- Domestic Vessels

12/28/2015: Out of water survival craft – Frequently asked questions

Editor’s Note: For current out of water survival craft requirements, review our latest post on the subject: 2/17/2016: Cancellation of policy letter – Requirements for out-of-water survival craft

The Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance recently published Policy Letter 15-05 to provide guidance to owners and operators of certain small passenger vessels in replacing existing life floats and rigid buoyant apparatus with approved survival craft that insures no part of an individual is immersed in water (referred to as out of water survival craft) after February 26, 2016.

The Coast Guard is providing an FAQ to address questions received regarding this new policy.

Question: What laws require me to change my current survival craft?

Answer: Section 609 of the 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act (Public Law No. 111-281 – OCT. 15, 2010), when it added section 3104 to Part B of 46 U.S. Code. This new section prohibited the approval of survival craft unless the craft “ensures that no part of an individual is immersed in water.” It also mandated that survival craft currently in service that did not meet this standard, were to be phased out by January 1, 2015.

Separately, but within the same 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act, Section 604 amended Title 46 U.S.C. §4502(b)(2)(B) to require out-of-water survival craft on all commercial fishing vessels operating beyond 3 nautical miles, or NM, of the baseline or beyond 3 NM of the coastline of the Great Lakes. Additionally, Section 609 of the 2010 Act and Section 303 of the 2012 Act, referenced in the above paragraph, will make the requirement for an out-of-water survival craft applicable on commercial fishing vessels operating inside 3 NM if that vessel is required to carry a survival craft, because life floats or rigid buoyant apparatus are no longer Coast Guard-approved equipment.

The applicability of the legislative requirement to replace life floats as survival craft on manned fixed offshore platforms in the Outer Continental Shelf is less direct. However, because (1) the Coast Guard has a single type approval process for survival craft in 46 CFR Subchapter Q, (2) the Coast Guard is no longer approving life floats as survival craft based on the amended 46 U.S.C. § 3104.

Question: When is the implementation date?

Answer: The implementation date is February 26, 2016

Question: What does this date means for me?

Answer: Prior to operating, the expectation of the law, is that owners and operators fully meet the statutory requirements of 46 U.S.C. 3104 or 46 U.S.C. §4502 by February 26, 2016, which includes meeting the elements of the installation requirements in Policy Letter 15-05. However, since market demands are not totally known and new survival craft installations or replacements can introduce unexpected variables, the Coast Guard policy letter provides a “phased-in” compliance alternative schedule.

Question: What types of vessels are affected by this change in the law?

Answer: Small passenger vessels, offshore supply vessels, sailing school vessels, cargo vessels, commercial fishing vessels and manned fixed offshore platforms.

Question: What type of survival craft is affected by this change?

Answer: By Congressional mandate, no survival craft that keeps individuals immerse in water may be approved beyond February 26, 2016. This means that life floats or rigid buoyant apparatus currently used in commercial vessels and fixed manned platforms are no longer acceptable survival crafts.

Question: What is the Coast Guard Policy Letter?

Answer: The Policy Letter is guidance to aid industry in determining what type and number of survival craft will satisfy the survival craft requirements. It is generally divided into three groups for compliance: (1) inspected vessels, (2) manned fixed offshore platforms, and (3) commercial fishing vessels based on their distinct governing authorities.

Question: What I’m required to provide the Coast Guard by February 26, 2016?

Answer: Owners and operators of inspected vessels are required to provide to their respective Officer In Charge of Marine Inspections, or OCMI, a replacement proposal for the transition to out-of-water survival craft. Commercial fishing vessels and Fixed-manned platforms shall ensure they are in compliance by the dates identified in the Policy Letter.

Question: What if my current survival craft is not serviceable?

Answer: If your current survival craft is not serviceable you have the option to replace with a similar survival, please keep in mind that you still have to comply with the requirements in the Policy Letter; you also have the option to upgrade to a survival craft that ensures that no part of an individual is immersed in water as summarized in the Policy Letter.

Question: Is the Coast Guard imposing control actions for vessels not in compliance by February 26, 2016?

Answer: The Cognizant OCMIs may impose operational controls at any point when owners or operators fail to comply with the out-of-water survival craft mandates of 46 U.S.C. § 3104, 46 U.S.C. §4502, or this Policy Letter.

Question: Who I can contact if I have questions implementing this Policy Letter?

Answer: Your local OCMI will assist you with questions in regards to this Policy Letter and its implementation.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.