Does your Guide have a license?
By Rick La Point
Imagine the sun rising over the horizon. The brisk morning air is chilly as you try to catch your breath while running down the lake. You anticipate the fight of a trophy bass on the end of your line first thing in the morning.
Then something goes terribly wrong, and the boat careens off to right and the force of the turn throws you and your guide out of the boat. Thrashing around in the water, dazed and confused you reach for the boat as it passes by. The thrust from the prop pulls your legs under the boat, cutting them severely. You push away and frantically swim away from the boat. Just surviving is the most important thought going through your head. Like a miracle from God someone reaches down and pulls you out of the water and ties a tourniquet above your gashed legs. You wake up numb from the pain you finally realize you are in the hospital and are going to be fine.
Your home now and the bills start mounting up. You contact the guides insurance company and they say they won't pay. Confused you hire a lawyer and he says you have no case against the insurance company. You win a lawsuit against the guide but can't collect. He has no money and his boat is gone.
Do you want to end up like this unfortunate fellow? Accidents do happen, even to the most experienced boaters. Making sure your guide is properly licensed and insured is a must. It is possible that his insurance company does not know that he guides, which will probably make his insurance null and void. If your guide operates on Corps of Engineers navigational waters, he or she must be licensed by the Coast Guard and have any state licenses that may apply. The guide also must carry the proper insurance for carrying passengers for hire. This insurance cost about double the rate of normal insurance. And the only way you will find this out without asking is if you have an accident. How would you want to find out this way? Even if the guide is properly insured and guiding without a license on Corps lakes he is in violation of a federal law. What do you think that will do to his insurance coverage?
A guide must be first aid and CPR certified before he can apply for his license. He also must pass a physical and a drug screen. Then he must show 360 days on the water experience with a small craft in his lifetime. Criminal backgrounds are checked. He must pass 2 tests, Navigational Rules of the Road with a score of 90%, and general knowledge with a 70% or more.
Your Coast Guard licensed guide must also comply with Chemical Testing regulations. Which call for your guide to have a drug and alcohol testing policy and program. He must also be involved in a random drug-testing program. The Coast Guard is strictly enforcing these policies at the time of this article. They will be auditing all Coast Guard guides. The guide is subject to a $5000 fine if he does not comply. This is really nice for the person who hires a guide. The client would at least have some assurance as they were going out fishing that the guide didn't have a drug or alcohol problem.
Now it's time to go fishing. Make sure the guide is using his kill switch before he takes off. PFD's do not need to be worn, but are recommended. If you don't see them ask him where they are. The lifejackets need to be readily accessible in an emergency. Now you are ready to enjoy your day on the water. Making a checklist of these items and by all means ask the guide about any local or state regulations. He should know all the state and federal regulations and be complying with all of them.
When you call to book your guide ask if he is licensed and insured. If your guide can't produce the license or insurance don't hire him! Guide's licensed by the Coast Guard, must carry the license and a copy of the insurance in the boat. These items must be produced on demand. Ask to see this! Unless you want to take a chance by ending up like the fictitious fellow in this article.