If I have learned one thing in my 53 years in the marine business, it’s that the cards are generally not stacked in favor of small business when it comes to winning disputes with the government. While there are processes in place to allow operators to disagree with rulings, time is not generally in our favor.

As a marine operator, I can disagree with my Coast Guard inspector. Everyone has the right to appeal a decision within 30 days of an inspector’s notification of a deficiency. This is not a complicated process. But the problem is that while I must appeal within 30 days, the Coast Guard has no such time constraint to rule on an appeal. During this time, I am faced with mounting costs and lost business.

An example, which occurs often in the passenger vessel industry, happened to my company during a drydock inspection. The Coast Guard inspector noticed some pitting on the hull of our vessel and decided that a significant portion of the hull plate needed to be replaced. I disagreed with this assessment, and we appealed to the Coast Guard. While the appeal was being processed, I was forced to decide to either replace the hull as required or lose a significant amount of business while the appeal was being considered. I made the uncomfortable decision to spend the money and replace the hull rather than lose the business. Ironically, my company won the appeal and would not have had to replace the hull of the vessel if we had waited, but the appeal took almost a year.

I understand if the government is short staffed, and resource challenged. Frankly, that is a way of life for everyone who operates a small business such as mine. But we need to ensure that we are not forced into making unnecessary, and often expensive, decisions because of inefficient government timelines. My advice to my colleagues in the maritime industry is to get to know the Coast Guard leadership in your local area so that you can engage them when time critical issues come up. These relationships will not guarantee a favorable decision, but it can help speed up the process.

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or [email protected].

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