Towing vessel program a good deal

Everyone hates to miss a good deal. The Towing Vessel Bridging Program (TVBP) is a good deal. 

The TVBP is a partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard and industry to prepare U.S. uninspected towing vessels for impending Subchapter M implementation. When Subchapter M becomes law, your uninspected towing vessel will become an inspected vessel. Then you’ll need a Coast Guard certificate of inspection (COI) to operate. Large ships, ITBs (integrated tug/barges), ATBs (articulated tug/barges), ferries and certain passenger vessels are examples of inspected vessels.

Your boat might not be inspected yet, but it is regulated under “46 CFR Chapter I, Subchapter C – UNINSPECTED VESSELS,” Parts 24-26. These are the compliance regulations you are held to during Coast Guard Law Enforcement Boardings and Examinations.

Both the Coast Guard and industry organizations like the Towing Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC), assisted by the American Waterways Operators and others, thought it would be a good idea not to spring new regs as a surprise. So the TVBP was born.

What the TVBP is trying to do is “ease the transition and ensure that both the Coast Guard and the towing vessel industry are informed and prepared to meet the new requirements to be finalized in Subchapter M.” To do this successfully, the Coast Guard and industry have had to overcome old hurdles by getting together, talking, teaching each other and having much better communications than in the bad old days. 

TVBP started back in 2009 and has been underway for more than four years. None of what I have just told you should be a surprise unless you’ve been under a rock or you’re new — like yesterday — to the industry.

There’s good news and not-so-good news. The good news is that over the last four-plus years the industry and the Coast Guard have cooperated so well that the vast majority of affected boats have been visited by Coast Guard examiners.  Even better news is that a majority of those boats were 100 percent during the exam and have a Coast Guard decal proudly displayed on the starboard wheelhouse window. From what I’ve heard, both industry and the Coast Guard have learned a lot from each other, and as Forrest Gump said, “That’s a good thing.”

The not-so-good news is that after all this time there are still some boats that have skipped the TVBP good deal, and it looks like they are hiding out on the lam. In reality, the boats, which haven’t gotten their free TVBP exam, are only cheating themselves. It could be a huge bummer for them that the first time they see a Coast Guard inspector onboard is when Subchapter M becomes law.   

The Coast Guard has now entered the phase where after calling several times without any answer or participation from you, they are doing what’s called a “Coast Guard Initiated Exam.” That means they’re picking the date and time and telling you they’re coming down to visit you whether it’s a good time or not. You know the Coast Guard has that authority to board your boat. If you think the Coast Guard doesn’t know who or where you are, you are mistaken.

There’s still a good deal to be had. Call your local Coast Guard now and schedule a TVBP exam that’s convenient for you. But call now before you get visited. 

I guarantee your visit and getting to know the local Coast Guard folks will pay dividends. The Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise (TVNCOE) can answer all your questions.

A safe and Happy Thanksgiving to all! We have a lot to give thanks for. Remember those away from their families, especially our military folks.

Sail safe!


About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at

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