Marine Safety Information Bulletin

MSIB Number: 18-14

Implementation of New Requirements for Commercial Fishing

The purpose of this Bulletin is to remind the commercial fishing
industry about safety and equipment requirements established
by the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 and the Coast
Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012.  The Acts made
significant changes to Chapters 45 and 51 of Title 46 United
States Code (USC) that will be reflected in amended regulations
(Parts 28 and 42 of Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)).
These new requirements are scheduled to go into effect by the
date(s) set forth under the law.  The specific provisions to be
implemented are discussed and explained in this Bulletin.

Mandatory Dockside Safety Examinations:  Both Acts mentioned
above amended 46 USC §4502(f) and directed that both State-
registered and Federally-documented vessels that meet the
following criteria, receive a safety examination no later than
October 15, 2015, the date this requirement is scheduled to take
effect.  The criteria includes: operating beyond 3 nautical miles of
the baseline of the U.S. territorial sea or the coastline of the Great
Lakes, operating anywhere with more than 16 individuals on
board (either inside 3 miles of the baseline or beyond 3 miles of
the baseline), and fish tender vessels engaged in the Aleutian
trade. These vessels will need to complete this dockside safety
examination at least once every 5 years, however, some vessels,
depending on their operation or areas of service, may be subject
to a more frequent examination schedule.

See the USCG Safety Bulletin for these maritime law revisions
impacting commercial fishing vessel safety:

If you have had your vessel examined recently, but the safety
decal that was issued expires before the new requirement takes
effect, you should have your vessel re-examined prior to October
15, 2015 if the above criteria applies.  If you do not have a valid
safety decal after October 15, 2015, you could be subject to
operational controls that may be directed by a Captain of the Port
Order.  To help alleviate last minute exam scheduling backlogs,
do not wait until the last minute to request an examination as
there will likely be a rush on examination requests closer to the
scheduled October 2015 deadline.

Survival Craft:  The Acts also amended 46 USC §4502(b)(2)(B) by
deleting the words “lifeboats or liferafts,” and replacing them
with, “a survival craft that ensures that no part of an individual is
immersed in water...” This means that all commercial fishing
industry vessels operating beyond 3 nautical miles of the base
line or the coastline of the Great Lakes will be required to carry a
survival craft that keeps you out of the water (i.e., a lifeboat,
inflatable liferaft, or inflatable buoyant apparatus) in the event of
an abandon ship need.  Current life floats and buoyant apparatus
are not designed to keep an individual out of the water when
used in an emergency. This requirement for a survival craft, such
as a lifeboat, inflatable liferaft, or inflatable buoyant apparatus
that keeps one out of the water, is scheduled to go into effect on
February 16, 2016.

Newly-Built Vessels:  Note – The 2012 Act amended 46 USC
§4503 by adding a new subsection (e) that states, “For the
purposes of this section, the term  “built” means, with respect to
a vessel, that the vessel’s construction has reached any of the
following stages: (1) The vessel’s keel is laid. (2) Construction
identifiable with the vessel has begun and assembly of that
vessel has commenced comprising of at least 50 metric tons or
one percent of the estimated mass of all structural material,
whichever is less.” Also note that, “overall in length,” means the
horizontal distance of the hull between the foremost part of the
stem and the aftermost part of the stern excluding fittings and
attachments, which is different from the “registered length.”

With this in mind, and with regard to vessels at least 50 feet
overall in length, the 2010 Act amended 46 USC §4503 to add a
requirement that commercial fishing vessels at least 50 feet
overall in length, built after July 1, 2012 that operate beyond 3
nautical miles of the baseline must be designed, constructed,
and maintained to the standards of a recognized classification
society.  The 2010 Act also required that vessels classed before
July 1, 2012 shall remain subject to the requirements of a
classification society and have on board a certificate from that
society.  The 2012 Act extended that “built after” date to July 1,
2013. So, after July 1, 2013, if a vessel 50 feet or more overall in
length was, or is, built, it must meet survey and classification
requirements. A vessel 50 feet or greater overall in length built
after July 1, 2013, but not built to class, will be ineligible to
commercially fish beyond 3 nautical miles of the baseline under a
Fishery endorsement on its Certificate of Documentation.

Vessels less than 50 feet overall in length:  The 2010 Act, also
amended 46 USC §4502 by adding a new subsection (h) that
requires commercial fishing vessels less than 50 feet overall in
length, built after January 1, 2010, to be constructed in a manner
that provides a level of safety equivalent to the minimum safety
standards established for recreational vessels.  The
standards/requirements for recreational vessels can be found in
33 CFR Parts 181 and 183.

Load Lines:  The 2010 Act amended 46 USC §5102(b) to require
commercial fishing vessels 79 feet or greater in length (and that
will operate beyond the Boundary Line) to have a load line
assigned. Per the 2010 Act, this provision applied to commercial
fishing vessels built after July 1, 2012, however, the 2012 Act
changed the effective date to July 1, 2013.  Generally, most
commercial fishing vessels were previously exempt from load
line requirements.  A load line indicates the minimum safe
freeboard to which a vessel may be loaded.

Conditions evaluated when calculating and assigning a load line
include watertight integrity of the vessel, subdivision, and loading
capacity.  To be consistent with the definition for determining
length for load line purposes already accepted and in use for
other vessels, the registered or documented length of a
commercial fishing vessel will be used for load line applicability
as set forth in Subchapter E of 46 CFR Part 42.

Alternate Safety Programs: The 2010 Act added a new
Subsection (d) to 46 USC §4503.  This provision requires the
Coast Guard to prescribe and develop, in cooperation with the
commercial fishing industry, an Alternate Safety Compliance
Program for commercial fishing vessels that operate beyond the
3 nautical mile line, if the vessel is: (1) at least 50 feet overall in
length; (2) was built before July 1, 2012; and (3) is 25 years of age
or older (in 2020); or, was built on or before July 1, 2012, and
undergoes a substantial change to the dimension of, or type of
vessel, completed after July 1, 2012, or a later date set by the
Coast Guard.

The 2012 Act changed the date of applicability from July 1, 2012
to July 1, 2013. In general, the Alternate Safety Compliance
Programs must be prescribed by 2017 and implementation
beginning by 2020. The Coast Guard is in the process of finalizing
draft criteria and requirements for the Programs and the
Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee has been
consulted on the draft.  Prior to final promulgation, the fishing
industry will be offered an opportunity to review, comment, and
make recommendations as to how to apply the requirements
based on risk, vessel operations, and operating areas.  The 2010
and 2012 Acts also amended 46 USC §5103 by adding a
requirement for vessels that undergo a major conversion after
July 1, 2013, or a date set by the Secretary, to comply with an
Alternate Load Line Compliance Program.  This Program will be
developed in cooperation with the fishing industry.  The Alternate
Load Line Compliance Program will apply to vessels 79 feet or
greater in length, and the criteria is expected to be included in
the Alternate Safety Compliance Program guidelines for
consideration by the industry.

Questions regarding these requirements should be forwarded to
the Coast Guard Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance,
Fishing Vessels Division (CG-CVC-3) at 202-372-1249 or by email
at  Or, you may also contact your local Coast
Guard District Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator or local Sector
Fishing Vessel Safety Examiner.  The points of contact for these
individuals can be found on the web site,, and
click on the “Locate Examiners” tab.

U.S.C.G. Disclaimer: This release has been issued for public
information and notification purposes only.

Back to
Maritime Attorney Homepage