Boaters beware, not for hire taxi and charter services on Lake of the Ozarks are equal.

Boaters beware, not for hire taxi and charter services on Lake of the Ozarks are equal.

In response to a growing number of reports of possible illegal small passenger(charter)/taxi services operating on the lake, the United States Coast Guard is recommending boaters who find themselves in need of a ride, make sure they are doing business with a licensed operator.

Anyone providing services for hire as a taxi or charter service must be licensed. The rules also apply to guides charging for services.

Although tow boats don't carry passengers, they also have to undergo Coast Guard licensing in order to legally operate on the lake without fear of breaking the law.

Licensed carriers on the lake say the number of illegal services on the water is growing. Operators will come down on weekends, hire their boat out to unsuspecting people who have no idea the captain isn't licensed or insured.

According to a release from the Coast Guard, in order for a person to legally carry passengers the captain must have a valid merchant mariner credentials with either a six pack license for up to six passengers or a master's license for anyone carrying more than six.

As part of the licensing process, operators are required to take a Coast Guard test, take part in a drug testing program, have the necessary safety equipment on board and carry commercial insurance.

Under the master's license, vessels also have to undergo an extensive Coast Guard inspection.

Captain Jim Bascue, who carries a master's license, operates Playin Hookey said the process to obtain a license is lengthy and involved but definitely worth it.

Playin Hookey has been in business for the last three years. Having the knowledge that comes with the license and the inspections gives him peace of mind. The safety of his passengers and other boaters is his priority.

"Having licensed operators is like the first line of defense when it comes to safety on the lake," he said. "People who are operating illegally come here, slap a name on the side and have no idea what is required for safe operation. We don't need someone loading 12 people on a boat that's not meant to carry that many."

The boat someone with a six pack license is running is not subject to inspection but there are regulations for safety equipment that must be stowed on board at all times. Under the master's license, the boat has to be inspected.

The Coast Guard recommends prior to booking a taxi, guide or charter service, check with the captain for licensing.