Commercial Vessel Compliance

Resources for voluntarily establishing a Safety Management System

From the desk of Rear Adm. Richard Timme, assistant commandant for prevention policy

Marine casualties, especially those resulting in the loss of life, highlight the need for vessel owners and operators to have a robust and active safety culture. Such a culture often includes a well-functioning safety management system (SMS). SMS is a proven safety tool that has been used throughout the maritime industry to promote a safety culture and reduce the probability of accidents.

While many owners and operators are required by the regulations in 33 CFR Part 96 to implement a SMS, that is not the case for all, including many in our domestic passenger vessel community. I highly encourage all passenger vessel owners and operators, if they haven’t already, to voluntarily implement a SMS as a means to build and foster a robust safety culture within their companies and operations.

The Coast Guard recently promulgated Marine Safety Information Bulletin 03-20 to assist owners and operators wishing to voluntarily implement a SMS. 33 CFR Part 96 currently provides for owners and operators who wish to voluntarily implement a SMS. However, I realize there is no “one size fits all” SMS for all vessels and operations, especially for smaller vessels and that is why MSIB 03-20 provides a number of references that can be used to set-up a SMS that fits the operations of any passenger vessel. I urge owners and operators of small passenger vessels inspected under 46 CFR Subchapter T to review the Homeport website listed in MSIB 03-20 as it provides useful information and tools regarding an equivalent SMS that is simpler for owners and operators of Subchapter T vessels to implement.

In closing, I want to stress again that owners and operators, especially those operating domestic passenger vessels without a SMS, to voluntarily implement a SMS to assist in building a robust safety culture. I also want to encourage and thank, in advance, personnel from Coast Guard sectors for working and assisting vessels owners and operators that choose to voluntarily adopt a SMS.

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.