Category Archives: Commercial Vessels

Proceedings: Improving Mariner Situational Awareness

The Summer 2015 issue of the Coast Guard publication Proceedings is now available at this link. This issue is titled “Improving Mariner Situational Awareness” and addresses the growing role of technology on the bridge of a vessel and the various skill levels found on the many types of vessels found on our nation’s waterways. This publication will provide you with insights into the Coast Guard’s vision for improving navigational safety in the United States.

The Finest Hours – historic Coast Guard rescue

The Trailer for the movie “The Finest Hours” has been released.  This movie is about the historic rescue by the Coast Guard of the crew of the tanker PENDLETON during a storm in 1952. I understand that the movie will be released in early 2016.

Marine Casualty Investigations – Information and analysis, not data, is needed

My friend Dennis Bryant (USCG-Ret) published an article on titled “Marine Casualty Reporting: Addressing the Coast Guard’s Processes” in which he discusses the current broken state of the Coast Guard’s marine casualty reporting and investigation system. I agree with Dennis that the system is broken – and has been for years.

In his article Dennis states:

“The Coast Guard is drowning in marine casualty reports.  The majority of its informal investigations are never closed.  Those that are closed are seldom read again.  Lessons that might have been learned from marine casualties are rarely shared with the maritime industry. It is time to go back to basics.”

Therefore, Dennis recommends that the types of accidents and injuries reported to the Coast Guard be scaled back and that sector commanders be given broad latitude to decide which casualties should be investigated.

Dennis also states that “In my opinion, there are far too many informal investigations and they generally provide no lessons learned.” If an investigation provides no less learned – then perhaps it is the fault of the investigator, the investigator’s training, and the quality of the report that has been prepared. The major purpose of these types of investigations is not to suspend or revoke the license of a mariner who may have made a mistake – but to learn from the casualty so that future accidents can be prevented and to help ensure that Coast Guard regulations are adequately addressing the root causes of a casualty.

Perhaps the Coast Guard should gather more information about a casualty – not just “data” about time, place, and who was involved. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has delved into the Coast Guard’s casualty reports and prepared an excellent analysis of casualties and injuries on commercial fishing vessels.  This information is then made publicly available at their site (see link). The Coast Guard has also used this information to help identify problems in the fishing vessel industry.  However, I understand that the data in the casualty reports were not particularly helpful in identifying the types of problems that should be addressed for towing vessels under the new Subchapter M regulations.

Congress agreed with Dennis that marine casualty reports should be made available to the public. Section 442 of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 amended section 6101(i) of title 46, United States Code States to require that:

 “(i) The Secretary shall, as soon as possible, and no later than January 1, 2005, publish all marine casualty reports prepared in accordance with this section in an electronic form.”

As Dennis points out, there were problems with privacy sensitive information being contained in certain data fields that should not be released (names, phone numbers, social security numbers, etc).  This made automation of the publishing of these reports a challenge. The Coast Guard scrubbed that information to ensure no privacy information was released and now makes all marine casualty reports available on line at: Incident Investigation Reports. The public and insurers can search this database based on the vessel’s name, owner, or other key words. It will also help the public see the quality of the investigation.

There are problems with the Coast Guard’s marine casualty reporting and investigation system – but the solution is not to give sector commanders broad discretion to decide what should and should not be investigated.  That lack of national uniformity will make the consistent gathering of casualty information impossible and of little value to those trying to use the information for regulatory purposes. A sector commander may not have any background in maritime safety and decide to allocate the limited sector resources to other purposes.

Much of the reporting that Dennis is concerned about is comparable to occupational safety reports other industries must submit regarding workplace injuries to agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  However, OSHA does not generally have jurisdiction on Coast Guard inspected vessels – so this type of information is collected by the agency with jurisdiction – the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is drowning due to all types of resource constraints and it is affecting many programs – not just casualty investigations. If the Coast Guard does not have the resources necessary to collect the information necessary to prevent future casualties – the solution isn’t to stop gathering the information.  Perhaps the solution is to give this responsibility to a different federal agency that can perform this responsibility.

Cold water kills – QUICKLY

This past weekend a passenger of the dinner cruise NORTHERN SPIRIT fell into Lake Ontario when he was leaning over the railing.  The individual involved in this casualty was a trained lifeguard and expert swimmer. According to press reports, the police estimated that the water was approximately 9o C (48o F). Witnesses were watching him – until they could not see him.

Most people immediately think of hypothermia in cases such as this – but there are dangers that can occur far more quickly than hypothermia.

According to RADM Alan Steinman (USCG Ret) the cold shock response of the human body includes:

  • Gasp Reflex
  • Hyperventilation
  • Difficulty holding your breath
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension (elevated blood pressure)

Quick response is vital in situations such as this.  Dr. Steinman’s summary of cold water risks indicates the following parameters for risks in cold water:

  • Cold shock – (0-2 minutes)
  • Functional disability (2-30 minutes)
  • Hypothermia (greater than 30 minutes)

Dr. Steinman’s presentation on Hypothermia, Drowning, and Cold-water survival is at this link.

A more detailed article from CTV NEWS Toronto titled ‘I blinked and he was gone’: Lifeguard missing after falling overboard is at this link.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has announced (see link) they are deploying a team to gather information and assess the situation.

