Category Archives: Blog


A recent article in the Seattle Times titled “Recent breakdowns heighten concern about state’s fragile ferry fleet” chronicles  the challenges with  maintaining a fleet of  ferries that are, on average, 33 years old. Lynne Griffith, the Chief of the Washington State Ferries was quoted as saying “Our fleet of vessels is in operation 20 to 22 hours every day, so the window of opportunities for crews to do maintenance work is small.” That is not an acceptable answer when the lives of their passengers are at stake.

According to this article ferries missed 83 trips last year because of mechanical problems. Many of these mechanical problems are preventable such as the recent problem on the ferry TACOMA in which a wire came loose. Ms. Griffith was quoted as saying “All they had to do was tighten down the screws.”

She is correct – the screws do need to be tightened down – on the Washington State Ferry system.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that Safety Management Systems can help prevent marine casualties like the two that occurred in New York: The 2003 casualty involving the ferry ANDREW J. BARBERI that killed 11 passengers; and the 2013 casualty involving the SEASTREAK ferry that injured 80 people, 4 of them critically.

Section 610 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 gave the Coast Guard the authority to require operators of passenger vessels, such as the Washington State Ferry System, establish a “Safety Management System” for their vessels.

The statute specifically states:

‘‘(c) In prescribing regulations for passenger vessels and small passenger vessels, the Secretary (Coast Guard) shall consider—

‘‘(1) the characteristics, methods of operation, and nature of the service of these vessels; and

‘‘(2) with respect to vessels that are ferries, the sizes of the ferry systems within which the vessels operate.’’

It is time for the Coast Guard to prescribe, audit, and enforce requirements to implement the 2010 law and require passenger vessels in the United States to operate and maintain effective Safety Management Systems. Safety Management is good business – it will also improve the reliability of these vessels. The safety system in place clearly has not been effective if it has resulted in 83 trips being missed due to mechanical breakdowns.

No more passengers should be injured or killed because the operators fail to adequately manage their vessels and personnel.


UPDATE: How long can you tread water? House votes to repeal survival craft requirement

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1987, legislation that repeals the statutory requirement that existing passenger vessels, such as whale watching boats and party fishing boats, carry survival craft that will keep you out of the water.

This is a deadly step backward for the safety of the passengers and crew on these types of excursions.

This is the type of survival craft they want you to hold onto to save your life:

Life float photo

Many people will have a difficult time holding onto this in the ocean – let alone children, the elderly, and those with disabilities. These devices were first approved by the Federal Government in 1901 when there were no alternatives.  Today there are devices on the market that can keep you out of the water.

The owners small passenger vessels such as whale watching boats and party fishing boats are willing to take your money for you to have an enjoyable day on the water – but are not willing to keep you out of the water of things do not go as expected. They have the same belief as the owner of the TITANIC had in 1912 – their vessel won’t sink.

That is why this change is opposed by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) which includes organizations such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America and Easter Seals.

If you would like to read more background material on this issue, please read my other blog post titled “Congress to vote to repeal Survival Craft requirement.”

I do not believe that any Members of Congress who voted for this provision took up my challenge to hold onto one of these craft for 2 hours 20 miles off the coast of San Diego – with or without their a hand tied behind their back.

If you don’t want to have to tread water when your excursion vessel is in trouble, you may want to contact your Senator to oppose section 302 of H.R. 1987. You can enter your zip code in the attached link and it will help you make that contact.  Link: Contact your Senator.

Fishing Vessel Safety Manuals – safety begins with continuous training

In 2008, the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association began publishing the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Digest.  It is an excellent explanation of U.S. fishing vessel safety regulations. In 2003, the Government of Canada began publishing the Small Fishing Vessel Safety Manual which covers a broader array of safety topics including the Rules-of-the-Road, an explanation and illustration of stability, workplace safety, weather, and what to do in various types of emergencies. U.S. fishermen should become intimately familiar with both of these publications. In fact, it would be even better for someone to publish a U.S. version of the Small Fishing Vessel Safety Manual that combines the information contained in both publications and includes the new fishing vessel safety requirements that will come into effect in the United States on October 15, 2015. It would not be difficult to turn this into an educational App for fishermen’s handheld devices.

Congress to vote to repeal survival craft requirement

ISSUE:  This week the U.S. House of Representatives to will consider a bill that would eliminate the requirement that all survival craft on existing vessels keep people out of the water



At the end of this column I will issue a challenge to any Member of Congress, the Coast Guard, or owner of a vessel that believes Congress should repeal the requirement that survival craft keep people out of the water. But first, some background on this issue.


When a person on vacation decides to go on a charter fishing boat or whale watching excursion, they have every expectation that they will return home safely.  But what if something goes wrong – accidents do happen. What if everyone on board is forced to abandon ship – can they all survive until the Coast Guard arrives, up to 2 hours later? It has been over 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic and all vessels carrying passengers still are still not required to have survival craft to keep everyone out of the water. This may be particularly dangerous for the elderly, children and those with disabilities.

