The hot topic at a recent meeting with the Coast Guard was inspections and how to improve the inspection process.
Our local charter boat association met with Lt. Cmdr. Gretchen Bailey, Coast Guard chief of domestic Sector Puget Sound, to discuss passenger vessel inspections and operations. Sector Puget Sound is a training port, known for commercial mariners who are patient and helpful with Coast Guard inspector trainees but also pay close attention during the inspection, especially when trainees fill out the paperwork.
A while back, however, one operator wasn’t watching closely and a trainee punched the wrong numbers on his COI expiration stickers. Later on, the operator was fined $5,000 for operating without a current COI. (Coast Guard trainees use an 840 book. Download the one that applies to your vessel, and use it to prepare for your inspection.)
Everyone should receive an advance call from the inspector, telling you what to expect. No call? Then call them. Ask your inspector what they are going to focus on. Ask specific questions if you are concerned about compliance, and what you might need to do to prepare. Are you mounting new life rafts this year? Always call the Coast Guard to discuss where the best place is to mount your new life raft so that it has a better chance at deploying without getting fouled up. Have paperwork OUT and READY. Have valves ready for inspection (cleared, accessible). Check for any expired items. Fire and MOB drills are of the utmost importance. Inspectors will look for the most likely place a fire or dangerous situation can occur on board. All crew should know the dangers inherent to their vessel, such as where the fuel shutoff valve is, etc.
Inspectors are moving toward more active drills instead of “tabletop” drills, which means less walk-throughs and more reality. This includes the use of MOB dummies like “Oscar,” whose weight and size are better for simulating a real MOB recovery.
On top of these valuable tips, we touched on a few other topics including a new USCG focus on sailboat rigging and an old issue about proper fuel filters. A few accomplished riggers briefed inspectors on how to better assess the health of sailboat rigging. This was mainly a presentation for Puget Sound inspectors, but a few of the Coast Guard’s finest flew in from Connecticut to also learn a little more about rigging. While there really is no such thing as a certified rigger, there are guidelines on how to inspect rigging. Tall Ships America, the leading organization in sail training in the U.S, published a booklet on how to inspect a rig.
The more frequent the rig inspections, the better. Many large sailing vessels send a crewmember aloft daily to check for chafe and metal stress on fittings. The Coast Guard wants to know that trained crew is paying close attention to rig safety.
Also, operators are continuing to receive deficiency marks when it comes to the old “farm grade” vs. “marine grade” fuel filter housings. They are basically the same device, but farm grade is not marine certified, and inspectors are required to only accept marine-certified equipment. Be sure to check that you have the marine-grade filter housings installed on your vessel. There is much discontent over having to remove perfectly good (and expensive) filter housings, but this is an issue that must be taken up with the manufacturer.
It’s worth it to join and support your local charter boat associations if you want to keep updated on regulatory developments in your area and share useful information with other operators in your community.