Small passenger vessels underway off California face new safety checks

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(ALAMEDA, Calif.) — Coast Guard personnel throughout the 11th Coast Guard District have implemented an initiative that enhances underway presence and improves safety aboard small passenger vessels operating off the California coast.

The safety compliance checks are being conducted underway on smaller U.S.-inspected passenger vessels to ensure continued regulatory compliance while vessels are conducting operations with paying passengers aboard.

“Our intent with these safety compliance checks is to bridge gaps that were identified following the fire on board the passenger vessel Conception which resulted in the tragic deaths of 34 people,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the 11th District commander. “We discovered that there are a number of operational requirements that are impossible to verify during a dockside annual inspection. The Coast Guard has been and continues to take deliberate steps to improve the safety of small passenger vessels in order to prevent future loss of life.”

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A Coast Guard Sector San Diego inspection team conducts an enhanced underway inspection on a small passenger vessel in San Diego Bay in July. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Coast Guard units have done extensive outreach with industry partners to raise awareness of existing regulations and engaged with industry partners to run scenarios with real-life safety violations, such as expired safety equipment, fire hazards, obstructed emergency exits and a non-responsive watch stander at night.

These compliance checks are primarily focused on ensuring the safety of passengers aboard inspected passenger vessels by focusing efforts to ensure the following criteria are being met while the vessel is in operation:

• Vessels that offer multi-day trips with overnight accommodations are required to have a crewmember on watch at night who is available to rapidly respond to emergencies, commonly referred to as a roving patrol.
• Habitable areas on the vessel must have two unobstructed exits to allow passengers a way to escape in case of an emergency.
• Passengers must receive a verbal safety brief or a copy of the vessel’s emergency plan before or right after getting underway.
• Vessel sails with a number of passengers equal to or less than the maximum number of passengers listed on the certificate of inspection (COI).
• Vessel manning is in accordance with the manning required on their COI for both licensed and unlicensed crew.
• All life-saving and firefighting equipment is properly maintained and is not in an expired condition.
• The materiel condition of the vessel is such to minimize excess fuel and/or water in the bilges.

People aboard these vessels may see Coast Guard inspectors come aboard during the day and night to check that safety requirements are being met.

Passengers can report unsafe conditions by emailing or by calling (510) 437-3701.

– U.S. Coast Guard

By Professional Mariner Staff