Commercial Vessel Compliance

Updated Subchapter M FAQs now available

The Subchapter M FAQ page has been updated to reflect current policy and guidance for implementation of 46 CFR Subchapter M. As a convenience for our readers, in this post Maritime Commons is providing a compilation of those changes. To access the full library of FAQs regarding Subchapter M, visit the Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise’s website.

Subchapter M FAQs added or updated as of Sept. 20, 2019:


FAQ G-020: Will the Coast Guard refrain from issuing more than 25% COIs under the TSMS and Coast Guard option?

No. See CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-03, “COI Phase-in Period for Existing Towing Vessels Using the TSMS Option under 46 CFR, Subchapter M.”

FAQ G-032: Will a person in charge be required when a vessel is taking on fuel from a terminal?

Yes. Applicability of the person in charge (PIC) requirements referenced by 46 CFR §140.655(a)(3) includes transfers of fuel oil to vessels with a capacity of 250 or more barrels of fuel oil as per 33 CFR §155.700. For more information on PIC requirements see CG-MMC Policy Letter 01-17, “Guidelines for Issuing Endorsements for Tankerman PIC Restricted to Fuel Transfers on Towing Vessels.”

Part 136 – Certification

FAQ 136-010: How does the exemption for a propulsion unit used for the purpose of propelling or controlling the direction of a barge affect bow thrusters that are controlled from a towing vessel?

The primary intent of the exemption in §136.105(a)(8) for propulsion units was to exclude bow thrusters, and similar positioning devices controlled from the barge, from Subchapter M requirements. A thruster unit operated locally (on the barge) or by wireless control from the towing vessel would be considered to meet §136.105(a)(8), as they are not part of the towing vessel. However, any hard wiring installed on the towing vessel, whether part of the control system or power system for a barge propulsion unit, is subject to Subchapter M.

FAQ 136-014: CFR §136.110 – Definitions; operating station means a steering station on the vessel, or the barge being towed or pushed, from which the vessel is normally navigated. Question: What does “…or the barge being towed or pushed” mean?

If the barge is configured to be the normal navigating station for the towing vessel-barge combination, then the operating station must meet all Subchapter M requirements, including those specified for lifesaving equipment, fire detection control panels, and alarms.

FAQ 136-035: 46 CFR §136.110 defines “new towing vessel” as a towing vessel which had its keel laid or was at a similar stage of construction on or after July 20, 2017. How does the Coast Guard define “similar stage of construction” for a towing vessel, which may not have a keel or was built in a modular mode of construction?

Similar stage of construction, for modular construction, is when the first piece of steel for the construction of the vessel has been started. This should not be confused with the “contract date.” Owners should submit objective evidence during the application for a COI to their OCMI. This evidence should indicate the date on which the vessel began construction. If this is BEFORE the date of July 20, 2017 the vessel will be considered an existing vessel. The objective evidence may include documentation and or photographs of the initial construction. For more information see CVC-WI-015(1), “Determinations for a Vessel’s Keel Laid Date or Similar Stage of Construction.

FAQ 136-044: 46 CFR §136.115 requires US Coast Guard approval to carry alternate equipment, and accordingly the owner documents this in their TSMS. If alternate arrangement is US Coast Guard-approved how do TPOs determine that? Will this information be documented on the COI?

46 CFR §136.115 states that the Coast Guard MAY approve arrangements, fittings, appliances, apparatuses, equipment, calculations, information, or tests that provide a level of safety equivalent to that established. Requests should be submitted to the Coast Guard via the cognizant OCMI, who will coordinate with the appropriate Coast Guard Headquarters office for consideration. Approvals will be provided in the form of a letter to the owner/operator, and the owner/owners who will be responsible for ensuring that a copy is provided to their TPO. The alternate arrangement MUST be documented in the TSMS and should be notated on the COI.

FAQ 136-045: Now that this rule is published, will the TVBP decal remain valid and will the Coast Guard continue to issue them?

The decals remain valid until they expire or until the vessel is issued a COI. As operations permit, the Coast Guard will continue to issue decals that will be valid until July 20, 2018. This “carryover” period is discussed in Subchapter M at 46 CFR §136.172 (and in the Final Rule preamble, 81 FR 40021).

Part 138 – Towing Safety Management System (TSMS)

FAQ 138-026: Do ISM based SMS accepted as existing systems under §138.225(a) need to make amendments to incorporate changes brought about by Subchapter M, or does the statement “will be deemed to be in compliance with the TSMS-related requirements of this subchapter” alleviate them from this? For example, the existing ISM SMS may not discuss an internal survey program that is put in place as required by §137.210.

