In Tugboat Pilotage 101 the subject was confined to inspected coastwise tank barges and the requirement that they be under the “command and control” of an individual qualified to serve as pilot when underway in designated pilotage waters or the navigable waters of the United States not designated as pilotage waters. But what if it’s some other kind of barge? How about a dead-ship tow? Or a dredge? What if you’re just running around light boat? As usual, the regulations are more complicated, convoluted and scattered than they need to be. And in some ways they’re also inconsistent with the logic behind requiring pilotage in the first place. Anyway…..
It must first be understood that the regulations in 46 CFR § 15.812 specifically require pilotage only for the following categories of vessels not sailing on register (engaged in foreign trade), when underway on the navigable waters of the United States:
Coastwise seagoing vessels propelled by machinery and subject to inspection under 46 U.S.C. – Chapter 33.
Coastwise seagoing tank barges subject to inspection under 46 U.S.C. – Chapter 37.
Inland vessels propelled by machinery, greater than 1,600 GRT, and subject to inspection under 46 U.S.C. – Chapter 33.
Great Lakes vessels propelled by machinery and subject to inspection under 46 U.S.C. – Chapter 33.
Great Lakes tank barges subject to inspection under 46 U.S.C. – Chapter 37.
And barges are, in fact, vessels. Seagoing barges are listed in 46 USC § 3301 under the heading “the following categories of vessels are subject to inspection under this part.” But barges are not “propelled by machinery”, or at least not their own machinery. So, in the end, only inspected tank barges need be under the direction and control of an individual qualified to serve as pilot.
But wait, there’s more! Towing vessels aren’t inspected vessels, at least not yet. Although Congress directed the Coast Guard to bring towing vessels under inspection (in Section 415 of the Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Act of 2004), that task has yet to be accomplished. Nevertheless, the regulations are quite explicit: they apply not to inspected vessels, but rather to vessels “subject to inspection”, whether they’re actually inspected or not. And amongst the categories of vessels listed in 46 USC § 3301 as being subject to inspection, bringing up the rear at number 15, you will find towing vessels.
So what does this mean to us on a practical level? It means that any documented Coastwise or Great Lakes towing vessel underway on the navigable waters of the U.S., with or without a barge, must be under the command and control of an individual qualified to serve as pilot at all times. The only difference is that the number of round trips required is way less than that for tank barges. A total of 4 round trips, 1 of which must be during hours of darkness if you want authority to make night transits, is the standard. All you really need to know about your vessel’s documentation is that any vessel engaged in domestic commercial trade (generally described as the carrying of cargo or passengers between U.S. ports or within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ) must have a Coastwise or Great Lakes endorsement (possibly having certain restrictions) on its Coast Guard-issued Certificate of Documentation. If you’re sailing in the foreign trade then it would need a Registry endorsement as well, and then the requirement for a state pilot kicks in.
For a dead-ship tow it depends: if the ship is foreign flag, or U.S. flag sailing under registry, you’d need a state pilot. If it was a U.S. flag ship sailing on a coastwise endorsement then a federal first class pilot would suffice. And if it’s a tank vessel the master cannot simultaneously serve as the pilot, whether having first class pilotage for the route or not. Dredges are exempt from the requirement for a federal pilot as per 46 USC § 8502(i)(1), but the tug would still require someone meeting the requirements to “serve as pilot”, which means the “4 round trips” rule applies. The easiest way to avoid making a mistake is simply to go by whichever pilotage requirement is the strictest, whether that be for the tow or the tug itself. And remember that a vessel being towed generally requires the same kind of pilot it would need if it were underway under its own power. You’re always going to need a pilot of some sort.
Prior to the designation of towing vessels as “subject to inspection” by Congress in 2004 you could go pretty much wherever you pleased, without having any pilotage at all, as long as you didn’t have a tank barge with you. This was because towing vessels, like all vessels not subject to inspection, were exempt. How much trouble could you get into with a big, uninspected dry-bulk barge, like a cement barge for instance, blundering your way up the Hudson River to Cementon or Ravena, N.Y.? Or how about a loaded container barge through Alaska’s Inside Passage? Quite a bit if you don’t really know where the hell you’re going. So it’s kind of odd that tugs with tows of uninspected barges were exempted from the pilotage requirements for all this time. And even as things stand now it was, I believe, simply an inadvertant side effect of Congress having designated towing vessels as “subject to inspection” that changed the requirements. I sincerely doubt that it was planned that way at all, even though it should’ve been. C’est la guerre…..