Operational Excellence through Leadership and Compliance

Maritime Compliance Report

Welcome. Staying in compliance takes dedication, diligence and strong leadership skills to stay on top of all the requirements which seem to keep coming at a rapid pace. With this blog I hope to provide visitors with content that will help them in their daily work of staying in compliance. I hope you find it a resource worthy of your time and I look forward to your feedback, questions, comments and concerns. Thanks for stopping by. To avoid missing critical updates, don’t forget to sign up by clicking the white envelope in the blue toolbar below.

Subchapter M Think Tank

 I really liked the Think Tank format at the Workboat Show this year. We had a great discussion about Third Party Option vs. Coast Guard option, Coast Guard OCMI authority to defer enforcement, the level of intensity of audits under Subchapter M, and much more.

Please let us know if any company you know of needs help getting into compliance, regardless of the chosen compliance option. We are not a TPO. We work on behalf of the client alone, not the government.
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Subchapter M Think Tank - Workboat Show

 This should be a very interesting discussion. We hope to see you there.

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Book Recommendation

On my first Coast Guard cutter we got the ship lost. True story. It was before GPS, but there was a new Navy satellite receiver on board called SatNav. Because there wasn't as many satellites up as there are now, you had to wait for them to rise and set to get a good fix. We thought it automatically updated our position whenever a good fix came in, but that was not always true. If it went a long time without a good fix we were supposed to do a, "Code 51, Enter." No one knew that. No one really studied the user manual. We could have wrecked the ship. Luckily we figured out our error before we got close to land. It was certainly a "near miss" in today's terminology. It was my first year in the Coast Guard, and I was only an E-2, but I could have read the manual too. That lesson did not escape me.

In reading Rachel Slade's book, Into the Raging Sea, on the sinking of the U.S. flag ship El Faro, I was shocked to find that not knowing the ship's equipment also played a role in that disaster. According to the book, the captain made his decision to continue on his track based upon the private weather service forecasts, which he may not have known, were based a data which was twelve hours old. They also had the NWS forecasts available on board, which are based upon data only four hours old, but the captain preferred the private weather service forecasts. He may not have read the user manual.

I highly recommend this excellent book to anyone interested in continuous improvement in the maritime industry. The lessons to be learned are many, and apply to vessel personnel, shoreside staff, ocean going vessels, inland vessels, regulators, and their agents (TPOs). We talk a lot about lessons learned, and learning from our mistakes. This book provides an excellent opportunity to learn from others' tragic mistakes. If we don't learn from mistakes, such as not "knowing your equipment," we are bound to repeat them. 

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Critical Decisions - Subchapter M

Critical Decisions – Subchapter M

U.S. towing vessel operators, large and small, are faced with critical decisions:

Should they go with the Coast Guard option, or Third Party TSMS option?

If they go with the Third Party TSMS option, which Third Party Organization should they choose?

If they go with the Third Party TSMS option, what should they use for a TSMS?

How will they ensure compliance with log and record requirements, regardless of the option chosen?

Some companies have made their decisions and are confident moving forward. Others have made their decisions, but may be having doubts. Still others have no idea. There is no shortage of sales pitches, each one with a different spin, interpretation, or promise. This barrage of conflicting agendas, does little to help companies make the best decision for their compliance.

Maritime Compliance International is dedicated to helping companies make these critical decisions. We have the tools and solutions to help companies achieve the optimum level of compliance, and have a thirteen year track record of ensuring success for our clients. We are not a Subchapter M Third Party Organization, acting as an agent of the government.

I will be speaking on all these issues at the International Workboat Show next week. But even if you can't make the conference session, come by and see us next week, booth:


Have all your questions answered, take a look at our products and solutions, and get your free gift while they last. We look forward to seeing you. 
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Marine News Magazine

Please take a look at my article in this month's edition of Marine News Magazine. (The article begins on page 20 of the magazine, page 22 of the electronic format.)  It's important information about surveying your vessel for Subchapter M compliance.

