Most of us know that business is an ongoing process of compromise and give and take. For those of us who make our living on the water, interacting with Coast Guard inspectors and inspections is an important facet of our complex maritime existence. In fact, it is the one area that can unexpectedly halt commerce should an inspection go poorly. That is why it is important to be prepared for each inspection and approach it professionally and with respect.
But this cuts both ways, and operators should expect the same standard from Coast Guard inspectors. If there are disagreements — and there will be — both parties should be open to discuss solutions.
When the discussions break down and the Coast Guard insists that you must make a repair, contrary to what many might think, you have options. Let’s face it, the Coast Guard is not under any pressure to reopen your business, and every minute that you are laid up costs you money.
The first option is compromise. You may be able to come up with a solution that has not been suggested. There may be continuing disagreement. At this point many operators simply roll over and make the repair or the required change. In my opinion this often is a poor decision as it may commit you to spending dollars unnecessarily.
The next option, which is often ignored, is your right to appeal an inspector’s decision. While this may take a little more time, if you feel that you are correct, this is the proper course of action as it kicks the decision-making up to a higher level and often to a Coast Guard officer who has more experience. While my record in appeals is a little better than 55%, the money that I have saved in avoiding unnecessary repairs is significant.
As I speak with my fellow operators, I am amazed by how many tell me they are concerned about challenging a Coast Guard decision for fear of retaliation. I can tell you from my many years on the rivers, this is not true.
While I have had disagreements with my inspectors over the years, I have found them to deal with me fairly. I have learned to approach each inspection with a give-and-take attitude, always recognizing that there are options available to me if things take a wrong turn.