What Is a Certificate of Inspection?

Over the past centuries, the laws regarding the inspection and certification of U.S. flag-carrying vessels have evolved and developed. Since consolidating these laws into 46 U.S.C. Chapter 33, vessels are subject to inspection and certification by the Coast Guard. For passenger vessels, nautical school vessels, and small passenger vessels, the inspection must occur at least once per year after the initial inspection, whereas all other vessels can go up to five years between inspections.

The following vessels all require this regular inspection:

  • Freight vessels
  • Nautical school vessels
  • Offshore supply vessels
  • Passenger vessels
  • Seagoing barges
  • Seagoing motor vessels
  • Small passenger vessels
  • Steam vessels
  • Tank vessels
  • Fish processing vessels
  • Fish tender vessels
  • Great Lakes barges
  • Oil spill response vessels
  • Towing vessels

About the Certificate of Inspection

Once a vessel has been inspected and found to be in compliance with all applicable laws, a certificate of inspection is issued. This certificate includes a description of the vessel, the route it may travel, minimum manning requirements, what safety equipment must be on board, the total number of persons (passengers and crew) it may carry, and the names of its owners/operators.

A certificate of inspection must be framed and displayed in a conspicuous place; a vessel may not be operated unless its certificate is on board. If a vessel navigates without certification, it must:

  • Be moored until certification is issued;
  • Take immediate steps to ensure the safety of all individuals on board and the environment; and/or
  • Proceed to a place for repairs.

A certified vessel is also required to comply with all of the conditions during the term of the certificate, such as the number of crew or the route it may take. Should a vessel not comply with these terms, a written notice will be sent to the individual in charge and the vessel may be required to make repairs immediately or cease operating; in some cases, if the vessel has a condition deemed to be unsafe to life, the certificate may be revoked or suspended.

Scope of the Inspection by the Coast Guard

The owner, charter, agent, master, or operator of the vessel must submit an application to the Office in Charge, Marine Inspection (OCMI) of the marine inspection zone, who will then schedule an inspection. A notice requesting inspection must be sent at least 30 days before the current certificate expires; if the vessel will no longer be operated, this must be communicated to the Secretary in writing.

Several things must be determined by the Coast Guard when inspecting a vessel:

  • The vessel is suitable for service.
  • The vessel is equipped with lifesaving, fire prevention, and firefighting equipment.
  • The vessel can properly accommodate crew, instructors, students, and/or passengers.
  • The vessel has enough potable water for drinking and washing.
  • The vessel is in a safe condition with regard to both life and property.
  • The vessel complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

For additional information and insight into a potential maritime case, contact Arnold & Itkin.

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