The Coast Guard estimates there are between 12,000 and 15,000 licensed tugboat and towboat operators operating, more than 5,200 towing vessels in United States waters. Today, mariners holding several different types of "lower level" licenses operate towing vessels from 25 to 1,600 gross tons on routes that include oceans, near coastal and inland waters, the Great Lakes, and western rivers.
Ever since the Coast Guard imposed its licensing scheme on towing vessel operators in 1972, their safety, training and working conditions seldom received more than passing consideration from Congress. What changes did occur came as a result of public reaction and indignation to high profile accidents and environmental disasters such as the Sunset Limited accident, the Martin J. Berman grounding off San Juan, and the Scandia-North Cape accident that polluted the Rhode Island coast. Many of the resulting changes are still in progress.
During the same thirty-year period, other sectors of the marine industry employing lower-level mariners with comparable backgrounds incorporated many improved Coast Guard safety standards in both their vessels and in their operations. For example, the small passenger vessel industry and the offshore oil industry now operate "inspected" vessels that must meet rigorous Coast Guard construction, equipment, and safety standards. Even the commercial fishing industry with such a poor safety record that Congress had to intervene, cancel unenforceable "voluntary" guidelines, and direct the Coast Guard to properly regulate the industry, now has a set of vessel safety standards that provides its mariners with at least minimal protection. Although there is no shortage of "regulations," there are no comprehensive towing vessel safety standards that guide the entire industry.
Towing industry management successfully warded off Coast Guard vessel inspection for over 50 years. A sizeable portion of the fleet, specifically companies that are members of the American Waterways Operators (AWO), now operate their mostly uninspected vessels under a well designed but still "voluntary" set of guidelines. However, changes are in the air. Investigations following three major accidents in the past decade shattered a number of myths and forced the Coast Guard and the industry trade association to closely examine the high fatality rate in the towing industry, the safety of its vessels and their crews, towing operator qualifications, and licensing standards.
Many licensed towing vessel "operators," soon to become Merchant Marine Officers with in a new Master, Mate and Pilot licensing scheme, are starting to awaken to the fact that they are responsible for many "things" that they were never taught about in a "license-prep" class. But what "things"? And how are licensed mariners vulnerable? This book attempts to answer these questions so mariners working on towing vessels may better focus on what should be their real concerns and catch up on many details that were allowed to slip through the cracks over the years. That is the purpose of this book.
The closing chapter of this book outlines a course of study for aspiring towing vessel officers to follow to learn and understand the factual information the Coast Guard expects them to know. That course background information reflects Marine Education Textbook's tradition of thirty-years standing.
Chapters include: Licensing and Certification; Manning of Towing Vessels; Rules and Regulations for Uninspected Towing Vessels; Towing Operations; Pollution Control; Towing Vessel Officer Study Material for License Preparation*; Bibliography.
This book was prepared for mariners who already hold towing licenses as well as those who intend to sit for their first license.
[*This book does not stand-alone and does not provide for complete license preparation. The book directs its readers to additional study material available.]