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General Press Releases

Port of San Diego Invites Public to Review Proposed Changes to Charter Vessel Regulations

As part of efforts to improve the regulation of charter vessel operations on San Diego Bay, the Port of San Diego invites the public to review and provide input on proposed changes to the Port’s charter vessel regulations, Port Code Section 4.37. If approved by the Board of Port Commissioners, the updated ordinance will apply to charter vessels that operate out of San Diego Bay marinas and sportfishing landings, and for the first time will allow the Port to issue permits to qualified charter vessel operators who conduct their businesses outside of a marina or sportfishing landing.

Click here to view the draft proposed updates to the Port’s charter vessel regulations (Port Code Section 4.37)

On Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 1:30 p.m., the Port will hold an outreach meeting to discuss the changes and record feedback on the proposed updates. The meeting will take place at the Port Administration Building, 3165 Pacific Highway, San Diego 92101. In addition to commenting and asking questions at the meeting, the public may send questions and provide feedback via email to

Among the changes, the Port proposes to issue all Charter Vessel Operation Permits (Permits) for all Charter Vessel Operations and collect license agreement fees from qualified Charter Vessel Operators who do not have an agreement to operate from a marina or sportfishing landing. Currently, legal charter vessel operators must obtain a Permit from  a marina or sportishing landing where they board passengers, and there are more charter vessel operators than there are available slips at the marinas and sportfishing landings on San Diego Bay.

Additional proposed updates include:

  • New requirements for obtaining and maintaining a Permit for all types of charters;
  • An appeal process for those whose request for a Permit is denied, as well as suspended or revoked for violating any term of a Permit; and
  • Insurance requirements and the payment of license agreement fees to the Port.

Currently, there are both legal and illegal vessel charters operating on San Diego Bay. The Port’s goals for improved regulations are to protect consumers, safeguard public safety, and create a more even playing field among charter vessel businesses. Examples of charter vessel operations include whale-watching boats, party boats and sportfishing boats.

In recent years, members of the public have raised concerns about illegal vessel charters that do not comply with laws or the Port’s permitting requirements. Concerns have included non-compliance with Coast Guard licensing and regulations, lack of adequate insurance, unsafe conditions or operations, lack of an appropriate agreement with a marina or sportfishing landing, and avoidance of rent payments to the Port  for conducting charter vessel operations. Businesses that don’t follow the rules may risk public safety and may have an unfair competitive advantage over legitimate charter operators. 

In 2018, Port of San Diego Harbor Police Chief Mark Stainbrook formed an Illegal Charter Coordination Committee to examine the issue. The committee, made up of a cross-departmental team of Port staff members, has recommended updating and amending the existing ordinance and permitting system for vessel charters operating on San Diego Bay and within the Port’s jurisdiction.

Once Port staff collects input from the public and makes any necessary changes, they intend to present the draft updated ordinance to the Board of Port Commissioners for consideration at the Board’s December 10, 2019 public meeting. If the Board approves the updated ordinance, it will go into effect in early January 2020, in time for the 2020 summer boating season. Additionally, the Port intends to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for interested operators to implement the ordinance, oversee compliance, collect fees and revenue, and manage the Port’s Transient Vessel Dock on Shelter Island.

For more information about this effort, go to To receive email updates regarding the Port’s Charter Vessel Operations Ordinance, sign up here.

About THE Port of San Diego

The Port of San Diego serves the people of California as a specially created district, balancing multiple uses on 34 miles along San Diego Bay spanning five cities. Collecting no tax dollars, the Port manages a diverse portfolio to generate revenues that support vital public services and amenities.

The Port champions Maritime, Waterfront Development, Public Safety, Experiences and Environment, all focused on enriching the relationship people and businesses have with our dynamic waterfront. From cargo and cruise terminals to hotels and restaurants, from marinas to museums, from 22 public parks to countless events, the Port contributes to the region’s prosperity and remarkable way of life on a daily basis.