The LeadersIn Maritime Law

Certificate of Inspection

Over a period of more than 140 years, the laws regarding the inspection and certification of U.S. flag carrying vessels have developed. Since consolidating these laws into 46 U.S.C. Chapter 33, vessels are subject to inspection and certification by the Coast Guard on a regular basis to ensure their safety. According to this, all U.S. flag carrying vessels are required to be inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard on a regular basis. 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 as long as five years between inspections.

The following vessels all require this regular inspection:

    • Freight Vessels
    • Nautical School Vessels
    • Offshore Supply Vessels
    • Passenger Vessels
    • Sailing School 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 must be framed and prominently displayed in a conspicuous place; a vessel may not be operated unless its certificate is on board. If a vessel navigates without certification, it will be required to:

    • 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. Should a vessel not be in compliance 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.

    There are several things that 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; and
    • The vessel complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

    Before being put into service, each vessel needs to undergo an inspection for certification. Following the initial inspection, passenger vessels, nautical school vessels, and small passenger vessels will need to be inspected at least once per year, with all other vessels requiring inspection at least once every five years.

    To learn more about inspection and certification, please contact Arnold & Itkin today!

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