Boat fire: Coast Guard repeatedly rejected calls for tougher boat safety rules

[The NTSB] repeatedly has called on the Coast Guard to require small vessels to establish procedures for conducting regular inspections and reporting maintenance and repair needs for all of a boat’s systems — including the hull and mechanical and electrical operations. This, the NTSB said, would better ensure safety on vessels between Coast Guard inspections, which occur every one to two years.

But the Coast Guard has pushed back on the recommendation, calling it “unnecessarily burdensome and duplicative of existing requirements.”

I find the most interesting part of this article this:
"To address the problem, some members of Congress have pushed for marine safety to become a separate agency — much like the Federal Aviation Administration. The Coast Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."

I think that’s a step that should be taken. The CG has too many hats in the ring and they’re short handed. Law enforcement and SAR go hand in hand. Enforcing shipping regulations and vessel inspections is a different animal. A separate branch can still be part of the CG and doesn’t have to be moved from under the DHS umbrella much like Border Patrol is a separate part of the CBP which is under the DHS umbrella.

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I am sometimes reassured when an agency like USCG stands up to another like NTSB and says that our industry is already regulated enough. True, you can always regulate more to reduce risk, but at what cost? Recall that these are Subchapter T vessels we are talking about. If you increase the regulatory burden, that would just shift the industry from inspected vessels to uninspected passenger vessels. You’ll note already that as a country, we have extremely few passenger vessels greater than 100 GRT. The reason for that is the increase in regulatory burden for anything above 100 GRT doesn’t often work with a business plan.

I’m not following your train of thought. Increasing the regulatory burden doesn’t shift anything. The regulatory function of the CG covers both inspected and uninspected vessels. Subchapter T vessels are a small part of the equation but letting them effectively regulate themselves has brought us to where we are. It’s a slippery slope and the American public deserves to know that they’re not stepping aboard a death trap so they can go look at dolphins or go for a dive and professional mariners don’t deserve to be exposed to unnecessary risks either. Asian ferry disasters are an example of what happens when there’s a lack of enforcement.
And why should business plans carry any weight in a discussion about keeping people safe on the water?

I don’t disagree entirely with you. The Conception is a truly tragic case due to the number of passengers that perished. But how far do you swing the pendulum in enforcing additional regulation. All regulation comes at a cost to the operator. And I don’t think these mom and pop operators are generally making boat loads of money. So if passengers find they are priced out of these types of vessels, they will be forced to either forego boating adventures or shift to smaller and less regulated upvs. If it is the former, it means less jobs for all mariners. If it is the latter, it potentially means even more risks for the passengers.

An overnight passenger vessel needs a licensed mate and a deckhand on active watch at night. The OCMI has the authority (and a duty) to require that in the COI under existing regulations.

Perhaps, some new regulations about the relatively new hazard of lithium batteries are advisable.

Regulation requiring enhanced fire detection, protection and evacuation for overnight fiberglass vessels might be a good idea too.

On the other hand, maybe the USCG should stop regulating passenger vessels under 100 tons and under 50 passengers. Just leave it to the owners, builders, insurance companies, and the plaintiff’s lawyers to do their own self-regulating. The outcome might be better.

A lot of owners are not willing to spend money on safety items that are not specifically USCG required. For example: Captain: “we should have an AED onboard.” Owner: “Its not USCG required.” Maybe we would be better off if USCG regulations were not giving owners such an easy excuse.

Some people want the USCG to regulate 6-pack boats too. That’s a bad idea. 6-packs provide affordable access to boating for a lot of people, and they do relatively little harm.

In fact, I would like to see the rules changed to increase 6-packs to 12-packs.

Even with Subchapter M, the USCG is still giving small subchapter T boats s hard look, and passing tugs under Subchapter M with a soft glance.

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What the article doesn’t include is that NTSB is not a regulatory agency, and as such does not have to consider economic impacts of its recommendations. They will be quick to point this out. The Coast Guard, however must consider economic impact and if it is deemed to be too burdensome to the regulated industry, they cannot put out regulations. The degree of burden has varied with different administrations.


CG officers rely heavily upon ABS for expertise. A civilian agency with in-house expertise would be an improvement.

In both dive boat fire and duck boat where the CG fell short was not regulatory burden so much as failure to monitor for industry compliance.

No one has suggested the Conception wasn’t in compliance with her COI with the exception of the night watch. How is CG supposed to monitor that? Send along a Coast Guardsman for every overnighter?


Yeah, that one is on the operators for sure. The same for the improvised battery charging station as described by a passenger. It wouldn’t draw attention at the dock with nothing plugged in but throw in a couple of dozen devices and cords next to flammable material and it’s an obvious hazard.

The COI has two types of requirements, hardware (fire extinguishers etc) and procedural (watchman). Compliance with hardware requirements is done during the annual COI,

Procedural type audits are done by PSC, ABS, DPA, charterer’s agents etc.