In 1901, the Federal Government approved the use of a device called a “Carley float” (pictured below). Today it is referred to as a “survival craft”- either a Buoyant Apparatus or Life-Float – and is something that one can hang onto until rescued – if one can hang onto it.  Today we have hundreds of thousands of passengers going out on excursions – including children, the elderly, and the disabled – that probably could not hang onto this device in a pitching sea for up to 2 hours.

                                Rigid Boyant apparatus       Life float photo

                                 Rigid buoyant apparatus (left) vs life-float (right)

In 2010, Congress intervened to protect the public. Section 609 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 (1) requires all survival craft to keep people out of the water; (2) prohibits the Coast Guard from approving survival craft that do not keep people out of the water beginning on October 15, 2010; and (3) allows vessels that have the existing survival craft to use them until 2016 – by which time they would have to replace them with survival craft that keep people out of the water.

There are basically two options to replacing the existing survival craft.  First, the vessel owner can replace them with an inflatable survival craft such as an Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus that has a floor.  Some vessel owners object to this because of the cost – including the annual cost to test them to ensure they will inflate.

The second option is to replace them with a rigid survival craft – similar to the existing craft – but with a floor in the bottom. During World War II, the Navy/Coast Guard recognized the need to replace the old Carley floats with something that would help our soldiers and sailors survive if their ship was sunk. They developed a survival craft called the “Winner Float”.

                                          ERE - survival craft

The Coast Guard  approved rigid survival craft that would keep people out of the water until the 1950’s.  It is time to bring them back.  There is a large market for a manufacturer to build this type of survival craft with stronger and lighter modern materials.

Casualty investigations by both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigations have recommended that survival craft keep individuals out of the water, such as in their 1973 reports on the M/V COMET which sank off Point Judith, Rhode Island killing 16 people.

A 1989 study by the NTSB titled “Passenger Vessels Operating from U.S. Ports” recommended that the U.S. Coast Guard:

“Require that all passenger vessels except ferries on river routes operating on short runs of 30 minutes or less have primary lifesaving equipment that prevents immersion in the water for all passengers and crew.”

A letter dated November 15, 1989, from the NTSB to the Coast Guard stated:

Life floats (and non-inflatable buoyant apparatus) are antiquated pieces of survival gear that should no longer be allowed on board inspected vessels. They should be phased out of service, just as the cork life preservers and calcium carbide water light were phased out of service. The Safety Board opposes the continued use of life floats and non-inflatable buoyant apparatus as primary lifesaving devices.”

A 2005 study by the Coast Guard titled “Report on Small Passenger Vessel Safety” stated that buoyant Apparatus and Life Floats,

“which have been in use on commercial vessels for at least 70 years, are similar in that they are both like very large life rings. The primary difference is that a life float includes a platform suspended from the buoyant portion of the device by netting or similar means. Neither device supports a person out of the water; with the exception of a few persons who might be able to stand on the platform in the center of a life float and only be immersed waist-deep, they generally only provide something for persons in the water to hold on to, with most of the rated capacity hanging on the outside edge.”

Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 (as introduced) repeals out-of-the-water protection for all existing vessels.

Section 302 of  the proposed Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1987, as introduced) eliminates the requirement that all existing vessels , such as charter fishing boats and whale watching excursion boats, have craft that will keep their passengers and crew out of the water in the event of an emergency.

It only requires out of the water protection for vessels built after January 1, 2016 AND that operate in cold water areas.

This issue is not just about cold water – it is about protecting the lives of children, the elderly, and the disabled that are on these vessels for an enjoyable trip regardless of whether they are operating in cold water. Should a disabled veteran, wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, forgo an enjoyable charter fishing excursion just because the charter boat will not provide survival craft designed with out- of- the- water protection that will ensure his/her safety? The Coast Guard’s own performance standards for Search and Rescue sets a maximum time interval it should take them to get to a casualty is 2 hours.  How are these people to survive that 2 hour wait if they are immersed in water and cannot hold on to a survival craft? This is compounded by the fact that an American Red Cross survey found that 44 percent of Americans cannot perform basic swim safety skills.

Section 302 can lead to unnecessary loss of life. It is time to leave the technology of 1901 behind and for all vessels carrying survival craft to provide out- of- the- water protection for all those onboard.

CHALLENGE:  I challenge any Member of Congress, the Coast Guard, or vessel owner to hold onto an existing survival craft for 2 hours, 20 miles off the coast of San Diego.  If they want a more significant challenge – do it with one hand tied behind their back or both their legs tied together to partially simulate the challenges of a disabled individual.

If you would like to contact your Member of Congress to oppose section 302 of H.R. 1987, you can enter your zip code in the attached link and it will help you make that contact.  Link: Contact Member of Congress.

I know that my family will not be sailing on a whale watching boat or charter fishing boat that is required to carry survival craft unless it provides out-of-the-water protection.  What about yours?

Classing of Commercial Fishing Vessels

Between 2000 and 2010 there were 278 fatalities on U.S.-flag commercial fishing vessels and 148 commercial fishing vessel disasters. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, commercial fishing is the most deadly industry in the United States. In the past 2 weeks, two commercial fishing vessels sank – the 55 foot shrimp boat MISS KATHY sank off Georgia and the 52 foot SEA BEAST sank off Washington State resulting in the death of its master.

The Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988 has saved many lives by requiring safety equipment on vessels – such as immersion suits and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs). However, this law did not establish any requirement for commercial fishing vessels to meet design and construction standards. The 1988 Act helped you once your vessel was sinking – but it did little to prevent it from sinking in the first place.

Section 603 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 amended section 4503 of title 46 of the United States Code closed this gap by requiring all commercial fishing vessels that are 50 feet or overall in length and operate more than 3 nautical miles offshore to be designed, built, and maintained to a standard established by an approved classification society (such as the American Bureau of Shipping or DNV GL). Congress believed that these private sector safety organizations would work with the commercial fishing industry to develop flexible standards that would meet the needs of the fishing industry and improve safety. The deadline to meet these standards was delayed until June 30, 2013 to give the classification societies time to develop the standards and for the fishing industry to be able to use these standards for new fishing vessels. Classing works and is affordable – even for vessels in the 50 to 79 foot size range. Last year Kvichak Marine Industries built a 66 foot fish tender vessel PAUL JOHNSON for the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation – it was classed by RINA (the Italian classification society) (see article).

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, as amended by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, allows commercial fishing vessels that are between 50 and 79 feet to meet an “Alternate Safety Compliance Program” established by the Coast Guard instead of meeting the standards of a classification society. Classing begins with review of the construction plans, includes certification of shipyard workers such as welders, and continues on to periodic examinations to ensure that the vessel continues to meet the class society standards throughout the life of the vessel. To be an “Alternative” to classing that provides the same level of safety, the Coast Guard standards must include all of the components required under class requirements such as hull and machinery standards.

Under the 2010 Authorization Act, commercial fishing vessels built before July 1, 2013 do not have to be classed – but must meet the safety standards of an Alternate Compliance Safety Program established by the Coast Guard. Existing fishing vessels that are at least 50 feet overall in length must meet these requirements beginning on January 1, 2020 once the vessel is 25 years old.

While the sea will always be unpredictable and dangerous, it is time to implement design and construction standards for commercial fishing vessels to protect the men and women who put fish on our table to eat.

Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 ordered reported from Committee to Full House

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has marked up and ordered reported to the full House of Representatives H.R. 1987, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015.  There are several provisions in this bill that will decrease safety for those that travel and work on vessels.  I will be writing about these provisions in the coming days.

The text of H.R. 1987, as introduced and the Managers amendment, can be found at the following links:

H.R. 1987 – as introduced

Managers Amendment – dated April 29, 2015


3 rescued, 1 missing after fishing boat SEA BEAST capsizes at sea

The Coast Guard rescued 3 crewmen of the fishing vessel SEA BEAST off Washington State.  They continue to search for the master of the vessel. This 52 foot commercial vessel was built in 1974. While the SEA BEAST had been issued a Fishing Vessel Safety decal on March 12, 2015, this type of a safety examination attempts to ensure that the fishing vessel has the safety equipment on board to help the crew survive a casualty – such as immersion suits.

This is just the type of casualty that Congress was trying to prevent by enacting the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010.  Section 604(e) of that law required all new commercial vessels over 50 feet in length to be built and maintained to standards established by an approved classification society. This law, for the first time, established design and construction standards for commercial fishing vessels to prevent capsizings, floodings and sinkings in the most dangerous industry in the United States. Existing commercial fishing vessels over 50 feet in length, such as the SEA BEAST, must meet Alternate Compliance Standards beginning on January 1, 2020. Existing vessels could not meet class standards because, for example, classing begins with blueprint and plan review and approval before the vessel was built.

KOMO News Story

Here is a USCG Video of their search and response:

Coast Guard – SEA BEAST video

According to the Coast Guard, this is the basic information regarding the SEA BEAST:

Vessel Name: SEA BEAST
VIN: 560484
Hull Number:
Vessel Call Sign: WAY5666
Build Year: 1974
Service: Commercial Fishing Vessel
Length: 52.0 ft
Breadth: 15.1 ft
Depth: 8.1 ft
Alternate VINs: CG131209560484,
IMO Number:

Service Information: Tonnage Information:
Service: In Service
Out Of Service Date: N/A
Last Removed From Service By: N/A
Gross Tonnage(GRT): 42
Net Tonnage(NRT): 34
Gross Tonnage(GT ITC):
Cargo Authority:

Vessel Documents and Certifications
Document Agency Date Issued Expiration Date
Fishing Vessel Decal USCG March 12, 2015 March 12, 2017
Fishing Vessel Decal USCG April 25, 2013 April 25, 2015
Fishing Vessel Decal USCG March 9, 2011 March 9, 2013
Fishing Vessel Decal USCG March 23, 2006 March 23, 2008
Fishing Vessel Decal USCG August 4, 2004 August 4, 2006
Fishing Vessel Decal USCG July 1, 2004 July 1, 2006
Fishing Vessel Decal uscg March 3, 2002 March 3, 2004
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