Reconsidering U.S. Coast Guard Subchapter M Requirements?


Subchapter M is a relatively new law containing training and inspection regulations covering tugboat and towboat operations and their owners. From the beginning, Sub M compliance efforts have been met with great controversy. Third party organizations (TPO) have attempted to create systems to satisfy customers as well as the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), which is charged with enforcement of all Sub M requirements. The USCG has tried to enforce Sub M consistently, but has not been completely successful. Meanwhile, vessel-owners have largely watched these developments and absorbed the damages. One of the core features of Sub M is the requirement of an effective and thorough Safety Management System (SMS), which has gained the attention of industry.

Sub M has two inspection options: incorporating the TPO “packages”, or following the USCG-created method, which is both easier and less expensive. There is a $1,030 annual inspection fee, as well as the cost of insurance, which for one vessel costs approximately $5,150.00 for the typical five-year cycle. That means that, overall, initial compliance with Subchapter M will cost a boat-owner about $17,900 per five-year cycle. The SMS compliance of course is extra.

When Sub M started, the USCG thought that 70% of the towboat-operating companies would use the TPO option, with only 30% using the USCG option. However, the higher cost of TPO inspections and related services has encouraged the opposite trend. However, the message from the USCG can be inconsistent; while the USCG Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise (TVNCOE) in Paducah, KY provides a wealth of information and guidance, it also can be inconsistent, as has been determined by the USCG itself.

At this point, if the USCG wants an SMS system created by TPOs to work, then the USCG may need to collaborate better with the TPOs, so that an industry (or TPO)-created SMS to function more efficiently.

The above is a summary of one or more news stories reviewed by the author of this article. It may contain comments or views of the author only.

This article is intended for general interest and does not constitute legal advice.

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