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SAFE-BOAT SMART-BOAT: Update on fishing vessel safety requirements

On Dec. 20, 2012, President Obama signed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 (CGMTA).  This law made some significant changes to the US Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 (CGAA), which established safety and equipment requirements for commercial fishing vessels.  The requirements in both laws build upon the standards established in the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988.

A qualified Coast Guard-approved marine drill instructor, Fred Mattera of Point Judith, RI is the owner/president of North East Safety Training Co. (NESTCo), which conducts fishing vessel drills and inspections and basic safety training workshops.   A commercial fisherman for 40 years, Mattera is a member of the Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee to the Coast Guard, and, since 1998, has been president of the Point Club, a fishing vessel mutual insurance group.  He also has served on the board of directors for Sunderland Marine Mutual Insurance Co., the principal underwriter for the Point Club and more than 2,000 US fishing vessels, since 1998.

A qualified Coast Guard-approved marine drill instructor, Fred Mattera of Point Judith, RI is the owner/president of North East Safety Training Co. (NESTCo), which conducts fishing vessel drills and inspections and basic safety training workshops.
A commercial fisherman for 40 years, Mattera is a member of the Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee to the Coast Guard, and, since 1998, has been president of the Point Club, a fishing vessel mutual insurance group. He also has served on the board of directors for Sunderland Marine Mutual Insurance Co., the principal underwriter for the Point Club and more than 2,000 US fishing vessels, since 1998.

The Coast Guard is now gearing up to implement a number of the measures contained in these laws.  Some provisions do not necessarily require new or amended regulations, such as vessel construction standards, classification, and load line requirements for new vessels.  Other changes mandated by the laws will be implemented through new or amended regulations.

It’s important to be aware that Title 46 CFR Parts 28 and 42 will be amended to reflect the requirements in these laws and to implement rules where the Coast Guard has authority or discretion.  Below is a sampling of what some of the pending changes will do.  I’ll explain what they mean in more detail further down.

•  Establish the “demarcation line” as 3 nautical miles (NM) from the territorial sea baseline.

•  Establish parity with respect to equipment requirements for state-registered and federally documented vessels operating beyond the 3-NM demarcation line.

•  Require installation of a survival craft (life raft) that ensures no part of an individual is immersed in water on all commercial fishing vessels operating beyond the 3-NM demarcation line.

•  Require the master of a commercial fishing vessel operating beyond the 3-NM demarcation line to keep a log of equipment maintenance and mandatory instructions and drills.

•  Require mandatory periodic Coast Guard dockside safety exams on all commercial fishing vessels operating beyond the 3-NM demarcation line.

•  Require training to demonstrate knowledge and competency for all masters of commercial fishing vessels operating beyond the 3-NM demarcation line.

•  Require commercial fishing vessels built after Jan. 1, 2010 that are less than 50′ overall length to be constructed in a manner that provides the level of safety equivalent to the minimum standards established for recreational vessels.

•  Require commercial fishing vessels built after July 1, 2013 that are 79′ or greater in length to be assigned a load line.

•  Require commercial fishing vessels built after July 1, 2013 that are 50′ overall length or greater and operate beyond the 3-NM demarcation line to meet survey and classification requirements.  Also, commercial fishing vessels built to class requirements before July 1, 2013 must remain in class.

•  Require certain commercial fishing vessels that undergo a major conversion to comply with an “Alternate Safety Compliance Program” to be developed for both load line and construction standards requirements.

 

What it all means

Now, I will present my best effort to bestow a meaningful interpretation and explanation of the above described regulations.

•  Replacing the “Boundary Line” with 3 NM – The “Boundary Line,” used as a demarcation line, was often confusing since the distance from the shore was not uniform around the coast and is not shown on most charts.

The 3-NM demarcation line is measured consistently around the US coastline, is indicated on most charts, and, most importantly, is familiar to commercial fishermen.

The CGAA changes things by deleting the words “boundary line” and replacing them with “3 NM from the baseline,” establishing a new demarcation line for vessels subject to specific safety standards.

•  Parity for all vessels – The CGAA establishes uniform safety standards and equipment requirements for all commercial fishing vessels operating beyond the 3-NM demarcation line.

In the past, state-registered vessels were not required to meet the higher equipment and safety standards governing documented vessels operating in the same area.

