USCG releases new 46 CFR Subchapter M Final Rule


On June 20, 2016 the U.S. Coast Guard published in the Federal Register new towing vessel regulations that establish new requirements for the design, construction, on-board equipment, and operation of U.S. towing vessels.  The regulations were considered and developed by the Towing Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC) with special input from the commercial towing vessel industry. These new regulations make up 46 CFR Subchapter M. 


Overview of the new Subchapter M rule

The U.S. Coast Guard established the new Subchapter M rule to introduce safety regulations that govern characteristics, methods of operations, and nature of service of towing vessels. Inspection of towing vessels for compliance of these new safety regulations will be preformed by the Coast Guard or by third party organizations (TPO's) such as classification societies. The new Subchapter M rule, includes provisions covering specific electrical and machinery requirements for new and existing towing vessels, the use and approval of third-party organizations, and procedures for obtaining Certificates of Inspection.     


Who exactly does Subchapter M rule apply to?

46 CFR Subchapter M applies to all U.S. towing vessels 26ft in length or more and  U.S. towing vessels less than 26ft moving barges carrying oil or hazardous material in bulk. 


Why is the Inspection of Towing Vessels rule needed?

According to the Coast Guard and government research:

"towing vessels account for slightly more than two-thirds (67.5%) of the five-year average number of all vessels involved in collisions, allisions and groundings, almost one-third (29.8%) of the five-year average number of all commercial mariner deaths and injuries, and almost one-third (30.2%) of the five-year average number of all chemical discharge incidents and oil spills greater than 100 gallons into navigable waters for calendar years 2010 through 2014."

The Coast Guard's goal in introducing these new safety regulations in Subchapter M is to reduce the number towing vessel incidents such as personal injury or damage to the surrounding marine environment.  


When does this go into effect? 

The new rule went into effect on July 20, 2016. Specific regulations in this rule will be phased in over time and existing towing vessels will have an additional two years to be in compliance with most of the requirements. 


Inspection options for U.S. towing vessels 

U.S. towing vessels will have two options when it comes to being inspected for compliance with Subchapter M regulations:

  1. Towing Safety Management System Option (TSMS): Towing vessel companies may elect to create a Towing Safety Management System that meets all the requirements from the Coast Guard. The TSMS option may be advantages to companies as it promotes continuous compliance and provides greater flexibility in scheduling inspections/surveys from TPO's. An approved TSMS may also mitigate risk of incidents through proper development and execution of safety procedures and protocols in the TSMS. 
  2. Coast Guard Inspection Option: Towing companies that lack the resources to develop and implement a TSMS or choose not to do so must choose to have the Coast Guard annual inspection option. This option may be seen as a more cost effective option in comparison to the TSMS option. A Coast Guard inspector will review if a towing vessel is being operated safely and is in compliance with the new Subchapter M requirements. 


Importance of nautical charts & publications on-board 

As a nautical chart & publication agent we have noted the importance of having nautical charts and publications on-board towing vessels in the Subchapter M rule. The requirements for nautical charts and publications in Subchapter M are found in § 140.705. § 140.705 states: 

(a) This section applies to a towing vessel not subject to the requirements of 33 CFR 164.72.

(b) A towing vessel must carry adequate and up-to-date charts, maps, and nautical publications for the intended voyage, including:

(1) Charts, including electronic charts acceptable to the Coast Guard, of appropriate scale to make safe navigation possible. Towing vessels operating on the Western Rivers must have maps of appropriate scale issued by the Army Corps of Engineers or a river authority;

(2) “U.S. Coast Pilot” or similar publication;

(3) Coast Guard light list; and

(4) Towing vessels that operate the Western Rivers must have river stage(s) or Water Surface Elevations as appropriate to the trip or route, as published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or a river authority, must be available to the person in charge of the navigation watch.

(c) Extracts or copies from the publications listed in paragraph (b) of this section may be carried, so long as they are applicable to the route.


It should be noted that electronic charts are permitted for use in lieu of paper charts as long as they and the electronic chart system used to display the charts are approved by the Coast Guard. NVIC 01-16 provides further guidance on the use of electronic chart systems and applies to towing vessels.  


Who do I contact if I have questions about this rule? 

All questions should be directed to LCDR William Nabach, Project Manager, CG–OES–2, Coast Guard, telephone 202–372–1386.