There are only 14 months left to get ready. If you need assitance with Regualtory Compliance Surveys, Towing Vessel Record/ Compliance Management Systems, Towing Safety Management Systems, or our Subchapter M Self-Study Course, please don't hesitate to contact us. 

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Congratulations to E.N. Bisso & Son

Congratulations to E.N. Bisso & Son for its recent ISM certfication by ABS. The company has worked hard to achieve this goal with VP Mike Vitt leading the effort for the company. E.N. Bisso & Son partnered with Maritime Compliance International a decade ago. When they made the decision to seek ISM certification we developed their safety management system (SMS) into the ISM format, provided safety management workbooks for all captains to complete and learn the company's SMS, and conducted quarterly visits to each vessel to ensure steady progress. The ISM manual was approved with no deficiencies, the Document of Compliance was issued to the company following a successful audit, and now the vessels are being audited and issued their Safety Management Certificates. It is a pleasure to work with such dedicated clients.

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Subchapter M - 18 Months to Comply

There are now 18 months left to get towing vessels into compliance with Subchapter M. According to our Subchapter M Strategic Plan, by now all captains should have read Subchapter M, as well as all managers, who should also have read the Subchapter M Preamble in the Federal Register. Additionally, companies should have decided which compliance option they will go with. We developed a Compliance Option Decision Tool to help in this process. It takes into account seven important factors for towing vessel companies to consider, free of spin and sales pitches. So, if you haven't done that much yet, you should consider catching up.

January 1 is the date set for companies to begin getting their boats into compliance by getting a comprehensive Subchapter M survey for each vessel. We recently completed our first two Subchapter M surveys for a client.  In order to do this properly, the company must first make some important decisions: the vessel route; number of persons in the crew; number of persons in addition to the crew; warm or cold water operation; excepted vessel or not; and the compliance option. The survey should be based upon these assumptions. Once the company has a comprehensive regulatory compliance survey report, they can budget and plan out the timing of upgrades throughout the year. 

April 1 is the date set to establish how the requirements for written records, operational policies and procedures, and training will be met. Some of our clients are getting ahead of the game by implementing our comprehensive Towing Vessel Record/ Compliance Management System, which includes all required records, policies and procedures. With a good survey, our comprehensive system, and some training, these clients are all set for Subchapter M. 

The items discussed above apply to all towing vessels, regardless of the compliance option. For those companies choosing the Third Party Option, they have a number of other considerations. More on that next time. 

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Who wrote the Subchapter M FAQs?

Having worked for, or with, the Coast Guard for over 30 years, I found the latest round of Subchapter M "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)" quite strange. I understand that the Coast Guard is having to deal with quite a few new vessels to inspect, and that they may be trying to appease those who wanted the third party TSMS option to be the only option, but this latest round of FAQs dated August 31, 2016 reads more like a talking points memo with plenty of spin to sway readers in one direction. 

Having discussed it with some clients, I am not alone in having this perception. One of my clients stated after reading them, "This sounds like intimidation!" I have nothing to base this on other than my gut, but my gut tells me these FAQs were not written by the Coast Guard.

Great! TPO doesn't have to go on my individual boats?
The first question I have is, what qualifies these to be frequently asked questions? Some of these questions seem pretty obscure, designed solely to be able to provide an answer with an agenda. For example: What must a TPO do before issuing a TSMS Certificate? Really? Even if all the TPOs asked this, I'm not sure it would qualify as a FAQ. But the last line of the answer explains the question: The TPO is not required to visit individual vessels before issuing a TSMS certificate. Reading this one might think: Oh, great, that's what I was worried about. I know the office has it down pat, but the boats have me concerned. What the answer doesn't say is the boats still have to pass a third party external audit in order to get a COI.

Great! Third Party Option takers have greater flexibility in scheduling and less down time.
When I was a Coast Guard marine inspector the vessel company called us up, we asked what day they wanted, we marked it in our book. Every morning we checked the book, divided up the jobs and went and did them. Only those who were not ready for inspection had problems. 