This question is addressed by CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-02 Ch-2, “Use of Existing Safety Management Systems to Obtain an Initial Certificate of Inspection under 46 CFR Subchapter M.

Part 140 – Operations

FAQ 140-033: 46 CFR §140.610 states that when downstreaming, all exterior openings at deck level will be closed. 1) Does this include only doors and hatches intended to prevent the ingress of water? 2) Does this include windows well above deck level that are not intended to be watertight and are used in part for engine room ventilation?

1) This also includes vents and any other exterior openings at deck level.
2) 46 CFR §140.610(e) requires that all exterior openings at the main deck level be closed when downstreaming. Exterior openings on decks above the main deck level are not required to be closed when downstreaming. Watertight doors in watertight bulkheads on any deck, except when they are being used for transit between compartments, are required to be kept tightly closed regardless of whether the vessel is downstreaming. For additional information, see FAQ 140-029, which discusses the historical context and exceptions for this requirement.

FAQ 140-038: I wanted to pose a question in regards to crew training. Is there going to be any policy or guidance in regards to required first aid/CPR training for the crew? I did see question 140-007 that refers to §140.435 which states, “Each towing vessel operating on oceans, coastwise, or Great Lakes routes must have a means to take blood pressure readings, splint broken bones, and apply large bandages for serious wounds.” But nowhere else in Sub M does it refer to any periodic first aid/CPR training for the crew.

There is no plan to produce additional guidance documents regarding required first aid and CPR training for crew. This training may be required because of the credential being held or by company policy.

  • Currently all officers are required first aid and CPR training per 46 CFR §11.201(i).
  • In order to obtain a STCW endorsement, officers and ratings are required to complete basic training which includes elementary first aid per 46 CFR §§11.302(3) and 12.602(a)(3).
  • In order to obtain a STCW endorsement, operational level officers are required to complete approved medical first aid provider training per 46 CFR §11.309(a)(4)(i).
  • In order to obtain a STCW endorsement, management level officers are required to complete approved training in management of medical care per 46 CFR §11.305(3)(ix).
  • AB and deck department personnel that are not required to have a STCW endorsement are not required to have such training for their positions unless company policy dictates.

FAQ 140-042: Boats that pick up and drop barges frequently throughout a watch (i.e. harbor/fleet boats working a 12 hour shift) “get underway” quite often. §140.635 requires the conduct of a navigation assessment for the intended route and operations prior to getting underway. And §140.915 para (6) lists the navigation assessment as an item that must be recorded in the TVR or in accordance with the vessel’s TSMS. Does this mean a navigation assessment must be conducted and recorded in the TVR prior to each occurrence of the boat getting underway? Or should the guidance be to record the conduct of a navigation assessment just once, and then to keep that navigation assessment updated throughout the 12 hour shift as changes in conditions or operations occur?

The word “underway” is defined in Rule 3 of the NAVRULES as a vessel that is not at anchor, made fast to the shore, or aground. Therefore, a tug which gets underway for a 12 hour shift of multiple short transits / movements could conduct the required assessment prior to initially getting underway, and then keep the navigational assessment up-to-date to reflect changes in conditions and circumstances, as per the items listed under 46 CFR §140.635(a). In addition, at each change in the navigational watch, the oncoming officer in charge of the navigational watch must review the current navigation assessment for necessary changes, according to 46 CFR §140.635(b).

Part 141 – Lifesaving

FAQ 141-017: 46 CFR §141.360(c)(3) requires a floating electric water light. Does this water light have to be water activated or can a manually operated light suffice? Also, the only approved water activated floating lights for ring buoys are very large and heavy. It is difficult enough to throw a 24” to 30”: life ring to a victim in the water, but adding another three pounds of light and batteries on a lanyard will be even more difficult. To be practical, wouldn’t a water activated light similar to the light required on a Type I life vest be more practical and safer for the victim and the rescuer?

46 CFR §141.360(c)(2) and (3) defines the requirements for floating electric lights to be attached to lifebuoys carried onboard towing vessels. These requirements also state that light is to be attached with a corrosion resistant clip for quick disconnect, not permanently attached to the lifebuoy. The lights are required to be type approved under approval series 46 CFR §161.010, which states the lights must meet UL/ANSI 1196. This standard requires that the light automatically emit light when in the water; therefore, a manually operated light is not sufficient.

