Subchapter M Fully Implemented After Nearly 20 Years

File image courtesy American Waterways Operators

Published Jul 19, 2022 5:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

After years of hard work and anticipation, the deadline for Subchapter M certificate of inspection compliance has finally arrived for the towing industry. More than 5,000 tugs and towboats across the country qualified in advance of the July 19 deadline, marking a major turning point for safety and quality in the industry. 

"This is a historic occasion for both the commercial towing industry and the Coast Guard as we have been working toward this moment since the 2004 Authorization Act which added towing vessels as an inspected class," said Rear Adm. Wayne R. Arguin, the Coast Guard's assistant commandant for prevention policy. 

Arguin thanked the countless stakeholders who helped shepherd Subchapter M across the finish line. The regulation and its implementation took nearly 20 years of partnership between the tugboat, towboat and barge industry and the U.S. Coast Guard to raise standards and promote safety. Key participants included working mariners, towing operators, National Towing Safety Advisory Committee, American Waterways Operators, ABS, the Coast Guard's marine inspectors, and the Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise.

Subchapter M requires towing vessel operators to select from one of two inspection options: 1) U.S. Coast Guard inspection or 2) adopting a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) plus inspection, surveying and auditing by an authorized class society or consulting firm. The American Waterways Operators' longstanding Responsible Carrier Program is an authorized TSMS and is widely used. July 19 was the final day for the last existing vessels to obtain a COI in order to remain in compliance.

"Today is a great day for marine safety, thanks to our partners at the U.S. Coast Guard, American Waterways Operators, and the industry at large — all of whom worked for years to set minimum safety standards for towing vessels," said Jennifer Homendy, Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. 

Six senators and representatives voiced their support, a sign of the attention that Sub M has attracted in policy circles. Sen. Roger Wicker, Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Sam Graves, Rep. Bob Gibbs, Rep. Mike Bost and Rep. Rob Wittman all sent their congratulations to the industry for getting vessels across the finish line.

"Compliance has had its costs, and operating changes have been necessary to meet the requirements of the new Certificates of Inspection.  The industry should be proud of having undertaken these efforts to ensure an even safer and more efficient tug and barge fleet," said Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO).