It’s Subchapter ‘Maybe’ time

More than 10 years in the making, 46 CFR — Subchapter M, is finally here.

Getting to the final rule for Subchapter M in June 2016 took a Herculean effort on the part of many. The Coast Guard was handed an unenviable task of solving a puzzle with an almost infinite number of pieces. And here’s the kicker — no one had ever put the puzzle together in the history of the industry. No one had to until the Maritime Transportation Act of 2004, when Congress dumped the pieces onto a table and left the room.

As I mentioned, the final rule (https://www. pdf/2016-12857.pdf) was published in June 2016. It affects some 6,000 vessels, experts say. The first deadline passed in July 2017. It said that towing vessels with keels laid or major conversions on or after that date are now required to meet Subchapter M and obtain a Certificate of Inspection (COI) prior to operating.

There are deadlines that reach out to 2022, but the big one is next summer, in July 2018. All vessels must be in compliance with Subchapter M requirements by then. Not all have to have COIs by then, but all must be in compliance. “You have to make sure you’re meeting the requirements by July 20, 2018,” said Jennifer Carpenter, executive vice president and COO, American Waterways Operators (AWO). “Industry is working hard to reach physical compliance by that date.”

Companies have or will shortly make the important decision to use either the Coast Guard or the Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option (also called SMS) for inspection.

The Coast Guard has not assigned more people to Subchapter M inspection but has definitely shifted the focus of some of its staff members to it, according to Capt. Matt Edwards, the Guard’s chief of commercial vessel compliance.

How anxious should owners be about Subchapter M inspections? The bottom line is that a well-maintained vessel will survive a once-over from the Coast Guard.

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.


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    John Cullather, retired Staff Director, Subcommittee on Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation, U.S. House of Representatives on

    Congress did not dump inspection on the towing vessel industry. The Coast Guard requested this legislative authority as part of their annual legislative change proposal which they sent to Congress in 2004. The towing vessel industry agreed to the Coast Guard sending this proposal to Congress because of the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court Decision – CHAO, SECRETARY OF LABOR v. MALLARD BAY
    DRILLING, INC. – which ruled that since towing vessels were not subject to Coast Guard inspection – they were subject to OSHA. The towing industry preferred the Coast Guard to OSHA – therefore the Coast Guard was given this regulatory authority. It then took them over a decade to implement this new authority.

    Congress may have a bad reputation – but this proposal to inspect towing vessels came from the Coast Guard and the industry.

    • Ken Hocke

      Thanks for straightening me out on that. It should also be pointed out that several deadly accidents prior to 2004 involving tows had the attention of at least the members of Congress in the states in which the accidents occurred. Three of the most infamous included 47 killed in 1993 when a tow struck the Big Bayou Canot railroad bridge near Mobile, Ala., kinking the track and causing a train to derail; eight dead in September 2001 when four loaded barges hit the Queen Isabella Causeway causing three 80′ spans to collapse, sending people and their vehicles into the waters of the Laguna Madre in Texas; and 14 dead in 2002 after a river barge crashed into an interstate highway bridge about 65 miles southeast of Tulsa, Okla., collapsing a 600-foot-long section of the four-lane highway and sending as many as nine cars and trucks into the Arkansas River below.

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