A final rule for new federal regulations intended to improve safety of the nation's towing vessel fleet continues to limp along the approval process, with yet another new projected date announced for publication of the final rule: August 2015.

That will replace an earlier projection of March 2015, which replaced even earlier projections of late 2013, early 2014.

The new date was published Nov. 21 in the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which is issued twice yearly to update the public on federal regulatory activity.

Called Subchapter M Proposed Regulations for Towing Vessels, the comprehensive new inspection scheme will include company compliance, vessel standards and oversight. It will also allow towing vessel companies the flexibility to customize their approach to meeting the new standards, which will be implemented in a multi-year phase-in. This will be the first ever inspection program for the U.S. towing industry.

The regulations currently await clearance at the Coast Guard, which is a crucial first step in the approval process. The Coast Guard has been developing the details of the regulations for more than three years, and has held numerous public hearings and comment periods to gain input from the towing industry. The agency researched both the human factors and equipment failures that caused accidents, and developed standards that would reduce the risk of accidents.

"The primary benefit of the proposed rule is an increase in vessel safety, and a resulting decrease in the risk of towing vessel accidents and their consequences," which are defined as fatalities, injuries, property damage, pollution and delays, according to the Nov. 21 Unified Agenda statement.

After release from the Coast Guard, the regulatory package will go for review to the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and the Budget. This will likely take several more months. The American Waterways Operators, which represents the towing industry, says it is prepared to pressure these two departments to speed up their reviews.