Hennepin County Water Patrol takes on illegal charter boats on Lake Minnetonka

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol Unit has been hard at work this summer, because of a growing problem on Lake Minnetonka.

Law enforcement says people there are breaking the law by renting out boats without first having them inspected. Some of the boats were also being operated by people without the proper licensing.

"I believe with COVID-19 and the pandemic more people are out on this lake and they’re trying to make money and it has become a problem," Hennepin County Water Patrol Sergeant Bret Cline told FOX 9 on Sunday. "We’re cracking down on it, we’re doing the best we can with all resources."

Over the last few weekends, Hennepin County Water Patrol launched several "sting operations."

"We have 17 pending investigations on just illegal charter boats on Lake Minnetonka and we have a couple more that are in the process," Cline said.

Mark Peet is in his 20th year running Wayzata Bay Charter, and in the last year, he’s seen the crime first hand.

"They always come up with a story about, ‘Oh, I’m just taking my friends out, and it’s clearly not their friends," Peet said.

"There’s a proper way of doing it…, you get a permit, you pay the fees, licensing, you pay the docking permits," Peet continued. "You have to go through inspections in the spring, there’s a sheriff inspection, a state inspection… boiler inspectors come out."

"It’s a lengthy process and it’s a time-consuming process," Cline continued. "It’s not a hard process to get a permit it just takes time. There’s a lot of entities, there’s a lot of moving parts that are involved in it."

Now Peet says the sheriff’s office has asked legitimate charter boat operators to keep an eye out for those breaking the law.

"A lot of the information that we are receiving is people from the docks that are videotaping it, they’re taking pictures and sending it to us," Cline said "Saying I believe this is an illegal charter operating out of this dock."

Recent charging documents show the illegal boats are often manned by people without a boating license, and sometimes they don’t have proper floatation devices on board.

"You will have to go to court and all the charges are misdemeanors, which we’ve seen fines up to $3000," Cline said. "We’re trying to err on the side of caution before there’s a fatality out there."
Law enforcement also wants to remind the public to ask boat companies if they have the proper permits and inspection records before going out on the water because it could save a life.