Great! Third Party Option takers get a de-scoped COI inspection and the Coast Guard option people get the full business.
I'm no lawyer, but the regulations are usually in line with the law, and the policy is usually in line with the regulations. The regulations clearly state what the COI inspection "will include." Only the annual inspection, according to the regulations, "will cover less detail." This is standard operating procedure, but a de-scoped COI inspection seems to be a stretch. 

How will the Coast Guard ensure compliance for vessels taking the Coast Guard only option? 
This answer is so over the top, I only have one suggestion: remove the words "ensure compliance for" and replace them with the word "punish."

Will the Coast Guard use Petty Officers for Subchapter M?
What a curious "frequently" asked question. I have never heard anyone ask this. Most people don't know an enlisted person from an officer. On the other hand, I have heard many unfortunate stories about the inconsistency and lack of knowledge demonstrated by enlisted towing vessel examiners during the bridging program. One towboat owner assured me he would not be using the Subchapter M Coast Guard option due to his experience with the enlisted towing vessel examiners. Oh, wait. I get it now. That's why this was included as an FAQ…

It's interesting that there were no FAQs about the strong language in the regulations regarding Coast Guard oversight of the TPOs and vessels under the TSMS option.

I like to warn clients to beware of the sales pitch. I guess sales pitches come from all angles these days. 

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Subchapter M Mythology

 According to informed sources we should see the Subchapter M final rule within a few months. Despite the fact that the proposed rule has been published for years, there is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding. Some operators are willing to pay consultants to tell them what to do, and others will try to make sense of it on their own. Still others will just wait until the Coast Guard shows up and see what happens.

There is no substitute for educating yourself. Understanding the ins and outs of operating as an inspected vessel empowers operators to protect themselves from costly compliance errors that arise from well intentioned, but misinformed, individuals. I have heard a great deal of misinformation lately on Subchapter M.

Here are the Top Ten bits of Subchapter M misinformation:

  • Under Subchapter M a towing vessel must have a towing safety management system (TSMS).
  • If the company is currently operating under a voluntary safety management system, they must use the third party TSMS option.
  • The masters will be insulated from the Coast Guard by sharp office employees.
  • If a firefighting or lifesaving issue is found that the Coast Guard would shut a boat down for, a third party surveyor will be able to let the boat continue to operate.
  • An audit involves a plan review and vessel survey only, not interviews with the crews to see if they know and follow the written policies and procedures.
  • If a boat claims to be a fleet boat in order to minimize equipment requirements, the Certificate of Inspection (COI) will not restrict its operations to a particular fleet, potentially reducing its appraised value.
  • Saying, "I don't know, but I know where to look it up," is typically a satisfactory answer for the Coast Guard.
  • The Coast Guard wants you to use the third party TSMS option and may even retaliate if you don't because they are understaffed.
  • A captain cannot have his license revoked for failure to follow the safety management policies and procedures.
  • An auditor, or surveyor, cannot go to jail for passing a vessel audit or survey when the vessel or company does not meet the standard.

Don't begin at a disadvantage. Come join us for our Subchapter M Workshop on May 6th in New Orleans. Learn from retired Coast Guard marine safety personnel, with a combined 70 years of Coast Guard experience, and learn the truth and how to best prepare for success.
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Audits, Manual Reviews, and Surveys

An audit should not include a comprehensive manual review and comprehensive inspection of a vessel. These three functions should be kept separate and distinct in order to preserve the quality of the audit.

My experience as a Coast Guard marine inspector in verifying audited programs, was all based around International Safety Management (ISM). As proposed, Subchapter M offers a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option structured to look very much like ISM. For those readers unfamiliar with how ISM works, these are the basics of the program. Once a company chooses, or is required by regulation, to adopt ISM, a safety management manual is put together in accordance with the ISM Code (hopefully not bought off the shelf). The Company then contracts with a "recognized organization," such as an authorized classification society, who will review the manual, audit company and vessels, and issue the international certificates on behalf of the flag. This process is included in Subchapter M, however, the "recognized organization" is referred to a "third party organization."

