Subchapter M Survey Reports

By Kevin P. Gilheany

The advent of the subchapter M towboat rules – even though the bulk of the rules don’t come into effect until July of 2018 – requires a close look at your equipment. How you go about that important task will make all the difference.

 
Towing vessels should be surveyed for Subchapter M regulatory compliance, regardless of the compliance option chosen, so companies can budget and plan for upgrades between now and July of 2018. If a company is being proactive and strategic about Subchapter M, the time to start getting vessels surveyed for regulatory compliance is now. Having conducted a number of Subchapter M regulatory compliance surveys since the first of the year, a number of issues have surfaced and these are worth sharing.
 
Proper Tools
The scope of a towing vessel survey is laid out in Subchapter M, 46 CFR 137.220. Although this section is intended for a third party organization (TPO) survey, it still makes for a useful tool. But following this section alone falls far short of what is required. For example, 137.220(b) states “… verify the vessel complies with part 144 of this chapter and…” then it goes on to list seven areas to survey. The hard part is verifying that the vessel complies with part 144, and all the other parts of Subchapter M. A supplemental survey job aid form, containing all applicable requirements, turns out to be 56 pages, single-spaced.
 
The great part about using a custom survey tool such as this is that it can incorporate all the regulations that are referenced, such as Part 67 and Part 199, which makes it a stand-alone tool, with no uncertainty, or flipping around required. It’s also useful to highlight all applicability exceptions and compliance dates which are essential for an accurate report. What separates an excellent compliance survey from the rest is accuracy. Anyone can write down his or her opinions. What is most valuable to the end user is accurate documentation of regulatory deficiencies. This is tedious work; even for the most experienced.
 
Assumptions
Before beginning a Subchapter M survey, some decisions must be made by the operator. Those decisions include, but are not limited to:
     (a.) what route will the vessel have;
     (b.) how many will be in the crew;
     (c.) how many persons in addition to the crew;
     (d.) warm or cold water operations;
     (e.) will it be an excepted vessel; and
     (f.) which compliance option will it have?
 
These assumptions should be listed at the top of the report and are essential for knowing which parts of Subchapter M apply and which do not.
 
Deficiencies
Although the bulk of Subchapter M doesn’t come into effect until July of 2018, one regulation is already in effect for watertight integrity. 46 CFR 144.320 went into effect on July 20, 2016. Besides checking the condition of all watertight doors and their gaskets, some typical deckhouse penetrations that must be fitted with closure devices include the dryer vent and the forward hold vent. It may raise some eyebrows when it is explained that inspected vessels have drop-down metal covers with watertight gaskets for such openings. And, no matter how well prepared for what comes next that you think your boats may be, actual surveys of very well-maintained towboats (even those which have been in oil service under the OCIMF SIRE protocol) have turned up as many as 40 Subchapter M deficiencies per boat.
 
Preamble in Federal Register
It isn’t as easy as it looks. Coast Guard marine inspectors are highly trained individuals who learn the ins and outs of navigating the numerous sources of guidance, beyond the actual regulations. For example, marine inspectors are taught to check the Federal Register discussion for any regulation when they are unsure of the intent. It is a valuable skill and a good habit to get into. For example, when it comes to Subchapter M, Table 141.305 has a footnote indicating that a vessel in warm waters, with a Lakes, Bays and Sounds route, may use a skiff in lieu of a survival craft when more than 3 miles from shore. However, the text in 141.330 states that a skiff may be used in lieu of a survival craft for vessel “that do not operate more than 3 miles from shore.” So which is correct? When researching that topic in the Federal Register discussion you will find, “…vessels that operate more than 3 miles from shore may not use a skiff as a substitute for a survival craft except for those operating in warm water on the Great Lakes or Lakes, Bays and Sounds.” 
 
This is only in the Preamble. If a surveyor didn’t know to check the Preamble, he could have cost the company about $1,300.00 per boat. Regardless, this point may be moot. 46 CFR 141.330(c) states the skiff used as a survival craft must not exceed the boat’s capacity plate. The jon boats on many towboats have a capacity of three people marked on the capacity plate. The assumption for most towboat’s COI will normally exceed a total of three people on board.
 
Another item to be careful of is the requirement for emergency lighting. 46 CFR 143.410(b) states, “Emergency lighting must be provided for all internal crew working and living areas.” What if there is no emergency lighting in the staterooms, only in the passageway? Isn’t a stateroom a living area? Maybe. When you go to the definitions you will find no definition for “living area.” It could go either way during a Coast Guard inspection. Should you buy emergency lighting for each stateroom just to be on the safe side?
 
Actually, the Federal Register Preamble clearly states, “The Coast Guard received several comments asking whether berthing spaces were required to have emergency lighting under proposed § 143.310(a). Specific berthing spaces are not required to have emergency lights.” Problem solved. With the proper experience and tools, a surveyor can save clients a lot of money on costly compliance errors, as well as having such issues documented in case they come up in the future, which they certainly will.
 
Paperwork
Once the boat is brought into compliance by following the survey report, all that will be left is the paperwork. There are a great deal of required written records, and some policies and procedures, which obviously they will not be ready for at this early stage. However, once operators implement a comprehensive system, such as the Towing Vessel Inspection Record/Compliance Management System which contains about 30 forms, and does a little training, they will be ready to submit their application for inspection to the Coast Guard when the time comes. 
 
 
The Author
Kevin Gilheany is a retired U.S. Coast Guard marine inspector, and owner of Maritime Compliance International, LLC, (MCI). MCI is not a Subchapter M TPO. Its staff of retired Coast Guard marine safety professionals works directly with clients to prepare for Subchapter M, TPO auditors, and the U.S. Coast Guard, regardless of the compliance option chosen. www.maritimecomplianceinternational.com. He can be reached at 504.249.5291, or info@marcomint.com.
 
 
(As published in the May 2017 edition of Marine News)
Marine News Magazine, page 20,  May 2017

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