A break for passenger vessel operators

Passenger vessel operators dodged a potentially costly equipment requirement thanks to the recently signed Coast Guard Authorization Act.

A provision in the act requires small passenger vessel operators to have survival craft that keep passengers from being immersed in water if their vessels are built or significantly altered after January 2016 or if they operate in cold water.

Without that wording, everyone would have had to have out-of-water craft thanks to a 2010 law originally effective last year but delayed until this year while the Coast Guard compiled accident and cost data.

The agency 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.” They also said it would cost $350.2 million over 10 years to replace life floats and other equipment and to service and maintain new craft.

But the reviews aren’t over. The new law requires the Department of Homeland Security — which includes the Coast Guard — to give House and Senate committees by year’s end statistics including: the number of casualties for people with disabilities, children and the elderly resulting from immersion in water over the past 30 years by vessel type and area of operation. (For additional requirements, see the full text of the bill.)

The Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) has argued that the requirement in the original legislation made no sense and was not justified by the casualty history. The new provision was PVA’s top legislative priority.

“PVA has steadfastly maintained that the industry’s excellent safety record over time supports the risk-based approach administered for years by the Coast Guard, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach imposed by Congress in 2010,” the trade association said in a statement Thursday.

Out-of-water survival craft is appropriate for certain vessels that operate in water below 59 degrees F, on routes far from shore or in areas where help is not readily available, PVA said. But in warm water or protected areas close to help, “life floats provide protection in the event of evacuation from the vessel.”

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

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