These audits generally look for evident of compliance, lots of questions get asked and paperwork is looked at.

In the case of the Duck boat a good question for the captain would have been "what are the requirements on the COI? Second I’d look at how the tours were actually cancelled in the past.

If the dive boat had been inspected every single day since forever it wouldn’t have changed a thing. That half-ass, I mean quarter-ass, escape hatch was within regulations apparently. The only reg they violated anyone knows of is falling asleep on watch or not even having a watch.

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Headline: Licensed Master blames safety agency manacled by special interests and congressional interference for dive boat incident, calls for more audits, record keeping and enforcement, “we can’t be trusted to read CoIs or set watches required by regulations already in place or good seamanship unless you convince us you’d enforce it!” Goes on to demand more audits and record creation.

That’s where the line of your argument seems to be headed, KC. An Occam’s razor man like yourself should see a far simpler cause here than failure of an agency in oversight and eschew anything other than noting a failure of another licensed master to fulfill a duty you well understand (since it is common to Masters of vessels of any size) and lax watch standing you would no doubt punish on your own ship.

Man, where are you getting that? I re-read the whole thread twice without getting it. Nobody is assigning blame here, least of all to the NTSB. The way I read it, KC is simply answering a legitimate question about how one might go about auditing certain aspects of the COI, and suggesting how one might ensure adequate competence on the regulatory side of things.

As for the idea of introducing further regulation for small craft, I see several problems. For one thing, there isn’t the muscle available to enforce the regulations already in effect, which is an absolute must if you want to avoid ending up with a mountain of useless paperwork that gets gundecked high and low. Furthermore, if you want to instate a mandatory maintenance program, you must have an idea where to start. The obvious minimum would be to follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance for the propulsion machinery, and that’s already a step too far.

Small craft propulsion system maintenance schedules are written to void the warranty, not to ensure reliable operation. I could drench this thread with examples, but suffice it to say that nobody follows the maintenance schedule to the letter, neither the biggest names in the industry nor the wizened old guys with a lifetime of experience.

In Norway, all passenger craft have to implement an SMS, also those carrying 12 passengers or less. Few of the day charter operators I speak to seem to have given that much attention, or even know the technical requirements that apply. If on top of bringing that in line you were to significantly increase maintenance costs, the majority would simply stop operating.

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“in” “dive boat fire” “CG” “failure” “to monitor for industry compliance”

There is an acknowledged failure of watch standing, a personal and professional shortfall for the actors involved onboard in carrying out a fundamental responsibility called for in regulation, COI and good seamanship.

KC is asserting an agency hand in a failure in making the above statement by directly linking CG to the dive boat incident. I extrapolated his logic and how it divests share of professional responsibility from a party undeservedly.

In defending his statement from posters who agree about failure of watch standing he switched to duck boat—and sure, if a COI has an unusual condition that is elaborate like a procedure, absolutely it must be tested during routine inspections and audits since it is something out of the ordinary—hence strict terms on a COI. Watch standing is a much less complex by comparison and the duty much better understood so the premise that there may have been some agency oversight practice that could remotely be coupled to the omission in this specific case is a stretch.

Your argument seems to hinge on the idea that governance enforcement should be reserved for instances where the subject cannot be reasonably expected to understand the requirements. That’s a bit of a stretch.

That’s not at all the argument I’m making. Now you’re off in the woods.

So first to get you back—acknowledge that on a further reading and pointing it out explicitly, you get that I was calling attention to KC explicitly tying oversight to a party failing to comply and linking it to a cause of a incident. Something you said you didn’t see in the thread.

His argument boils down to this—speeder crashed because he was speeding, but really the cops haven’t been ticketing so that’s on them too.

Me - speeding is a crime and you are liable to it even if no tickets are written, and lack of ticketing doesn’t change your responsibility to follow clear black letter law especially when it’s well understood.

So to make sure you see it, note that the ‘speeding’ in this case is my equivalent for the very well understood requirement to set and maintain a watch called for in law reg and good practice. Duck boat thing—distracting you clearly—but akin in this extended traffic metaphor to ‘when driving a hazmat load you must stop at all railroad tracks’.

Both get governance since both are subj to regulation or law, a component of governance.

Sorry, that was a language problem. Fixed it now. English really ain’t my first language…

Oh, I got what you meant in the end. However, I fail to equate that to “blaming them for the accident”.

You don’t think it is? If they are charged with enforcing the law and fail to do so, do they not have some responsibility for the outcome?

Also, just to stretch your metaphor past its breaking point, do you think the cops should spend their time on enforcing esoteric hazmat regulations, or catching speeders?

The result of any law/regulation is a balance among the law itself, enforcement, and social attitudes. Sprinkle with corruption for the full effect.