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September 17, 2006

New licensing requirements for towing vessel operators

The Coast Guard is reminding the maritime community that a deadline is approaching for changes in the requirements for who is allowed operate towing vessels.

Beginning May 21, 2006, as per 46 CFR 15.610 and 46 CFR 15.910, all towing vessels at least 8 meters in length must be under the direction and control of a person licensed as master or mate (pilot) of towing vessels, or licensed as master or mate of vessels greater than 200 gross register tons holding either an endorsement on his or her license for towing vessels or a completed Towing Officer's Assessment Record (TOAR) signed by an approved designated examiner and documentation of at least 30 days under observation and training aboard a towing vessel on the applicable route.

No other individuals will be permitted to operate these vessels after May 21, 2006.

After a 1993 accident in which a towing vessel and its barges ran into a railroad bridge near Mobile, and several other accidents involving towing vessels, the Coast Guard changed the licensing requirements for those who operate towing vessels. Those requirements have been gradually implemented since the new rules became final in April 2001.

Towing vessels must now carry a designated master and, if the vessel is operating more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period, a mate (pilot). An apprentice mate (steersman) has no authority to operate these vessels unless under the direct supervision of a properly licensed master and/or mate (pilot).

Owners, charterers, managing operators, agents, masters or individuals in charge of towing vessels operated in violation of these requirements are subject to a maximum civil penalty of $27,500.

None of this applies to vessels engaged in assistance towing (defined as towing a disabled vessel for consideration).

The requirements to obtain towing officers' licenses are contained in 46 CFR 10.463 10.466. They are further discussed in Navigation & Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 4-01, "Licensing and Manning for Officers of Towing Vessels." (http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/nvic/index00.htm).

For more information, contact the nearest Coast Guard Regional Examination Center. A listing of all Coast Guard units is available on the internet at: http://www.uscg.mil/units.html

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