Part 142 – Fire Protection

FAQ 142-003: Is an aluminum storage cabinet acceptable?

§142.225(c)(3) specifies steel. However, if someone would like to propose an Aluminum cabinet with sufficient insulation, we would consider it. See CVC-WI-010(2), “OCMI Guidance on Special Consideration for 46 CFR Subchapter M Vessels.

FAQ 142-005: 46 CFR §142.240 indicates that annual (portable and semi-portable) fire extinguisher inspections are carried out per NFPA 10 – “qualified service organization,” but there is no requirement for fixed extinguishing systems (Halon, FM 200, CO2, or others) to be done by a qualified service organization. Was this intended?

46 CFR §142.240(a)(2) does not explicitly state inspection and maintenance of a fixed fire extinguishing systems has to be completed by a “qualified service organization”; however, it does state, “Fixed fire-extinguishing systems must be inspected and tested, as required by Table 142.240…”. 46 CFR Table 142.240 says, “Test…as stated in the system manufacturer’s instruction manual…” Manufacturer’s instruction manuals may require servicing by trained and qualified personnel.

Part 144 – Construction and Arrangement

FAQ 144-015: Fire Protection Systems Ventilation. Is this necessary for vessels that have installed fire protection systems, such as Sapphire, that require oxygen to operate?

Yes. The Sapphire system uses Novec 1230 as an agent which removes the heat element from the fire tetrahedron and does not require oxygen to operate. However, means must be provided for stopping each fan in a ventilation system serving machinery spaces and for closing, in case of fire, each doorway, ventilator, and annular space around funnels and other openings into such spaces.

FAQ 144-016 & FAQ 144-028: When a vessel designed to tow astern is repowered with a resulting change in horsepower, must stability be re-evaluated? (NVIC 10-82)

Yes, vessels that are equipped to tow astern must be evaluated against the towline pull criteria found at 46 CFR part 173, Subpart E, which is dependent not only on the vessel’s geometry but upon the vessel’s available shaft power (horsepower). Therefore, regardless of resulting weight changes, changes to available horsepower may trigger a review of the vessel’s stability. Further, for existing vessels, attempting to demonstrate satisfactory stability in accordance with §144.300(b)(3), any documentation or evaluation should include details and analysis related to the towline trip criteria.

FAQ 144-027: For a vessel whose keel was laid before July 20, 2017 – an existing vessel, Table 144.135(c) appears to imply that existing vessels that are still under construction on July 20, 2018, will have some systems that were not required to be verified prior to installation.

Table 144.135 applies to a new installation that is not a “replacement in kind.” It does not apply to existing vessels that are still under construction after July 20, 2018. However, the scenario outlined in the question is correct – an existing vessel under construction on July 20, 2018 is not required to undergo a verification prior to installation. In any case, prior to the issue of the Certificate of Inspection, all systems must meet Subchapter M requirements for an existing vessel. An existing vessel not completed by July 20, 2018 should be handled on a case-by-case basis. For more information see CVC-WI-015, “Determinations for a Vessel’s Keel Laid Date or Similar Stage of Construction.”

FAQ 144-031: 46 CFR §144.145(e) contradicts what is currently policy/procedure IAW NVIC 10-82. Will this be for non-class vessels only?

No. NVIC 10-82 does not apply to any certificated vessels under Subchapter M. For more information, see FAQs 144-019 and 144-028.

FAQ 144-049: How do I request that the Coast Guard issue a verification of compliance with design standards (Statement of Verification) as required by 46 CFR §144.145(a)?

The Coast Guard will sign a Statement of Verifications only when the Coast Guard, either the local OCMI or Marine Safety Center, has completed the design verification process for all plans, drawings, calculations, or other support documents for a vessel. OCMIs and vessel representatives are encouraged to use enclosure (2) of Marine Safety Center Technical Note (MTN) 01-17, “Guidance on Verification of Compliance with Design Standards for Subchapter M Towing Vessels” to document design verification information. Any format addressing all aspects of 46 CFR §144.145(b) is appropriate; however a completed enclosure (2) of the MTN is preferred for simplicity. If all aspects of the vessel’s design will be verified by the MSC. Vessel representatives are encouraged to request the MSC provide the Statement of Verification. If the OCMI will conduct some amount of design verification, the OCMI should complete the form following completion of all items.

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.