WASHINGTON -- Nine of every 10 recreational boat owners are facing fines, beginning today, for failing to pay a new user fee, the Coast Guard says.
Only 392,705 of the nation's 4.1 million registered pleasure boats -- less than 10 percent -- had the mandatory user fee decals as the deadline neared, said Chief Petty Officer Thomas Heflick, a Coast Guard spokesman.
If you're caught without the decals -- which cost $25 to $100, depending on the size of your boat -- the Coast Guard said you'll probably pay two to four times as much in fines, although the law allows a penalty of up to $5,000.
Heflick said the Coast Guard won't go out of its way to find boats without the decals, but any that are stopped for other reasons will be checked for them.
The user fee has been widely criticized since it was enacted as part of the 1990 budget package, and Boat/U.S., which represents 400,000 recreational boaters, has filed suit in federal court to overturn the fee.
"The government is making criminals out of hundreds of thousands of recreational boaters," said Michael Sciulla, vice president of Boat/U.S., which is pushing Congress to repeal the fee.
A repeal bill has passed the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, but it is bogged down in the Ways and Means Committee. In the Senate, a repeal measure attached to the Coast Guard authorization bill is awaiting floor action.
The Bush administration is against repeal, contending it isn't fair for taxpayers to bear the entire cost of Coast Guard services.