what sort of authority does USCG have with boats that are "legal" but unsafe?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Squidly-Diddly, Aug 3, 2023.

  1. Squidly-Diddly
    Joined: Sep 2007
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    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member

    Suppose a commercial operator has a work boat that was originally "factory" but has now dangerous amounts of added equipment making it unbalanced and dangerous. "Commercial" as in in business but not carrying General Public, just other company's other employees.
    Does USCG have any real authority to step in and say "uh, I'm writing you a ticket forcing you to get someone who isn't an idiot to certify your boat and its modifications" or does the USCG have to legally wait till it sinks?

    What if the boat in question also lacks basic USCG equipment thus sort of opening the door for "probable cause"?
  2. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    The USCG can order you to return to port immediately and escort you there.
  3. Squidly-Diddly
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    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member

    then is the boat "red tagged" pending some action like getting some qualified person to sign off?
    or can you take the boat back out again the moment the USCG is out of sight?
  4. kapnD
    Joined: Jan 2003
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    kapnD Senior Member

    An insurance survey is commonly required for commercial vessels.
    Those carrying more than 6 passengers for hire do require a Coast Guard inspection.
    I’m sure that there are many commercial vessels operating in condition beyond what they were when surveyed, but in the event of an accident, the owner may find himself liable.
  5. comfisherman
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    comfisherman Senior Member

    It's pretty vague in its enforcement and borderline bizzare in application.

    I'm a commercial fisherman who's been fishing since the age of 12, run my own boat since 18 and have 20 seasons now in the bag from the wheelhouse. I've been canceled by the coast guard once, I've never seen a garbage boat canceled, but I've seen them cancel some competitive and competent guys that were in no danger at all.

    In 15 I ended up on an east coast converted rig, we passed coast guard inspection and somehow the architect that did the conversion work got the stability documents through. I lost a ton of respect for the field after that. It was unsafe in any condition, we survived only due to mechanical failures that kept us off the grounds all but a few calm weeks. How it passed both the na and coast guard is beyond me.

    And yet in 14 they canceled the voyage of a very new well built boat due to "unsafe operation". Was quite the Chanel 16 drama, blowback was pretty stout on that one.

    It's frustrating, the last boat to sink here passed all its checks (survey, coast guard, etc) and surprised exactly 0 fisherman. Garbage boat poorly modified, maintained and run... and we'll subsidize it via insurance premiums.
  6. comfisherman
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    comfisherman Senior Member

    I wish, it was certainly the case years ago. It's probably true if the negligence harms someone in the public interest, but I've layed witness to some flagrant incompetence over the last 10-15 years with nary a meaningful consequence.... save an 8 fold increase in insurance premiums in the last 12 years.

    I've heard rumors of tough surveyors, but they are few and far between.
  7. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    As a retired Coast Guard officer, I would have to say that you need to further define the boat you are talking about. There are all kinds of "work" boats. Some are inspected vessels. Some are uninspected vessels. There are lots of boats used by companies for work around docks, or constructions that are just small uninspected boats used to haul small amounts of material or a few people to do jobs on, or to the site where the work is going on. Then there are boats that are really just recreational boats, that are uninspected vessels, and the operator (not the boat) is licensed to carry 6 or less passengers. Beyond 6 passengers the boats are usually inspected vessels that have been certified by the Coast Guard for a certain number of passengers. Another example of "work boats" are boats used to transport workers to offshore oil platforms. Usually these are classified as passenger vessels because they carry more that 6 passengers, are inspected and are required to be certified by the Coast Guard.

    Then you get into various classes of cargo and fishing vessels. All of which have different sets of rules depending on how big they are, how much the can carry, what fisheries they are involved in.
    As for terminating a voyage. The Coast Guard has the authority to check for safety equipment and if some required safety equipment is not present that presents a a danger to the occupants (not enough lifejackets or life jackets of the wrong size and type for the persons on board is an example) they can order you back to shore until the discrepancy is corrected.

    Beyond that is a rarely invoked statute that allows the Coast Guard to terminate what is in the law, called a "manifestly unsafe voyage". This is the only law that depends solely on the condition of the boat. There is no consideration of the experience or abilities of the operator. If the boat is unsafe to voyage then the District Commander (an Admiral) and only the District Commander, can declare it a "manifestly unsafe voyage" and prevent the boat from getting underway. In 34 years with the Coast Guard I only know of two instances where this was used.

    Then we get into the operation of the vessel. If the boat is being operated in a negligent, or grossly negligent manner, the Coast Guard boarding officer can stop the voyage., because the boat may be being operated in an unsafe condition. One of the prime examples is overloading, making the boat unstable. Another would be operating a a boat at a high speed in an area where there are a lot of other boats, creating a hazard to those other boats. Negligent operation is a judgement call by the boarding officer. On the commercial vessel side of the business, exceeding the vessels number of passengers on their Coast Guard Certificate would be a reason to cite them for negligent operation.

    So your question is too vague. It depends on the vessel and the conditions under which it is operating.

    However, I will say this, if the Coast Guard orders you and your boat to terminate the voyage, Do it. Then let the lawyers fight it out in court. Otherwise you are going to be in a world of hurt for failure to comply with the order which may be a far more serious infraction than whatever the boarding officer was concerned about. (Similar to failing to stop when a police car signals you to pull over. If you fail to stop and are eventually stopped you may be facing more than one cop with guns out) If you fail to obey then the boarding officer is going to assume there is something else going on and you could be arrested.

  8. messabout
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    messabout Senior Member

    Good reply Ike.

    I once proudly wore a shield on my uniform sleeve. Long time ago.
    fallguy likes this.
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