The company takes time to refine their processes, and their manual, and works toward implementation. The SMS manual is then submitted to the recognized organization (authorized classification society) for review and approval. During this desktop review, the classification society makes sure that it includes all the requirements of, the ISM Code, the flag state, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and of that particular classification society. The safety management manual is then "approved." A comprehensive manual review does not occur every time the vessel is audited.

Once the manual is approved, audits are scheduled. First an office audit to ensure the company is following the requirements of the company's SMS manual. If the company passes the audit a Document of Compliance (DOC) is issued to the company. There is no equivalent to the DOC in Subchapter M. Then comes an audit of each vessel to ensure that the vessel is following the requirements of the company's SMS manual. The main players in this process are the master of the vessel and the auditor. Often times no one else from the company is present. If the vessel passes the audit, a Safety Management Certificate (SMC) is issued to the vessel. There is an equivalent to the SMC in Subchapter M, as it calls for a Towing Safety Management Certificate (TSMC) to be issued to the vessel.

Having been involved with towing industry audits since my retirement from the Coast Guard, I have found it strange that an "audit" usually includes an entire plan review and a comprehensive inspection of the vessel. During an ISM audit the auditor will walk-through the vessel with a focus on verifying certain items from the SMS manual policies and procedures. However, an entire inspection, or survey, of the vessel is not conducted. That is an entirely separate function conducted by flag state inspectors. These two separate processes are distinct in Subchapter M, as the proposed Subchapter calls for, if chosen, the use of third party surveyors to conduct the flag state inspection (survey) of the towing vessel, in addition to the use of third party auditors to audit implementation of the TSMS. However, the Subchapter does allow for getting the vessel survey items done under an audited program.

Hopefully, Subchapter M will follow ISM in that the TSMS manual will be reviewed and approved up front, and the survey function will be kept separate from the audit function. It is essential to not bog down an auditor with such repetitive duties, and allow him to focus on the task at hand: ensuring the vessel is being operated in accordance with the TSMS policies and procedures applicable to the vessel.

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Spraying Fuel Fires

A common cause of engine room fires is fuel spraying onto a hot surface, such as a turbo charger. This can happen when fuel line connections become loose, or chafe through. Many inspected vessels are required to have shields installed on fuel line connections to mitigate this threat. Flexible fuel lines should be inspected regularly for chafing, and should be replaced if they show signs of wear.

Companies operating with a safety management system should conduct a risk assessment to determine which high threat scenarios require mitigation. The threat of a spraying fuel fire is a high threat for all vessels. Therefore, mitigation strategies should be included in the safety management system. There should be a procedure to regularly inspect fuel lines, and a job aid, in the form of an inspection checklist, can be used to ensure no items are missed. Crewmembers must be trained on how, and why, to inspect fuel lines. If a crewmember is just handed a checklist that says "fuel lines," they may just check it off thinking, "Yep, we have fuel lines." That sounds like a joke, but it has happened more than once.

As more technology makes its way into the industry, companies may look for inspection checklists to be done on a computer. However, careful consideration should be given to this practice. The point of a job aid is to use it while conducting the job, to make sure nothing is overlooked, not to check boxes before, or after, the fact on a computer screen.

During a recent survey a vessel's flexible fuel lines were inspected by a surveyor, and one was found to be chafed almost all the way through. The vessel was dangerously close to experiencing a spraying fuel fire. The real shame was, there were stacks of completed daily checklists on board with "fuel lines" checked off. 

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TSMS Workshop August 8

Don't miss out on this important workshop.

TSMS Workshop

Some seats are still available. Register today. 

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When should a checklist be required?

Have you ever wondered why a watch relief checklist is common in the industry, but a bridge transit procedure checklist is not? I'm not sure the reason is given much thought. Consultants seem to think lots of forms make their manuals more professional, managers like the idea of having everything documented, and mariners feel they are the victims of a useless paperwork onslaught. A mariner, who was sick of all the foolish paperwork he was forced to do, once wrote about making a fake ISM form for how many sugar cubes were used by individuals at the ship's coffee mess. His point was proved when the crew did indeed; fill out the ISM sugar cube usage form.

