Coast Guard report could alter survival craft requirement

A recent U.S. Coast Guard report may bolster a trade group’s contention that not all passenger vessels need the same type of survival craft.  

A 2010 law required passenger vessel operators to provide more expensive craft to keep people completely out of the water. The Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) said that the one-size-fits-all approach made no sense and was not justified by the casualty history.

The Coast Guard analyzed 205 accidents that resulted in 452 people dead or missing over almost 20 years through 2011. Commercial fishing vessels accounted for 89 percent of the casualties.

Based on that data, the Coast Guard concluded that carrying out-of-water survival craft in place of life floats and buoyant apparatus “is not anticipated to have a significant effect on vessel safety.”

The original implementation date of the 2010 law was 2015. But a 2012 law delayed it until 2016 and required the Coast Guard to compile data on everything from casualties to costs.

 The Coast Guard report submitted to Congress in late August helps PVA and others “make a strong case to change the 2010 law,” said Ed Welch, legislative director for the Alexandria, Va.-based trade group. 

PVA wants Congress to go back to the Coast Guard’s original regulations, which varied by operating conditions such as water temperature and distance from shore. Out-of-water craft were required in colder, rougher waters, while mesh-bottomed equipment was allowed in warmer climates. “The Coast Guard had a risk-based system before,” Welch said.

 The report’s other findings include:

• Several factors contribute to vessel safety, such as construction, stability and fire protection systems. It could not be conclusively determined if out-of-water flotation devices would have prevented any of the 452 casualties.

• The $350 million cost to replace life floats with other equipment and service and maintain new craft is almost $200 million more than the potential benefits. The requirement could affect up to 59,201 commercial fishing vessels and 7,772 small passenger vessels.

• The Coast Guard noted that current regulations are the best balance of the number of people at risk, the threat due to hypothermia and cost.

• The lack of fatalities on small passenger vessels attributed to type or number of survival craft since 1996 suggests the current rules “have provided adequate protection,” and don’t support a requirement for out-of-water craft on those boats. 

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