nearly all pleasure vessels (which means boats that are not originally manufactured for commercial purposes and don't need to comply with the stringent USCG inspection rules) fall into this category of service. Only 6 passengers allowed if at least one of them is a paying passenger. The rule applies even though the boat may be manufactured to safely handle more capacity.
What do you do when you have more than six people in your group? There are two options. 1) Have someone in your group step up and do a "bare boat" charter contract, or 2) get a different boat that complies with the larger group.
What exactly is a bare boat charter? Federal Admiralty law addresses the bare boat concept and its use is well established. Legally, this makes the bare boat charterer responsible for the vessel in all respects for the duration of the charter.
If this is acceptable and you still want to have a paid captain run the boat, then you have to hire the captain and his crew on a contract separate from any contract you enter into with the charter company.
The hidden risks - As a bare boat charterer, you are responsible for everything that goes on including obtaining your own insurance, provisions, fuel and crew. You are also liable for any injuries to crew, passengers, bystanders and others, as well as any maritime violations by your crew or passengers, collisions and damage caused by or to the boat, and any environmental violations such as illegal discharge of oil, holding tanks etc.
NOTE of WARNING: What some shady charter companies may offer a bare boat charter but require you to hire a specific captain and crew, or offer a very short list of their preferred captains to pick from, or in some way be in control, or restrict your use. According to the USCG, this is completely contrary the bare boat charter, and possibly reverts back to the skippered 6-pack charter. If you have more than 6 passengers (with at least one a paying passenger), you may be operating illegally and may not have any insurance coverage as a result.
Understandably, the charter company may be hesitant to let unknown people operate their boats. You can't blame them, since a boat is expensive and can be easily destroyed in the hands of an inexperienced operator.
if all you want to do is to go on a sailing trip with more than 6 people and you don't want to be the master and commander of the vessel, you are limited in your options and may be duped into breaking the law or taking on a massive amount of risk you didn't anticipate.
What about all those party and dive boats?
The boats you see with crowds going out for those sunset cruises, or snorkel and dive trips with more than 6 passengers, are USCG Inspected vessels. They have strict rules for construction, more stringent maintenance records and are inspected by the Coast Guard every year. For all that, they can have many more people on board.
Safety Equipment - The Bel Gato is outfitted with a currently certified offshore life raft. The USCG does not require life rafts, but we believe it is good insurance. The Bel Gato also has more than the minimum number of fire extinguishers, signal flares and other electronics. The boat is equipped with an EPIRB, AIS, radar, Inmarsat satellite phone, upgraded navigation lights and the latest charts. We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Safety always come first.
California Seller of Travel
Consumer Protections for You
(taken from the Calif. Attorney General's website)
Generally, the Seller of Travel law protects consumers by requiring registration of sellers of travel, requiring them to issue clear disclosures, imposing financial restrictions on certain sellers of travel, creating a restitution fund to protect consumers from losses under specific circumstances, and providing oversight and enforcement by the Office of the Attorney General.
All sellers of travel must register with the Attorney General's Office, Seller of Travel Program, before they can operate lawfully within the State of California. Registration requires, among other things, disclosure by the seller of business addresses, fictitious business names (dbas), identifying information as to principals and owners, relationship with the airlines, the location of a trust account or information about a surety bond (if one of these protections is required). The registration number should be clearly displayed on all advertising materials.
Registration is not the same as licensing, which usually involves some review and approval. For sellers of travel, so long as the seller discloses the necessary information in its application, a registration number will be issued to the applicant. In the event a seller does not provide the promised transportation or travel services, information in the registration file will assist in locating that seller.
When first contacting a seller, ask for the registration number and expiration date of that seller's current registration. Registration is good for one year and must be renewed annually. Do not deal with any seller who does not disclose its registration number in advertising materials, or who declines to tell you the number and expiration date. While registration does not mean that the seller is reputable, you should avoid any seller who has not taken this simple safeguard required by law.
Be sure to check all the written disclosures the seller provides you to determine how the seller will protect your money. Some sellers of travel are required to deposit all payments received into a trust account or to obtain a surety bond on behalf of their customers. Others are not required to maintain either a trust account or post a bond. Some may participate in the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund. Others may not.
All sellers, however, that receive a payment from one passenger may not use that money to buy travel on behalf of another passenger or to pay for rent, overhead, or any personal use, until they have delivered to you the goods and services that you have purchased.
If a seller tells you that it is not able to obtain travel that you have purchased because your payment has been spent on some other trip, or for business or personal purposes, immediately contact the police, your local District Attorney, or the Attorney General's office. Such taking of your payment may be prosecuted as a felony.
In general, before accepting payment, even a partial one, a seller of travel must provide you with various written disclosures including its name, business address and telephone number, an itinerary, a statement about its cancellation policy, the total amount to be paid, the amount paid to date, the date of any future payment, the purpose of the payment made, an itemized statement of the balance due, if any, whether it has a trust account or surety bond, whether your payment is protected by the Restitution Fund, and how to make a claim to TCRC. Under certain circumstances, if a seller fails to provide you with its cancellation policy in writing, it cannot later impose penalties in the event that you cancel.
First check to see if the seller of travel is registered with the Office of the Attorney General. In addition, you may want to check with your local Better Business Bureau or Department of Consumer Affairs to learn how long the seller of travel has been in business, whether there have been any law enforcement actions brought against it in the past, and the nature of consumer complaints it has received, if any.
As a law enforcement agency, the Attorney General's Office does not release information on consumer complaints that involve as-yet-unproven allegations that could create misleading and unfair impressions about a company. Our Consumer Law Section uses these consumer complaints to look for patterns of deceptive or unfair business practices where a legal action brought by the Attorney General could serve the interest of the general public.
The Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation ("TCRC") is a non-profit organization. It is not part of the Office of the Attorney General. It manages the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund and decides restitution claims. For more information, or to file a claim with the TCRC, visit the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation website.