Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to AWO members’ frequently asked questions about Subchapter M compliance. To submit a question, please contact Caitlyn Stewart, (703) 841-9300, extension 262, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You are also encouraged to explore the Coast Guard Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise’s FAQs about Subchapter M requirements on its website.
Does Subchapter M require compliance with a safety management system?
No. Subchapter M provides two options for regulatory compliance: the Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option and the Coast Guard option. A vessel owner choosing the Coast Guard option is not required to have a safety management system. However, it is important to note that Subchapter M requires vessel owners to implement certain policies and procedures, and to maintain documentation that these policies and procedures have been implemented, regardless of which compliance option they choose. Many of these “SMS-like” requirements are found in Part 140 (Operations) of Subchapter M.
Does AWO require members to comply with a safety management system?
Yes. Compliance with a third-party-audited safety management system has been a requirement for AWO membership since 2000. The Board of Directors reaffirmed this requirement in October 2017.
Why does AWO require compliance with a safety management system when Subchapter M doesn’t?
For nearly a quarter-century, AWO members have been committed to being leaders in marine safety and environmental stewardship and to advancing a culture of safety rather than a culture of regulatory compliance. This commitment was reaffirmed by the Task Force on the Future of AWO Safety Leadership in 2011 and by the AWO Board of Directors in 2017. Implementation of a safety management system is an essential tool for creating and strengthening a safety culture and driving continuous improvement.
Does this mean that an AWO member must use the TSMS option for compliance with Subchapter M?
No. An AWO member is free to use the TSMS option, the Coast Guard option, or both as a means of compliance with Subchapter M. However, an AWO member choosing to use the Coast Guard option for some or all of its vessels must still maintain audited compliance with a safety management system for purposes of AWO membership.
What safety management systems can be used to meet the requirement for AWO membership?
A company may use the Responsible Carrier Program, the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, or another safety management system that is equivalent to the RCP to meet the requirement for AWO membership. In each case, the SMS must be audited by an AWO-recognized third-party organization. Information on how to use the ISM Code to satisfy the AWO membership requirement can be found in RCP Addendum B. The RCP Standards Board is developing guidance on how to use another SMS that is equivalent to the RCP to meet the AWO membership requirement.
What is the difference between a SMS and a TSMS?
A Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) is a safety management system (SMS) that meets the requirements of Part 138 of Subchapter M. A company’s SMS becomes a TSMS when a TSMS Certificate is issued by a Coast Guard-approved TPO.
If I choose the TSMS option, do I need to undergo separate audits for purposes of the Subchapter M and AWO membership requirements?
No. An external management or vessel audit conducted by a Coast Guard-approved, AWO-recognized TPO can be used to satisfy both the Subchapter M and AWO membership requirements.
Are the Subchapter M TSMS and AWO RCP audit frequency requirements the same?
Yes. Both Subchapter M and the RCP require internal audits of the management system and each vessel annually. In addition, both Subchapter M and the RCP require external management audits twice in five years (an initial audit and a mid-period audit) and external audits of each vessel once in five years. The RCP Standards Board has developed procedures by which an AWO member may request a one-time change in its RCP audit due date in order to synchronize its Subchapter M TSMS and AWO RCP audit cycles if needed.
How many Coast Guard-approved TPOs been recognized by AWO as RCP audit partners?
To date, six Coast Guard-approved TPOs have entered into agreements with AWO to become RCP audit partners: the Towing Vessel Inspection Bureau, ClassNK, American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyds Register, Sabine Surveyors, and American General Maritime.
Why can’t I use a Coast Guard-approved TPO that hasn’t been recognized by AWO as an RCP audit partner to conduct my RCP/SMS audit?
TPOs recognized by AWO as RCP audit partners have demonstrated to the RCP Standards Board that they have knowledge of the RCP requirements, that their personnel have been trained on the RCP requirements, and that their auditing guidance and tools meet the RCP requirements. Even if a company elects to use a safety management system other than the RCP to meet the AWO membership requirement, the TPO needs to have knowledge of the RCP in order to ensure that the company’s SMS is equivalent to the RCP and includes all relevant RCP requirements.
Will AWO continue to issue Certificates of Compliance to companies that meet the AWO RCP/SMS membership requirement?
Yes. AWO will continue to issue Certificates of Compliance as provided in RCP Addendum C.
Is the Certificate of Compliance the same as a TSMS Certificate?
No. A TSMS Certificate is issued to a company by its Coast-Guard approved TPO when the company is deemed by the TPO to be in compliance with the Subchapter M TSMS requirements.
If I choose the Coast Guard option, do I need a TSMS Certificate?
No. You only need a TSMS Certificate if you use the TSMS option. An AWO member using the Coast Guard option does not need to obtain a TSMS Certificate.
I don’t have a large shoreside staff and I’m concerned that the TSMS option seems more complicated than the Coast Guard option. Is that true?
The Coast Guard option involves fewer steps, but more hands-on Coast Guard oversight and less operational flexibility and scheduling control. The TSMS option involves more steps – notably, management and vessel audits conducted by a Coast Guard-approved TPO – but for a company that’s already RCP or ISM compliant, these steps don’t add any additional audit requirements.
If I choose the Coast Guard option, how often will my vessel be inspected by the Coast Guard? What if I choose the TSMS option?
A vessel using the Coast Guard option will be inspected by the Coast Guard annually. A vessel using the TSMS option will be inspected by the Coast Guard every five years.
What else should I keep in mind as I consider whether to choose the TSMS option or the Coast Guard option?
Here are a few distinctions between the two options to consider:
- In the Coast Guard’s own words, “Under the TSMS option, any visits the Coast Guard will make to a vessel will be de-scoped and the time on board will be significantly less than the Coast Guard option. ... Under the Coast Guard option, Coast Guard inspectors will visit the vessel at least annually and in some cases more frequently, possibly holding operations until a Coast Guard inspector can visit the vessel.”
- Under the Coast Guard option, Coast Guard attendance is required at all drydocking and internal structural exams. Under the TSMS option, Coast Guard attendance is not required and the vessel owner may choose to have exams conducted by a TPO or by company or contracted personnel, either on a rolling basis or as a single event.
- Per CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-01, a vessel using the TSMS option that has a valid Towing Vessel Bridging Program decal may obtain its initial COI without an additional inspection by the Coast Guard.
- Per CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-03, a vessel owner using the TSMS option may accelerate the process of COI issuance by requesting that an OCMI issue COIs for more than 25 percent of its fleet annually.
- Under the Coast Guard option, a vessel must obtain a permit from the OCMI to proceed to another port for repair or to carry an excursion party. Under the TSMS option, a permit is not required if the vessel follows the procedures laid out in its TSMS and the vessel owner notifies the OCMI.
- Under the Coast Guard option, safety equivalents or alternative compliance measures must be approved by the OCMI. Under the TSMS option, OCMI approval is not necessary in many cases; functional equivalents to certain prescriptive requirements may be documented in the TSMS and approved by the TPO.
- The inspection user fee is currently the same for vessels using the TSMS option and the Coast Guard option ($1030 annually, beginning the year after a vessel obtains its initial COI). The Coast Guard is working on a rulemaking to update and differentiate the user fees for vessels using the two options based on the differing demands they impose on Coast Guard resources.