Ten things I have learned about the sea

The film “Ten things I learned about the sea” was made by Lorenzo Fonda during a voyage he made in 2008 from Los Angeles to Shanghai on the container ship PORTLAND SENATOR.  Whether or not you have ever sailed the sea, you will enjoy this tranquil video in which he expresses the enduring and powerful nature of the ocean.



Parasailing Safety – What to look for

It is estimated that 3-5 million people go parasailing in the United States each year. While the Coast Guard does not have safety standards for these operations, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has made a video on what to look for before you go parasailing. The video covers weather, harnesses, ropes, and sails.

The video can be viewed at:

The video is based on a special investigation report by the NTSB which can be downloaded at this link.


On June 8, 2014 off the coast of England a dredge vessel SHOREWAY ran over and sank the 32 foot recreational sailboat ORCA resulting in the death of one of the 2 individuals on the ORCA.  Commercial vessels and recreational vessels need to safely share the same waterways. The investigation of this casualty by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) of the British Government found that the operators of both vessels in this casualty should have been more aware of each other on the water.  The SHOREWAY did not see the ORCA and the ORCA misjudged the speed of the ORCA.

MAIB has published a 2 page flyer to help recreational vessel operators better understand these challenges – including photographs showing how fast a commercial vessel can overcome their position. The flyer is at this link.

The key findings of their report are as follows:

  • “It is essential that all vessels maintain a proper lookout at all times. Had the crew of either SHOREWAY or ORCA done so, this collision could have been avoided.
  • “Leisure boat users should never assume that they have been seen by other vessels, nor should they assume that the other vessels will always take avoiding action. Due to the good visibility, the officer on watch on SHOREWAY was not using his radar and had not seen the target of ORCA that had been visible on his screen for 11 minutes before the collision.
  • “Leisure sailors need to be particularly aware of closing speeds between their own vessels and other vessels. In this case, SHOREWAY was travelling at 12.9kts but many types of vessels, including ferries, cruise ships and container ships, regularly sail at speeds over 25kts and, as a result, distances that initially appear sufficient can be reduced surprisingly quickly.”

There are lessons in this report for all mariners.

The complete MAIB report can be found at this link.


Fatigue leads to human error. Every transportation mode, aviation, trucking, railroads, and maritime, have laws and regulations dealing with how many hours of rest an individual must have before continuing with their job.  Scientific studies indicate that the human body needs 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep to ensure that an individual is rested sufficiently to carry out their job. In the maritime industry, watches were developed to help address these issues long before science quantified these requirements.  However, today individuals on vessels typically have to fill out paperwork and file reports when they are not “on watch” – taking away from the hours in which they can sleep.

The International Maritime Organization developed standards that shipowners must comply with when scheduling their personnel.  The Japanese MOU just issued a study based on their enforcement of these IMO requirements.  Between September 1, 2014 and November 30, 2014 Japan conducted 6,392 inspections in which they had a questionnaire for the crew to examine hours of rest.  They found that there were 1,589 deficiencies where the crew did not comply with IMO requirements. Some of these may have been failure to keep track of the hours that mariners were working.  During that time 16 ships were detained because the violations were serious.

The Japanese press release stated “Analysis of the recorded deficiencies shows that most deficiencies relate to hours of rest not being recorded correctly in 997 cases (63%), vessel manning not in accordance with the minimum safe manning document 241(15%) and shipboard working arrangements 232 (15%).”

There are similar concerns about hours of rest in the U.S. domestic fleet. Section 8904(c) of title 46, United States Code, authorizes the Coast Guard to establish maximum hours of service on towing vessels. This provision was enacted in 2004 but the Coast Guard has not yet established those standards.

The Japan MOU press release on this study can be found at this link.

Panamanian flag-of-convenience ship detained in Oregon for numerous safety violations

On Saturday, the Coast Guard detained the Panamanian-flag ship IKAS SUDIP in Astoria, OR after the ship lost power twice due to problems with it fuel systems. The Coast Guard prohibited the entry of the vessel into U.S. waters until repairs were made in order to protect the safety and environment of the U.S.  Once in port, the Coast Guard conducted a thorough safety examination of the 10 year old ship  and found numerous safety violations including –

  • A failure to use engineering procedures required by U.S. and international law, which guide the vessel’s crew through fuel management and vessel propulsion requirements.
  • a lack of crew familiarity with emergency rescue drills.
  • deficient structural fire boundary doors designed to prevent the spread of a fire and inoperable lifesaving equipment.
  • severe corrosion was found throughout the vessel’s machinery piping systems posing a significant threat to the vessel and crew.

Capt. Dan Travers, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River Commanding Officer said “Eliminating substandard vessels from U.S. waters is critical to ensuring our waterways are protected.  Only after the vessel crew corrects its deficient safety management system and critical vessel equipment will we allow it to return to commercial service.”

The Coast Guard’s press release on this incident is at this link.

Don’t just rely on technology – look out the window

The Japan P&I Club Bulletin featured a guide titled “Bridge Watchkeeping and Collision Avoidance”  in which they discuss the proper use of radar aids (ARPA) and Automatic Information Systems (AIS) and over reliance on technology to prevent collisions.  Sometimes you just need to look out the window. The bulletin is at this link.

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