What would you consider justification for “sailing short”?

46 CFR 15.725 states the master may choose to sail when available crew members are less than the number listed on a vessel’s COI. It specifies that the master’s decision may be reviewed, but doesn’t talk about what constitutes a justified reason. What’s your opinion? Anyone sailed short before?

I’ve sailed short a few times as have the other captains.

This makes it sound like the ship is crewing up and coming up short.That’s not exactly what 46 - 15.725 says.

From Marine Safety Manual Volume III: Marine Industry Personnel

Whenever a vessel is deprived of the service of a member of its complement, and the master or person in charge is unable to find appropriate credentialed personnel to man the vessel, the master or person in charge may proceed on the voyage, having determined the vessel is sufficiently manned for the voyage.

My reading is that the ship is required to start the voyage with a full crew.


There is a CG form to fill out, I forget the number. It requires listing the reason for sailing short. No justification is required but I’d follow the provisions in the CG MSM.

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Look at the underlying statute, 46 USC 8101, in its full context. The sailing short provision in sub-paragraph (e), but you need to also look at sub-paragraph (d). Look also at the “Historical Notes” for those two sub-paragraphs.

Sounds like the voyage can begin without a full complement?

When a vessel has a vacancy in the manning required
by its certificate of inspection without the consent,
fault, or collusion of anyone responsible for the management or operation of the vessel, subsection (e) requires that the master hire replacements, if possible, in
the same or higher grade or rating. However, if the
master finds the vessel sufficiently manned and replacements are not available, the vessel may proceed on its voyage

Sub-paragraph (d) of the statute would suggest otherwise:
(d) A vessel to which this section applies may
not be operated without having in its service the
complement required in the certificate of inspection.

In practice if the ship is short unlicensed then it’s often the case that licensed officer will fill the positions if they get the pay and benefits of the licensed position. When I was C/M the captain being relieved offered to sail AB at full master’s wages, vacation etc but the company suddenly found an AB instead.

The point of the provisions is that the complement is required at all times but, shit happens and the Master (and only the master) can make such decisions, and that such decision is required to reported and reviewed to ensure the sailing was permissible as an exceptional act. It is also important to note the age and status of communication tech from when these statutes came.

As noted in the referenced Commandant’s decision on appeal 2172:

“This does not eliminate or reduce the burden undertaken by a master in choosing to exercise this discretion. The report required by the statute is essential and the explanation called for must be satisfactory. In a proceeding under R.S. 4450 the continuation of a voyage “shorthanded” establishes a rebuttable presumption of violation of the requirements of a certificate of inspection.“.

I believe adding ‘at the initiation of a voyage’ would likewise be appropriate to the above.

The safety manual says the decision is "subject to the OCMI’s review. I didn’t see where it says a review is required.

The way I do it is give the reason, for example the crew member was found unfit for duty by a doctor and a replacement is expected in the next port. I write on the form that I have “determined the vessel is sufficiently manned for the voyage.” and no more.

I know some captains add more to the report but I never did.

EDIT I do scan the unfit for duty report from the doctor and attach it to the message.

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Mandatory reporting carries with it the presumption of review, or they wouldn’t demand by law reports to the authorities. As the manual notes after ‘subject to review’, it directs appropriate action be taken if warranted. Hard to do without reviewing and in any event, doesn’t mean the action is beyond scrutiny by the CG.

Substantiating the shortage is only part. The actions (or inactions) to obtain a replacement may be scrutinized as well. The point is to make it an exceptional tool and prevent abuse. That’s why most folks call the CG and ask. If the CG allows it to be routine and fails to look into it, then that’s on them, priorities are theirs to play with. But it’s not not a possible ‘thing’. It’s probably the kind of thing that only gets attention in addition to a larger event, say, an incident where a notice was, or wasn’t or was inappropriately done, and an incident occurred for which the shortage and impacts may be a factor.

That statute probably dates to the era of the Shipping Commissioners who signed crew on and off articles. They wouldn’t clear a ship to sail short-handed without a full complement.

Also consider that basic principle of legal interpretation is that laws must be interpreted (if possible) in a way that avoids a conflict. If you interpret the sailing short to mean you can start a voyage short handed, it conflicts with the requirement that the vessel needs to have the full crew on the COI at all times.


The question in the OP was in regards to the CG report.

As far the obligation to obtain a replacement in my case that means notifying the company and requesting they send a replacement. The company in turn requests a replacement from the union. As far as documenting the efforts to obtain a replacement I have the email record to/from the company.

The age of the statute or old practices doesn’t change anything, and the excerpt from the CDOA - referenced specifically in the MSM, threads the needle sufficiently to note the requirement to sail complete, allow an exceptional condition without undercutting the requirement and opportunity to address whether there is a violation on review.

I’ve sailed short only when someone was sent ashore for medical emergency and we requested dispensation from Flag until a relief could be sent out. Usually only a day or two.

I’ve been asked to heave anchor and sail short by a truly ignorant shoreside manager who did not want to provide minimum safe manning for budgetary reasons, even though available officers/crew were plentiful. I know the captain had more at stake with his license than I as chief, but we backed each other up and we both were pretty sure we were going to lose our jobs after the heated phone calls refusing to do so. I don’t think Flag or the port state of arrival would have looked to kindly on “we are undermanned because we’re cheap”. In the end we won, though the captain resigned at the next port. He has my respect forever though.


Wow! This is all great insight. I really haven’t taken a good look at the MSM, definitely added to my reading list. Thanks all!

Oh I bet they did haha.

Have sailed short more than a few times. Promoted an AB to mate that had a license when the acting Mate got"Lost ashore", promoted a cook from OS to AB, Moved other crew members into engine positions when the chief accepted them into other positions when their relief was sick or late. Have on occasion moved an Asst Engineer up to Chief when My Chief had a health issue through no fault of his own. We made it work out. Everyone was compensated fairly for their contributions at the next higher rate of pay.

Same for me in the tall ship world, especially when in a foreign port and someone had to leave unexpectedly. We filled the roll from within our ranks of deckhands. I don’t think it was required (especially after reading all the stuff in this thread!) but we let OCMI know what we were doing not for permission but just as an fyi.


There are US flagged tall ships with COIs in foreign ports that aren’t the EAGLE?

I doubt the Eagle has a COI…

Shh… I don’t want him to know that. I just want to hear what vessel he’s thinking of.