Some in management feel making employees complete and turn in signed checklists is a good way of covering themselves. However, the value of that is questionable, and it may be counter-productive from a leadership stand point. After all, no one wants to have to complete a checklist just so their boss can cover his ass.

I recently read an excellent book on the topic of checklist usage. I highly recommend it to all individuals involved in the development of management systems and procedures. The book is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right; by Atul Gawande. This book makes a compelling case for the use of the checklists, through case studies in the medical and aviation fields.

When inspections are done, the use of a checklist is a good quality control measure to make sure nothing is missed. An engineer once told me he stopped using the engineering inspection checklist because he could do it from memory. After I had him close his eyes and imagine going down to the engine room and listing all the items he checked, he only listed 14% of the items on the checklist.

Clearly doing a detailed inspection requires a job aid for quality control. It is the operational checklist which is more complicated to determine. The methodology that we use to determine when a checklist is required is based upon risk assessment. A checklist may be required when: the task is done infrequently and therefore the risk of skipping a step is likely; and/ or, the consequence for missing a step is serious.

Why do airline pilots, who take off and land constantly, complete a checklist? Think of the consequence for missing something. When it comes to these decisions, aviation has it easy. In the maritime industry it requires a little more thought to figure out which checklists are required, and which are not. But the paperwork requirements are a little less tough to swallow when the reasoning behind them can be explained logically. Conversely, if a good risk-based argument can't be made for a particular checklist, get rid of it.
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Striving for Excellence - A New Year’s Resolution

Compliance is something that many only think of when forced to. At the Workboat Show many representatives from good companies pass by our booth and say hello, but when asked if they have any compliance questions or issues we can help with, the response is usually, "No thanks we've got all that under control." Perhaps they do, but chances are their issues just haven't risen to the surface yet. Many good companies pass inspections and audits and assume that they are in full compliance. They may be, or they may find out at the next inspection, audit or accident that they were not as compliant as they had assumed. But an excellent company has a proactive compliance management program as part of their regular routine and does not rely upon inspectors' and auditors' interpretations and opinions to determine their level of compliance.

With the coming of a new year, an opportunity arises to take your company from "good" to "excellent" in terms of compliance. If striving for excellence is part of your company culture, here are a few things to consider in the new year:

TWICs are expiring en masse this year. Don't procrastinate in getting those TWICs renewed. Even with the new 30 day grace period, there could be serious repercussions.

The effective anniversary date of the EPA VGP is February 19th. Each year a comprehensive VGP annual inspection is required to be done and any instances of noncompliance with the permit must be reported to the EPA. This annual inspection includes record keeping. For example, if there are not 52 weekly inspections on file, or records of all graywater discharges, or records of any painting and deck maintenance conducted, that may constitute noncompliance with the permit. Be aware that the permit also dictates who is qualified to conduct the annual VGP inspections.

Your uninspected towing vessel examination sticker may expire this year. While you are not required to renew it, if you do, you should be prepared for a much more knowledgeable batch of examiners who may find a number of deficiencies that were not addressed in the first go round. A comprehensive regulatory compliance survey is a good way to prepare for the Coast Guard.

Subchapter M may be published this year. When it is, companies will be scrambling to determine the best path forward. You can get ahead of the curve by discussing the compliance options for each vessel, and by getting captains and crews ready by intensive drills, as well as training on what operating a vessel according to safety management system really means. A thorough internal audit or assessment by an objective third party is a good way to prepare.


Good companies may choose to wait and see if any of what I have addressed rises to the surface this year. Excellent companies will not take that gamble and will leave nothing to chance. Have an excellent and prosperous New Year. 

