Many small towing vessel operators and owners are still confused by the division of
Subchapter “M” or what I like to refer to the “bipolar” nature of the way these regulations are
being rolled out to the industry. It is very important for all owners to understand the process as
much as what regulatory changes apply to them. Therein lies much of the confusion.
While no one disagrees that all companies should have a “safety management system”
that ensures that operators are clear on their responsibilities, communication processes, and
safe operating procedures, it has come to our attention that some third party organizations and
consulting firms are not making ALL options known to companies and letting them decide on the
best options based on both a financial, cost benefit analysis, as well as a safety risk
management analysis. The first thing that ALL towing vessel owners should know is that there
are two sets of regulations under Subchapter M. These are referred to in layman’s terms as;
1. The Coast Guard Option; OR
2. The Third Party Option.
These two options have very significant and separate processes associated with them.
Under the “Coast Guard” option, owners will be working directly with their local USCG OCMI
(Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection) office. Who will be sending a marine inspector to the
vessel to conduct a COI (Certificate of Inspection) inspection, as well as annual follow-up
(mid-period) inspections. With this option, the Coast Guard will be the the “auditor” who will
verify that the vessel meets ALL safety and operational requirements. They will also verify that
the vessel is properly documenting certain operations in what is known as a Towing Vessel
Record (TVR). A TVR is NOT a towing safety management system. It can be a written OR
electronic record that captures items noted in 46 CFR 140.915.
Under the “Third Party Option”, the Coast Guard will only visit the vessel for the initial
COI inspection and during it’s renewal, five years later. However, before the Coast Guard will
come for its initial inspection, the owner must be operating under the auspices of a Third Party
Organization and a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) for at least 6-months. Under
that system, the Third Party Organization will be issuing a TSMS “certificate” stating that the
company is in substantial compliance with their safety management system. These audits are
required 2 times during a COI period as well as other internal and external vessel audits (visits)
during the 5-year COI period, to ensure that each vessel is in compliance. It is ONLY under this
option that the owner must have a robust TSMS in place and in operation across the fleet.
For more questions please contact us today!