Coast Guard implements bridging program to ease into new regulations

PHILADELPHIA - Coast Guard Cutter Cleat, homeported here, is shown alongside the tug boat Texan in the Delaware River, Dec. 8, 2011 while Coast Guard crewmembers conduct a boarding. During an at sea boarding, boarding officers conduct an inspection and determine if there are violations in safety equipment, materiel condition or environmental regulation defiance. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer David Allen.


Post written by Lt. Trevor Blount, MST1 Joshua Gonzales and PA3 Cynthia Oldham

The image of a tug boat guiding, pushing, towing or tugging a barge is not necessarily what jumps to mind when someone visualizes the shipping and trade industry, but these tug boat drivers are responsible for every ship making it into America’s ports.

The tug boat community and Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay crewmembers are ramping up efforts to ensure safety and regulatory compliance amongst tug boats. Formally called uninspected towing vessels, the tugs or tow boats are typically shorter than 26 feet.

To help better unify the towing vessel community, the towing vessel bridging program was created and implemented in June 2009. The program’s goal is to smooth the transition from an uninspected to an inspected industry to help maintain safe waterways.

In simple terms, the bridging program will help ensure towing and tug boats are safe, sound and ready to guide ships into port. This will help prevent commerce interruption by not delaying vessel operations.

With input from members from the towing vessel industry, the Coast Guard has designed the program to give all towing vessel owners and operators the opportunity to ensure or gain compliance in accordance with current regulations before new ones take affect further down the road.

There are currently two options for inspections, a voluntary dockside examination and a non-voluntary at sea boarding.

During the at sea boarding, typically conducted by 65-foot Coast Guard cutter crewmembers, boarding officers conduct the boarding and determine if there are violations in safety equipment, materiel condition or environmental regulation defiance.

If violations are found at sea, the penalties range from a letter of warning, to civil penalties and fines.

In order to promote a successful working relationship with the towing vessel industry, examiners are encouraging the voluntary dockside inspection and taking an educational approach. If violations are found operators are made aware of what needs to be corrected in order to gain compliance and be issued an uninspected towing vessel decal.

The bridging program is designed to help tug boat operators understand the level of safety equipment, training and regulatory requirements they must have in place. This way they are able to easily get the certificate once voluntary becomes mandatory.

Once issued, a decal will remain valid for a period of three years and “bridge” the gap until the new, standardized rules are finalized and the vessel is issued a certificate of inspection.

For many independent towing companies the program is their first encounter with the Coast Guard’s examination process. This is a great way for the examiner to engage operators and show them what to expect.

Through strong partnerships and uniform standards between the Coast Guard towing industry the goal of safer waterways and improved commerce efficiency can be achieved.

For more information on the uninspected towing vessel bridging program please visit the Coast Guard’s Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise website

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