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A Military Approach to Seafaring

 If a company hired a new captain for a new vessel, and shortly thereafter that captain was asked what challenges he faces on his new vessel, what do you think he might say? I can't imagine him saying that the biggest hurdle he faced was that there was not enough established doctrine or written procedures for him to follow! Perhaps if International Safety Management (ISM) systems had been implemented as intended, to minimize human error by following written procedures that represent best practices, he might have said such a thing. But that culture, to my knowledge, has not been established on the civilian side of seafaring. While working with companies to implement ISM and other safety management programs, I often use the example of serving on a number of Coast Guard cutters, where there was a right way to do everything, and it was written down in manuals. There were almost no checklists used either, because everything had to be learned, practiced, memorized and drilled. From this perspective, I believe a real safety culture is one where the word "safety" is never mentioned. I can't remember ever hearing it on any Coast Guard cutter: there was only the right way to do things. In watching Dale DuPont's interview with LCDR Craig Allen, Commanding Officer of the USCGC William Flores, on Workboat.com recently, I was pleased to see that some things never change. Listen to what the Captain says when asked what challenges he faces on his new vessel… (Video interview) That's right; he says that their biggest hurdle is that there is not enough established doctrine or procedures to follow. He explains they will have to make them from scratch based upon lessons learned and best practices. This is an example of what the Coast Guard's "safety culture" looks like. The operational Coast Guard is not an excellent organization by accident. How excellent is your operation?

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Towing Vessel Inspections and the Cruise Ship Disaster

 While we don't know when the towing vessel inspection regulations contained in Subchapter M will officially come into force, we do know it could be as soon as within the next year, and if published as proposed, it will drastically change the industry forever. Whether a company is dreading the day, or is confident in their readiness, it is interesting to take a look at what we know about the recent Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster and draw some parallels, which may provide some insight into the future.


What could the Costa Concordia disaster possibly have to do with Subchapter M? It would be a stretch to call it lessons learned, but it does provide some interesting food for thought.  Despite the history of how Subchapter M came to be, in reading the proposed rule it became obvious to me that the Coast Guard had put this concept of the use of safety management and third parties into a "box" they are familiar and comfortable with. The use of safety management systems and third party organizations, auditors and surveyors outlined in Subchapter M is designed very similarly to the International Safety Management (ISM) system.

Let's compare: While we wait on the official investigation report, almost all would agree that the Concordia ran into the rocks. This appears to have been a navigational error. We can argue as to why, but navigating a cruise ship is high risk and therefore navigation standards should be provided by the company to ensure prudent navigation and minimize human error.  These policies and procedures would be included in accordance with the ISM code, Section 7, "Shipboard Operations." The similar requirement in Subchapter M for the Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) is found in 46 CFR part 138.220(c)(2) – "proper management of the navigational watch."

So who, besides the company itself, is suppose to make sure the ISM policies and procedures are adequate? Concordia is an Italian flag ship. As allowed by the ISM code, it used surveyors from the classification society RINA to conduct external audits of their safety management system on behalf of the flag. Did the auditor anticipate such a scenario when auditing the company's policies and procedures? If so, did he ensure the crew and shore side company personnel were following them? Subchapter M also allows for third party auditors to conduct third party audits on behalf of the flag.

In the case of the Concordia, who is authorized to certify compliance with the ISM code on behalf of the flag?  The ISM code allows for "recognized organizations" to certify compliance with the ISM code, and in the case of the Concordia the recognized organization was the classification society RINA who had issued the Safety Management Certificate (SMC) for the Concordia on November 13, 2011. Subchapter M also allows for "third party organizations" to issue Towing Safety Management System Certificates on behalf of the flag as a requirement for obtaining a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection (COI) under the TSMS option.

While we wait for the final rule to be published on Subchapter M, it will be interesting to watch how the Concordia investigation unfolds and where the "blame" is placed. One thing we know already is, three days after the disaster, after questioning the company's denial of knowledge of the Concordia's fatal maneuvers, the president of RINA resigned.
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Increased Scrutiny of SMS Implementation by U.S. Coast Guard

 When it comes to what constitutes full implementation of a safety management system such as the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, there seems to be a disconnect between what different stakeholders believe to be adequate. Different flag states, recognized organizations, class societies, and port state control authorities enforce the code to their own standards, not to mention each individual auditor's experience and subjective opinions.  The real disparity becomes painfully clear during times of major accident investigations and litigation, when everything is put under a microscope and the level of implementation that was considered "satisfactory" at the last audit can now constitute alleged negligence.

