Coast Guard cracking down on illegal charter vessels on Lake Michigan

You may have noticed more boat traffic and partying on the lake and Chicago River lately. The U.S. Coast Guard says they've noticed, too.

It could be linked to an uptick in illegal vessels on our waterways due to owners renting out their boats on ride sharing apps or sites like Airbnb.

In short, all vessels -- no matter the size -- taking on paying passengers are considered a commercial vessel and must be operated by someone with a Coast Guard license. And officials have a warning for Chicago: a crackdown is coming.

Last year, the coast guard got about 150 reports of illegal vessels. Many of them were from law abiding, properly certified boat owners who suspected some of the traffic they were seeing on the lake and river was cruising toward trouble.

“The use of social media and ride sharing apps has significantly increased the convenience of connecting customers with illegal vessels,” the Coast Guard said.

Fatalities involving charter boats in South Florida have prompted the feds to step up their patrol efforts across the country, and fines are steep.

The Coast Guard says to be leery of boat operators who are ok with a large number of passengers on a small boat. They request payment, but don't offer a receipt.

“If the owner/operator tells you to meet them at a location along a wall or a nearby harbor rather than at a specific slip in that harbor, you're likely boarding an illegal charter and you might want to think again about getting on board that charter,” the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard says you can be fined up to $18k for operating a boat without the proper license. You could lose your boat, too.

Last summer, the Coast Guard seized 24 of them.