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Lifeguards, police cracking down on illegal boat rentals in Mission Bay

By Zara Barker,


SAN DIEGO — San Diego police and lifeguards are cracking down on illegal boat rentals in Mission Bay.

According to authorities, crashes on the waterway spiked during the pandemic, which has caused them to increase enforcement on which boats are allowed to be rented in Mission Bay.

City laws require boat rentals to come from licensed vendors that have a contract with the city, San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero said.

Applications to become licensed are currently paused, as officials audit the current list.

Romero said officials are auditing the current list and making sure everyone is up-to-speed on the current rules. He said they are going through the list before opening it up to more applicants. There’s no timeline on when the applications will reopen.

“It’s basically to prevent accidents from occurring, from people that maybe don’t know what’s going on out here,” Romero said.

Authorities said they saw a big spike in illegal boat rentals and crashes during the pandemic and are “playing catch up.”

They started cracking down on illegal personal watercraft rentals first, and just this season, started doing more enforcement on bigger vessels including boats and pontoons.

“We saw an overcrowding of vessels and then we started kind of opening our eyes on what’s going on, people were in the parking lots, swiping credit cards, doing all this illegal rental activity at the boat launches, and it caused overcrowding, it caused a record number of deaths on Mission Bay that summer,” Sgt. Nick Zastrow with San Diego Police Department’s Harbor Unit said.

He said so far this season they have impounded seven boats and about 20 personal water crafts.

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A few weeks ago, FOX 5 talked to the owner of one of the boats impounded , Vince. He said he spent about $800 after getting his boat from the impound and paying the citation. He said at the time, he had completed about 25 booking through the app, Get My Boat, to rent out his boat while he drove people around on Mission Bay. He said he did not know what he was doing was illegal.

“It’s not like we want to go and impound boats, and stop people from having a good time out there, our goal is safety and if we can prevent some of these accidents from happening, then we’ve accomplished our goal,” Zastrow said.

Romero said they’ve seen a decrease in crashes on Mission Bay since their enforcement efforts.

Zastrow said permitted boaters often use apps as well, which does not go against city code. Romero said you can’t know for certain a boater booked through the app is following the required safety regulations, unlike the licensed and permitted vendors found in Mission Bay.

“It’s a safety thing, if you’re going to rent it from a person or company here in Mission Bay it’s going to be much safer vessel for you, in my opinion,” Romero said.

A representative from GetMyBoat said it is the boat owner’s responsibility to follow the local laws.

“GetMyBoat is not illegal. As we understand it, this is a matter of individual boat owners not complying with their specific local regulations,” the statement read. “When an owner lists their boat with us, they are required to agree that they’ll follow all relevant boating laws and regulations. We’re quite clear in the application process that regulations vary based on jurisdiction and can be highly localized, and that it’s the owner’s responsibility to understand and follow the laws of where they operate their boat rentals. Including having the correct permit for where they intend to take their boats.”

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