A company may have an acceptable safety management system and a satisfactory level of implementation, that is, until there is a serious casualty.  Once there is a serious casualty, the implication can be that whatever was being done before the accident was obviously inadequate, regardless of how many enforcement officials and auditors had blessed the program previously.  This is not what the ISM was intended to be, but it is unarguably what it has evolved into.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the U.S. Coast Guard's report of investigation on the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  The report finds fault with all stakeholders and pulls no punches. 

There must be clear and consistent expectations if ISM is going to be implemented as designed.  It seems the U.S. Coast Guard may now be thinking in a similar fashion. In the Deepwater Horizon report the recommendations include an investigation to see if a change to the current inspection and enforcement methods is required to increase compliance with the ISM code. Increased scrutiny of adherence to policies and procedures may be on the horizon. Vessel operators, including towing vessel operators in the U.S. who will soon be required by regulation to implement a safety management system, should start now making sure that their policies and procedures are actually being followed.

Say what you do, do what you say, and be able to prove it!
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RCP v. Subchapter M

The proposed rule containing regulations for the inspection of towing vessels, known as Subchapter M, is due to be published in a few months.  It is expected that these regulations will include a towing vessel safety management systems. Many towing vessel companies currently have a safety management system (SMS) in place known as the American Waterways Operators (AWO) Responsible Carrier Program (RCP).  Having been both a U.S. Coast Guard marine inspector and an AWO RCP auditor, I have noticed a different expectation regarding the level of implementation required between inspected vessel's SMS and RCP. I suspect that some RCP companies might have a difficult time with Subchapter M enforcement if they don't step up the level of implementation.


An interesting marine casualty report has been published by the Coast Guard regarding the unfortunate death of a U.S. merchant mariner. I recommend anyone involved in an SMS click on the link below, and/or if the link times out: go to Homeport, Investigations, & scroll down and open "S/R Wilmington Personnel Casualty," and take note of the emphasis placed on the SMS in this accident report, and how the Coast Guard intends to step up SMS enforcement.


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New Safety Management System Workbook Available

A common practice throughout the maritime industry, despite elaborate safety management systems (SMS) which have been put in place, is to simply rely on the credentials and experience of mariners to operate safely. But the expectation with Safety Management Systems (SMS) is that written policies and procedures are to be followed by employees, both ashore and afloat.   Just ask anyone who has been involved in a serious accident investigation, or litigation. 

The hard truth is, best way to learn the company's policies and procedures is to "hit the books" and actually look up the information and apply it to real-life situations.  The best way to ensure this is done is to provide a tool to shipboard and shore-side employees which will help them do the work.


We have recently published an SMS workbook, based upon a qualification process used in the U.S. Coast Guard.  The workbook contains 90 different scenarios, each of which must be researched by the trainee in the company's own SMS. Space is provided to write down, not only the answer, but the section, page and paragraph number where the answer is found.  The workbook covers just about any scenario intended to be covered by any maritime SMS.  It can be issued to each individual employee as a personal qualification guide, or used during group training exercises.

Anyone who completes this workbook will be fully familiar with the company's SMS and will fare much better during inspections, audits, investigations, administrative hearings and trials. It can also serve as a required "management review" as it will bring to light any inadequacies in the SMS which require revision. Finally, auditors will find this workbook an excellent tool to determine if crews know the company policies and procedures, or if the issue is even addressed in the SMS.

Many companies have ordered these workbooks for their entire fleets and have found them to be extremely beneficial. To order the Safety Management System Workbook simply click here. You can pay by credit card through the website, or simply place an order and request an invoice. 

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What's the best way to get captains and crews to learn company policies and procedures?

These days there are many policies and procedures for crews to follow. As we have discussed in the past, many policies and procedures may be unreasonable or unrealistic, but once they have been customized and refined, what's the best way to get captains and crews to learn and follow them? Unfortunately, the answer is to "crack the books" which not too many people enjoy.  This is a true leadership challenge, but with the right skills and tools it can be done.

Please join us in New Orleans on April 29th for an important seminar on the proper implemenation of safety management systems.  Please follow the link below for further details:


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