The Subchapter M Final Rule Review

June 15, 2016

The SubChapter M Final Rule is a whopping 800 pages with a 536 page preamble followed by the Final Rule beginning on page 537.  The Preamble is the USCG response narrative to all submissions from the 2011 Public Comment period and the USCG rational for additions, deletions, and enhancements to the Final Rule.  The Final Rule from page 537 is the actual language of the SubChapter M Rulemaking which becomes effective July 20, 2016.

Below are some highlights for Inland Towing Operators to consider as they begin the transition into SubChapter M compliance.

User Fees

USCG will be issuing additional rulemaking for SubChapter M User Fees but until then $1030.00 will be the User Fee rate.


A few technical changes were made to align towing license requirements with manning requirements.  The Final Rule gives OCMIs broad discretion in working with individual towing vessel operators to develop COI manning requirements specific to the vessel’s route, trade, construction and arrangement.


Mostly minor technical adjustments but no dazzling departures from the NPRM.

Vessel Compliance

Four points of note.  First, the USCG Annual Boarding & Third Party Organization (TPO) Solution are retained as the compliance options. Second, the use of a properly credentialed licensed mariner/surveyor acting on behalf of the operator in lieu of an external surveyor is authorized.  Third, all SubChapter M vessels must be in full compliance with the Final Rule on or before the issuance of the vessel’s COI or July 20, 2018 whichever date is earlier.  Fourth, all towing operators must have a fully implemented Health & Safety Plan by July 20, 2019.

Towing Safety Management System

USCG has defined the TPO Solution process.  The TPO certifies the Operator’s Towing Safety Management System and issues a TSMS certificate.  Thereafter, following a successful vessel TSMS audit the TPO issues the TSMS certificate to the vessel and transmits the Audit Report to USCG.  The Operator schedules a USCG boarding for COI issuance.

Third Party Organizations

USCG “approved” class societies are authorized to perform Sub M surveys and audits commencing July 20, 2016.  Non Class TPOs must be vetted and approved by USCG.  Auditors and Surveyors may be non-exclusive.


Four critical elements are addressed in this section.  First, all vessels electing the USCG Annual solution MUST have a Towing Vessel Record onboard.  Second, all vessels electing the TPO solution may have a TVR or another equivalent solution AND MUST BE STATED AS SUCH IN THE TSMS.  Third, the statutory requirements for a TVR are spelled out in detail including all the required recordkeeping entries.  Fourth, USCG defined Criminal Penalties & Fines for SubChapter M violations are consistent with other SubChapters.


Consistent with the NPRM

Fire Protection

Expands on standards, recordkeeping, and inspections.

Machinery & Electrical

No longer a requirement for redundant propulsion or wheelhouse alter system.  Deferred electrical requirement also eliminated from the rule.

Construction and Arrangement

A key dry docking requirements which stipulates that a towing vessel must be on the blocks every 2.5 or 5 years depending on the vessel’s annual saltwater exposure….also covered in Part 140.


Consistent with NVIC 02-08.

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