MOORESVILLE – Cliff Champion says he hasn't been a formal charter boat captain of the 90-foot vessel, "N 2 Deep," in over a year.
But Ron Shoultz, executive director of the Lake Norman Marine Commission, begs to differ.
Shoultz said he has evidence that Champion has been operating a charter business illegally and intends to take him to court over the issue.
Champion, a Cornelius resident, docks his boat at All Seasons Marina off Langtree Road.
"Right now, we're just taking friends for a ride, or family and things like that," he said. "As long as I do it for free, it's no different than anybody else's boat on the lake."
Champion said he ran Championship Yacht Charters from 2000 to 2011 at various locations, including the former Latitude 36 restaurant in Cornelius, but he'd like to be back in business as soon as possible. To that end, he's working on an application for a permit to operate through the marine commission.
Founded through a North Carolina state law in 1969, the marine commission consists of five members appointed by the counties bordering the lake – Catawba, Iredell, Lincoln and Mecklenburg. The group is responsible for matters concerning public recreation and water safety and also monitors the operation of all charter boats on the lake through a separate charter boat committee.
At an annual meeting each March, the committee certifies that every charter boat has received an annual inspection, is run by a qualified captain with a valid U.S. Coast Guard Master's license, maintains all the necessary insurance and has a permanent location at a qualified public marina.
According to the commission's guidelines, a charter boat is "any boat that is hired for, or advertised for hire for, a cruise on Lake Norman and to provide specific services including any of the following: sight seeing, food, beverages, or fishing. However, a fishing, sailboat or other charter boat with eight or less passengers is not either a charter boat or excursion boat."
Currently, there are five charter boats permitted to sail on Lake Norman including "No Mo Money" and "Yachta Yachta Yachta" based at Peninsula Yacht Club in Cornelius; "The Catawba Queen" and "Lady of the Lake" kept at Mooresville's Queen's Landing; and "The Ragin' Mistress" of Cornelius' Lake Norman Luxury Yacht Charters.
Shoultz said that Champion didn't apply for a permit through the marine commission to charter a boat in 2013, but the commission has a signed contract and canceled check for a charter trip he intended to perform.
"We feel the public is taking a huge risk getting on his boat," Shoultz said. "He's continuing to advertise online without a permit. We don't know where and when he's been pumping out (waste), but we've heard from area marinas he's been there."
On Dec. 9, the marine commission filed a complaint with the Iredell County Magistrate's Office regarding Championship Yacht Charters operating without a permit. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sheriff Office website, a criminal summons has been filed but Champion hasn't been served yet.
Shoultz said a district court date has already been set up for Jan. 7 in Statesville.
"We just want all the players who are performing this type of service on the lake to be on the same playing field,” Shoultz said. “We're not targeting Cliff. It could be XYZ charter company. I'd like for him to be able to keep his business running."
According to Rebecca Harper of Iredell County Planning, Development and Transportation Services, the county did issue All Seasons Marina approval Dec. 11 to house cruise boats on site as long as the business meets special regulations such as having "an adequate pump-out facility on site" to eliminate waste from a charter boat between trips.
Joanne Moser, owner of All Seasons Marina, told The Herald Weekly that while Champion docks his boat at her marina like 250 other boat owners, he is not a licensed charter boat operator and doesn't run charters from the marina.
"We have followed all the rules that there are to become a charter boat marina. We have a pump-out station on site," she said. "We follow all the rules that we need to successfully operate a family marina business. We're very excited to start offering charters, and we'll make sure we do whatever we can to make sure our neighbors are happy. We've been here for too many years to be a thorn in anyone's side."
Moser added she would never put her business at risk by allowing someone to run charter operations without a permit from the marine commission.
"Cliff's wife has Avon parties on the boat, but he's not running it as a charter, which means that he doesn't make money to take people out," she said.
Cathy Akroyd, public information officer for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources could not verify whether All Seasons Marina had a pump-out permit in time for The Herald Weekly's deadline. While the marina doesn't show up on the department's permitted solid waste facility list, Moser provided The Herald Weekly with a permit number.