Subchapter M

Subchapter M was implemented for regulations pertaining to towing vessels in general. Before Subchapter M, these vessels were considered “uninspected” without a COI even though many of these same vessels were under huge 10 year contracts with super majors. Trust me, a SIRE inspection from an Exxon representative is more stringent than a USCG check. So while a good majority of the vessels were already inspected, USCG took the opportunity to implement changes. I think everyone will agree this is a good idea as long it helps prevent injuries, deaths, lost time etc.

Anyways, these regulations don’t fully kick into effect until 2021, giving companies ample time to comply (its been in the works for over 15 years now so no company has the excuse they weren’t ready). But essentially Subchapter M will give these vessels a COI, and thus inspected. The USCG put into effect a bunch of rules and regulations, with very much input in from industry leaders to accomplish this.

The towing industry in the United States alone consists of over 5,500 vessels and 30,000 vessel side employees (AWO numbers) – that’s a gigantic portion of the industry that operates under the Jones Act. With the recent incidents in the Missisippi River you can see why this industry needed to be regulated further. However, this has led to a rise in TPO’s. Essentially, the USCG did a very good job of implementing policies in a part of the industry that needed it.

The USCG basically states in policy that you can have them check up on your vessels in an untimely fashion or hire an approved TPO that will do it professionally and quickly so EVERYONE is going the TPO route. These TPO’s once numbered 7, now I think 10. My concern is that inevitably, these TPO’s will “get in the pockets” of their clients and essentially create a system for abuse. If I am a TPO and I shut down 3 of your 70 vessels, why wouldn’t you switch to another TPO that is known for doing the opposite. Just my 2 cents on the good and the bad of the Subchapter M regs.

You make good points about the shortcoming of Subchapter M, and inspections by third party organizations that are compromised by financial conflicts of interest.

However, tugboats will not receive USCG issued COIs, or any COI. Nor anything that mandates a minimum crew size.

Undercrewing is one of the biggest problems. Subchapter M does nothing to solve this problem.

The AWO got everything it wanted from the USCG. The AWO will also get everything it wants from the third party organizations.

Subchapter M is a nearly worthless waste of time and money on another big paper chase with little impact on safety.


A very small minority of tugs underwent SIRE inspections.

Just like with classification societies? Yeah, it’s almost definitely going to happen.

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According to the auditor I just had onboard neither of those statements are true.

“A very small minority of tugs underwent SIRE inspections.”
Kirby maybe 200 vessels, Canal Barge 60 vessels with inclusion of IMT, Florida Marine 80 vessels, Lebeouf/cenac 80 vessels total, Savage 40 vessels, Ingram Marquette…I’m pretty sure every vessel at these companies, including their barges that push oil gets sired, so I’m going to call BS. Every towing vessel I have worked on, including contracts with Exxon, Shell, Conoco Philips, Total, BP, Marathon etc, we got sired.

Every SIRE I’ve had, was not nearly as thorough in training and the material condition of the vessel as a USCG inspection. It was all checking paperwork boxes and making sure the fire pump worked.

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That’s pretty much my point, I think Subchapter M legislation was a good thing, however, I think eventually these TPOs will dilute the quality of inspections for fear of losing contracts, whereas the USCG has every right to call it out because they don’t depend on it. In my experiences, Sires with Exxon were pretty strict, moreso than USCG but I wouldn’t doubt that sometimes it be harder with a USCG. Either way, sires were prevalent on every towing vessel I worked on.

Sire is strictly for oil transport. The vast majority of tugs are doing other things that do not involve Sire.


I hope he’s right. I’d like to see a firm USCG requirement for a full crew, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

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“Sire is strictly for oil transport. The vast majority of tugs are doing other things that do not involve Sire.”
That’s fine, I still am referring to your previous statement “A very small minority of tugs underwent SIRE inspections” as not accurate.

SIRE is a standardized vetting process specifically for tankers, with an emphasis on operation and safety. It is operated by OCIMF and is basically a large data base containing inspection reports from inspections carried out by inspectors appointed, approved and vetted by OCIMF.
Here is a link to their SIRE website:

Here is a brief description of what it takes to become a SIRE Inspector:

For details of the tanker, standard and condition there is another data base and questionnaire issued by Intertanko:

There is also an inspection scheme run by OCIMF that is specifically for Offshore vessels of all kinds. It was originally based on the SIRE model, but has evolved into a fairly useful scheme in competition with IMCA’s CMID.
It is called OVID:

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And I still think you’re wrong and it’s a small minority that have SIRE inspections. By far most tugs in the US DON’T push oil.

Supposedly there a phase in period, owners are going to have to have 25% of their fleet with a COI soon then an additional 25% per year each year after that. The COI is supposedly going to have minimum manning on it like normal but it will be requested by the company and approved by the local OCMI. If you’re a harbor boat that runs with a 4 man crew and has for years the OCMI will likely approve that. I’m curious how this is going to affect unlicensed engineers…

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Capt. Phoenix said that, not me, but he’s right.

Through several years of experience with Capt.Phoenix on gcaptain, it has been my observation that he is a knowledgeable Mariner that is usually correct.

I can say with confidence that only a small portion of West Coast tugs are in the oil trade.


Some companies run 4 man boats to Alaska and Hawaii. The USCG has looked the other way for years.

The only thing that might change it is when the OCMI has to put his signature on a COI.

A specific requirement in a COI is the only thing the will prevent owners from making creative minimalist interpretations of manning requirements.


Yes, hopefully the OCMI won’t approve things like that, despite the fact that the companies “have been doing it that way for years.”

Personally, I think it’s time to etch away at the 2 watch system. The first step is to get the law changed such that any voyage outside the boundary line is required to be operated with 3 watches unless they’re issued a permit to proceed due to special circumstances.

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Roger, I appreciate the feedback. I still think the companies I mentioned and failed to mention, represent more than “a small minority”.

“I can say with confidence that only a small portion of West Coast tugs are in the oil trade.” I can say with confidence that is probably part of the reason they have the highest gas prices in the US. My experience is only Houston, port arthur, lake Charles, Beaumont, corpus Christi, mobile Alabama and the Missisippi, Ohio river systems. A very good percentage of these tugs are hauling oil and gas. I appreciate the back and forth, my initial post was just meant to inform the audience that I see an issue arising from TPO’s. I’ve had one person go as far as to decribe it as a racket.

I also don’t like that these TPOs tend to be either former USCG or people who don’t have a day of sea time. At the end of the day, it seems like SubM will be a tax these companies pay, essentially lowering pay for vessel side employees instead of helping them, which what the regulations should be about.

We agree, it is a racket. I don’t think it was intentionally designed to be that way like some claim but just that the USCG is underfunded and understaffed and can’t handle the inspection load of 5,500+ tug boats. The problem is that they already know that programs like that don’t work yet they have no choice but to allow them.

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Taxes are why they have high gas prices. Thanks for gesticulating to us that you think there will be an issue with third party inspections. Since the beginning that’s been an issue many in the industry have, on the crew side that is, have raised. The AWO spent a decade lobbying to get what they wanted out of Sub M and they have. Marginally higher requirements for equipment, and not a word on manning that isn’t their own. In the end the guys on the boats will have more paperwork and still be fatigued. A lot of third party guys will make a tidy living checking certificates and the machine will keep rolling.