Operating & Environmental Standards

8/16/2016: Safety alert – Auto-pilot induced casualties

The Coast Guard issued safety alert 10-16 to address the safe navigation of vessels with auto-pilot engaged.

Auto-pilot systems can reduce the monotony of steering by freeing up the helmsman to step away from the helm in order to perform other minor pilot house tasks and gain different navigational viewpoints. There are also disadvantages that have the potential to lead to negligent navigational practices. Over-reliance on these systems can allow an operator to get too engrossed in performing other work on the bridge and, in some extreme cases, can lead to watchstanders leaving the bridge for extended periods of time. This inattentiveness to the vessel’s navigation has led to marine casualties.

The U.S. Coast Guard strongly recommends that owners and operators ensure that all credentialed mariners:

  • Are fully aware of “Use of Auto-Pilot” regulations found in the vessel’s respective subchapter in 46 Code of Federal Regulations.
  • Conduct periodic training to ensure that crews are properly versed in the operations and limitations of the auto-pilot system.
  • Develop and prominently post written procedures on how to switch from auto-pilot to manual control in the vicinity of the auto-pilot system.
  • Review company policies and evaluate setting operational limitations on the use of auto-pilot with regard to areas of high traffic density, conditions of restricted visibility, or any other hazardous navigational situations.


For more information, please view the entire safety alert.

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.

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