Last Thursday was the first big deadline for compliance with Subchapter M towing vessel regulations.

That annual date around July 20 – when the Subchapter M rules were formally adopted in 2016 – marks the stepped phase-in of all the rule's requirements.

Scott Kuhaneck of the Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance works with the towing industry to get the new system in place. He marked the date with this entry in the Coast Guard Maritime Commons blog:

July 20 marked a milestone in Subchapter M implementation.

Towing vessels with keels laid or major conversions on or after July 20, 2017, are required to meet 46 CFR Subchapter M and obtain a Certificate of Inspection (COI) prior to operating.

Additionally, starting July 20, 2018, a portion of existing towing vessels will have one year to meet all of Subchapter M and obtain COIs. As discussed in Subchapter M, owners or managing operators of more than one existing towing vessel required to have a COI must ensure that each existing towing vessel under their ownership or control is issued a valid COI according to the following schedule:

  1. By July 22, 2019, at least 25 percent of the towing vessels must have valid COIs on board;
  2. By July 20, 2020, at least 50 percent of the towing vessels must have valid COIs on board;
  3. By July 19, 2021, at least 75 percent of the towing vessels must have valid COIs on board; and
  4. By July 19, 2022, 100 percent of the towing vessels must have valid COIs on board.

Owners or managing operators of only one existing towing vessel required to have a COI must ensure the vessel has a valid COI by July 20, 2020.

While July 20, 2017, signifies the entry into force of a portion of Subchapter M, some regulations are already in effect. As of July 20, 2016, an existing towing vessel must already comply with watertight or weather tight requirements. Vessel owners and operators should also be aware that towing vessels must meet other applicable requirements in Title 46, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 144 no later than either July 20, 2018, or the date the vessel obtains a COI, whichever date is earlier.

With approximately one year to go before a significant portion of towing vessels start to obtain COIs, owners and managing operators are encouraged to develop a plan to ensure their vessel(s) are in compliance and allow adequate time for the Coast Guard or a third party organization to complete the required inspections, audits, and surveys necessary prior to the issuance of a COI.

Recent policy the Coast Guard has issued includes:

  • CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-01: Use Of The Uninspected Towing Vessel (UTV) Decal To Meet Certain Requirements Regarding Issuance Of The Initial COI Under Subchapter M;
  • CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-02: Use Of Existing Safety Management Systems To Obtain An Initial Certificate Of Inspection Under 46 CFR Subchapter M; and
  • CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-03: Certification Of Inspection (COI) Phase-In Period For Existing Towing Vessels Using The TSMS Option Under Title 46, Code Of Federal Regulations (CFR) Subchapter M

Additional policy letters to come include a TPO Guidebook, Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) Guidebook, and a Compliance Guidebook.

As guidance and policies related to Subchapter M continue to be developed, companies must make the important decision to employ either the Coast Guard option or the TSMS option. Using a third party to conduct surveys and audits is a paradigm shift from traditional Coast Guard inspections. However, the TSMS option may provide greater flexibility to companies in scheduling and performing surveys and audits, while also establishing a comprehensive quality control system that will increase the safety and efficiency of all towing vessel operations.

If stakeholders have additional questions or concerns that are not clearly explained in the preamble or regulatory text of Subchapter M, we encourage people to submit questions via the TVNCOE website or attend the Towing Safety Advisory Committee meetings. Towing companies, whether American Waterways Operators (AWO) members or not, are urged to consult AWO’s Subchapter M website.