•  Survival craft – Life floats and buoyant apparatus have been acceptable for the inshore fleet, but they do not keep an individual out of the water in an abandon-ship situation, which is critical to survival, particularly in cold water areas.

The CGAA changes that by deleting the words “lifeboats or life rafts (buoyant apparatus)” and replacing them with “a survival craft that ensures that no part of an individual is immersed in water.”  As of February 2016, all commercial fishing vessels operating beyond 3 NM will be required to carry survival craft.

•  Records and logs – This provision will ensure that there is a maintenance record documenting safety equipment and repairs according to regulations or manufacturer’s recommendations.

A few examples of this are:  monthly testing of the EPIRB; testing of high-water alarms; testing of general alarms and engine room strobes; testing immersion suits that are five years or older from the manufacturer’s date; and documenting that emergency instructions and drills are conducted monthly by a qualified drill conductor with crewmember participation and their signatures, and having a minimum of two copies, one for the vessel and one for shoreside records.  It will be incumbent upon the master to maintain these records on board the vessel.

•  Examinations and certificates of compliance (COC) – Currently, Coast Guard dockside safety exams are voluntary unless a valid safety exam decal is required, such as for vessels that have to carry a National Marine Fisheries Service observer on board, and must be updated every two years.

The CGAA now requires that commercial fishing vessels operating beyond 3 NM undergo a dockside exam at least once every five years and be issued a certificate of compliance.  The CGMTA further requires that the first such mandatory exam for a vessel be completed no later than Oct. 15, 2015.

Please note that the law states at least once every five years.  That allows the Coast Guard to promote more frequent exams, and it likely will require decals on a two-year cycle, which I find reasonable.  The CGAA also authorized the Coast Guard to remove a COC from any vessel that does not comply with its provisions and terminate a fishing trip if the vessel is operating without a COC.

Don’t wait until October 2015 to get your dockside exam.  Most exams take one hour or less depending on the size of your vessel.

•  Training for commercial fishing vessel operators – Most commercial fishing vessel operators are unlicensed.  This training requirement will ensure competency to command the vessel.  Individuals in charge of a commercial fishing vessel – the captain and mate – will have to go through a training program and pass a test to demonstrate their knowledge and competency in seamanship, navigation and publications, collision prevention, stability, firefighting and prevention, damage control, personal survival, emergency medical care, emergency drills, weather, watchkeeping, and emergency communication.

The CGAA requires the master of every vessel that operates beyond 3 NM to pass a training program and hold a certificate of competency.  The certificate will be valid for five years.  After that, refresher training will be required to keep the certificate current.

•  Construction standards for smaller vessels – With respect to smaller commercial fishing vessels, there currently is little guidance and few requirements as to how the vessel is constructed to ensure the safety of the vessel and crew.  Construction standards imposed by this provision will improve the integrity of these smaller fishing vessels.

The CGAA requires that commercial fishing vessels less than 50′ overall and built after Jan. 1, 2010 provide a level of safety equivalent to the minimum safety standards established for recreational vessels.  The standards/requirements for recreational vessels can be found in 33 CFR Parts 181 and 183.

Another bitter pill to swallow.  More regulations that will have an economic impact on the commercial fishing fleet.  For some fishermen the practices that will be detailed in these new regulations are already embedded in their daily, monthly, and annual fishing activities.  But, for others, namely the inshore fleet, this will impose greater economic hardship.

However, these new regs are intended to preserve, improve, and enforce essential safety standards on our aging fleet and to address past flaws that have led to fishing vessel disasters by improving vessel construction standards.

There’s more.  A lot more.  Next time, I will address load lines, classing of vessels, and the “Alternative Safety Compliance Program.”

Fred Mattera – NESTCo

 

A qualified Coast Guard-approved marine drill instructor, Fred Mattera of Point Judith, RI is the owner/president of North East Safety Training Co. (NESTCo), which conducts fishing vessel drills and inspections and basic safety training workshops.  

A commercial fisherman for 40 years, Mattera is a member of the Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee to the Coast Guard, and, since 1998, has been president of the Point Club, a fishing vessel mutual insurance group.  He also has served on the board of directors for Sunderland Marine Mutual Insurance Co., the principal underwriter for the Point Club and more than 2,000 US fishing vessels, since 1998.

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