Category Archives: Passenger 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.

Licenses required for commercial water jet devices

The Coast Guard has issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB Number: 04-15) to advise the public and commercial operators of water jet devices “for-hire” that their personnel on the attached Personal Watercraft (PWC) must have an Operator of an Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) license.

In case you haven’t seen a water jet device – here is a video of one called a “ Jetovator”.

The Coast has a clear explanation of the procedures that must be followed under this license including:

  1. Emergency procedures for injuries, drowning, loss of vessel control, retrieval of conscious persons in the water, inadvertent dragging of passengers,
  2. Assessment of adequate gear quick release(s), power shut offs, and other disengagement mechanisms.
  3. A safety briefing is provided to the passenger by the vessel operator or crew
  4. Adequate communications including a clear two-way communication arrangement between the vessel operator and
  5. Establishment of safe environmental operating conditions such as weather, sea state, and operating area
  6. Assessment of the need for an additional person(s) and/or a chase boat to provide assistance and maintain situational awareness of the WJD operation and surrounding/oncoming traffic, particularly in congested areas.
  7. Assessment of PFD flotation adequacy, particularly when any equipment worn could overcome the PFD’s buoyancy. Some WJD backpacks are designed with built in positive flotation and some are not.

The Coast Guard also recommends that operators of water jet devices for purely recreational purposes (not for-hire) develop and follow these 7 procedures.

Sport divers awarded $12 million after being struck by propeller

Two sport divers, a father and son, were awarded $12 million for injuries they received after being struck by the propeller of a 46 foot commercial dive boat, the BIG DIPPER, near Key Largo, FL in 2011.

The divers had just entered the water when they were struck by the propellers.  They suffered extensive injuries and had to have emergency crainiotomies in which part of the skull is removed until the swelling of the brain decreases.

Boat operators must be vigilant and keep lookouts when swimmers are in the water. 

In 2001, the Coast Guard published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would have required the owners of houseboats to install propeller guards to protect individuals in the water from these types of strikes.

In 2007, the Coast Guard withdrew this NPRM because:

“after reconsideration of the costs that would likely result, the characteristics of the safety measures to be required, and uncertainty concerning the appropriate definition of “houseboat.” The Coast Guard believes its resources would be better directed toward regulatory projects that would have a greater impact on propeller injury avoidance.” (see withdrawal notice)

The largest cost factor in this analysis was related to having to take the houseboat out of the water to install the propeller guard.

This is not a factor for small passenger vessels, such as dive and snorkeling excursion boats, because the Coast Guard requires them to be removed from the water at least once every 5 years for a safety inspection.  A propeller guard could easily be installed at that time.

The Coast Guard should require snorkeling and dive boats that are subject to inspection to have propeller guards installed to prevent these types of injuries.

The Coast Guard estimated that a propeller guard costs $300 each – a small expense that would have saved these men from significant injuries and saved the vessel owner and his insurers $12 million.

The Florida Keys News story on this settlement is at this link.

Guest Blog: a passenger’s view about lifesaving equipment

This guest blog is a follow-up to my posting earlier this week: UPDATE: How long can you tread water? House votes to repeal survival craft requirement

A passenger’s view about lifesaving equipment

By Richard Hiscock

Last fall we were passengers on a tour boat on America’s sixth great lake – Lake Champlain.  The vessel is 20 year old, fiberglass, diesel powered, forward pilot house with sheltered deck, approximately 50-feet in overall length (44.8 feet registered length). It is certified for 51 persons (POB) and carries Buoyant Apparatus for 26 stored on top of the shelter deck that will not keep people in distress out of the water.

We got underway about 10:30 with 46 adults (ranging in age from mid-twenties to late 60s early 70s) and one child – really an infant still in chest carrier.  Many of the passengers were in the area to attend a wedding later in the day.

As we got underway, there was no public announce regarding lifesaving equipment – the life-preservers stored in the overhead of the life-floats – their location or the location of instructions for their use.

The air temperature was about 55° F.  The water temperature was about 62° F.   We proceeded north on the Lake in the fog with no radar. There were no other vessels on the lake.  Coast Guard Station Burlington is 20 miles to the north.

WHAT IF there had been an explosion followed by a fire? The crew and 46 adults and the infant child would have been forced into the cold lake water.  They would have been expected to cling to the perimeter of the two life-floats with a rated capacity for 26 persons that hopefully would have floated free undamaged.  Had such an incident happened while in the fog, those on shore would not have seen the event.  Hopefully there would have been time to get off a radio message to the Coast Guard and the home base of the vessel.  And hopefully other vessels and the Coast Guard would have responded.

Given the water temperature is it likely that people could have died or been seriously injured? Yes it is. Particularly the infant which, if not kept out of the cold water, would have cooled very quickly despite the clothes it was bundled up in.

Anyone who thinks that such an explosion and fire could not occur, should remember that: the TITANIC was “unsinkable”; the ANDREA DORIA and STOCKHOLM were using the best available radar and still collided – the ANDREA DORIA sank; and that the COSTA CONCORDIA should never have run aground at Isola del Giglio in 2012.

If ‘we’ are so sure that casualties like these won’t happen then why carry any life-saving equipment at all.  If we are concerned that disaster can happen – despite our best efforts – and that passengers and crew might indeed have to evacuate even the best built, maintained and operated vessel, then the survival craft should keep them up out-of-the water.  And there should be enough survival craft for the individuals the vessel is certified to carry.

The fact that the many vessel owners do not support a requirement that all SURVIVAL CRAFT should keep individuals out-of-the-water and do not believe passenger vessels should have sufficient survival craft for all who might be on board would lead one to the conclusion that they are ignoring the possibility of a “TITANIC” type disaster.

Richard Hiscock is a long-time maritime safety consultant, advocating for marine and fishing vessel safety reform for over 35-years.  He maintains the safety website


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.

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?

Hong Kong officials face ferry disaster trial

The Maritime Executive has a new article titled “Hong Kong officials face ferry disaster trial” in which they report on the latest development regarding criminal prosecutions in Hong Kong related to the 2012 collision between the high speed ferry SEA SMOOTH and the recreational vessel LAMMA IV resulting in the deaths of 39 people, including 8 children, and 92 injured. So far, the captain of the SEA SMOOTH was sentenced to 8 years in jail and the captain of the LAMMA IV was sentenced to 9 months in prison. The article is at this link.

Safer Seas 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has published their annual report, Safer Seas 2014. This report is a compilation of their marine casualty investigation reports for 2014 – which covers all types of vessels from fishing and towing vessels to tankers and tall ships.  The report can be found at this link.

Former cruise ship employee pleads guilty to sexually assaulting sleeping woman

A former cruise ship employee pled guilty to sexually assaulting a woman while she was asleep. The crewman was responsible for restocking the minibar in her room and used his key to obtain entry while she was sleeping.

Below is the story on this assault:

Former cruise ship employee pleads guilty to sexually assaulting sleeping woman |

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