The United States Coast Guard
What Vessels are Subject to USCG Inspections
We are all familiar with the Coast Guard in their search and rescue role and their sometimes-irritating job boarding and inspecting pleasure craft. What is not as clear to the general boating population as well as marine installers and boat builders is the regulatory role the Coast Guard plays in the construction of boats.
The issue of Coast Guard vessel inspections is a complex one as it is based in US federal regulation. In this technical brief we will explain just the basis for USCG vessel inspections and the classifications under which vessels are inspected.
What is inspected
The body of law governing USCG activity in this area is Code of Federal Regulations, usually referred to as the CFRs. The central table laying out what vessels are inspected (or not inspected) by the USCG is contained in CFR Tile 46 Shipping, Part 90.05-1(A). This table classifies all vessels as Steam, Motor, Sail or Non-self propelled. It then breaks these categories down into Gross Tonnage classifications. Finally the Method of Propulsion/Gross Tonnage classifications intersect Vessel Class columns headed Tank Vessels, Passenger Vessels, Cargo and Miscellaneous Vessels, Uninspected Vessels, Oceanographic Vessels and "Certain Bulk Dangerous Cargo" Vessels.
Table 90.05-1(A) then assigns a Subchapter (D,H,T,I,C,U and O) to each of these columns specifying the Subchapter that contains the laws to which vessels in that column are subject. Subchapters D, H, T and I vessels are "inspected and certificated" by the USCG. Vessels covered by Subchapters C, U and O are "subject to the provisions of…" (i.e., not inspected) the appropriate Subchapter. This is the basis for the different treatment accorded Commercial and Pleasure craft by the USCG. The CFR Subchapters of most interest to boat manufacturers and repairers working on craft are under 100 Gross Tons are CFR 46 Subchapters T (Small Passenger Vessels Under 100 Gross Tons) and CFR 46 Subchapter C (Uninspected Vessels). There are three classes of Uninspected vessels - Recreational, Fishing and Towing.
Within the Coast Guard there are generally separate groups that deal with Inspected and Uninspected Vessels. While it may sound like the USCG has no connection with Uninspected vessels in the manufacturing process, this is not the case. The Coast Guard itself performs the inspection on an Inspected vessel, but the task of reviewing uninspected vessels is contracted out by the USCG to private companies. In a separate Technical Brief we'll discuss the Manufacturer's Certification Process - the method in which the USCG supervises the manufacture of Uninspected Vessels.
Large portions of the Code of Federal Regulations can be accessed on line through by referring to the Links section of the Blue Sea Systems website.