Notation 7679B: The National Transportation Safety Board has reviewed the U.S. Coast Guard's notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), "Passenger Weight and Inspected Vessel Stability Requirements," published at 73 Federal Register 49244-49275 on August 20, 2008. The Coast Guard is proposing to amend regulations at 46 Code ofFederal Regulations (CFR) subchapter H (passenger vessels), subchapter K (small passenger vessels carrying more than 150 passengers or with overnight accommodations for more than 49 passengers), subchapter S (subdivision and stability), and subchapter T (small passenger vessels carrying 150 or fewer passengers or with overnight accommodations for 49 or fewer passengers). The stated purpose of the proposed amendments is to update the passenger vessel regulations "to more accurately reflect today's average weight per person" and to "clarify and update" the regulations regarding intact stability, subdivision, and damage stability.
The Coast Guard's proposed rulemaking comes in response to an accident on March 6, 2004, in which the U.S. small passenger vessel Lady D capsized in the Northwest Harbor of Baltimore, Maryland, with loss of life. The Safety Board investigated the capsizing and concluded that errors in determining the allowable number of occupants had permitted the Lady D to operate in an overloaded condition that, combined with the strong wind and waves the boat encountered, significantly reduced its intact stability.2 The Safety Board's accident report raised issues concerning passenger weight standards, vessel stability standards, and policies and procedures related to weather operations.
After the Lady D accident and before the Safety Board issued its report, the Coast Guard undertook an action plan designed to evaluate and improve the process of assessing passenger vessel stability. The plan included evaluating the stability standards and assessing the impact on the marine industry of increasing the passenger weight and size standards used to calculate the stability of domestic passenger vessels. The NPRM reflects the results of those studies, as well as addressing recommendations the Safety Board made as a result of its investigation of the Lady D accident. While the Safety Board supports the intent of the rulemaking, it has also identified opportunities to strengthen the proposed regulations, as detailed below. The Safety Board's comments address only proposed regulations that affect small passenger vessels-the vessels addressed in the Board's safety recommendations resulting from the Lady D accident investigation.
Passenger Weight Criteria for Stability Assessment
Preliminary results from its investigation ofthe Lady D accident persuaded the Safety Board that the Coast Guard was not using a realistic average occupant weight (140 pounds for vessels operating in protected waters and carrying a mix of men, women, and children) in calculating the number of people that could safely be carried on pontoon vessels. Accordingly, on December 20, 2004, the Safety Board issued the following safety recommendation to the Coast Guard in advance ofthe final report:
Revise your guidance to Officers in Charge, Marine Inspection, to determine the maximum occupant capacity of small passenger pontoon vessels either (1) by dividing the vessel's simplified stability proof test weight by the per-person weight allowance for an average adult stipulated in Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular 12027D (174 pounds per person, assuming summer clothing and a 50-50 gender mix), or (2) by restricting (at the time of loading) the actual cumulative weight of passengers and crew to the vessel's simplified stability proof test weight.
In its final report on the Lady D capsizing, the Safety Board superseded Safety Recommendation M-04-4 with the following recommendation to the Coast Guard:
Revise regulations to require that passenger capacity for domestic passenger vessels be calculated based on a statistically representative passenger weight standard that is periodically updated.
Safety Recommendation M-06-5 is currently classified "Open-Acceptable Response."
In April 2006, the Coast Guard published a notice (71 Federal Register 24732) recommending an assumed weight per person of 185 pounds for men and women. In April 2007, the Coast Guard informed the Safety Board that it concurred with Safety Recommendation M-06-5. The NPRM proposes adding new provisions to 46 CFR subchapter S concerning the calculation of assumed per-person weight. The new provisions would replace the weight standard currently found at 46 CFR 178.330. The proposed formula, at § 170.090(e), would use the most recent mean weight data for males and females aged 20 and over (mean weight of males plus mean weight of females, divided by 2, plus 7.5 pounds for clothing). The Coast Guard expects that the weight data, which will come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), will be periodically updated and released by the National Center of Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Using the CDC updates, the proposed formula would "compute the latest, statistically representative, assumed average weight per person," which would then be used to evaluate passenger vessel stability.
The Safety Board notes that the age range (20 and over) given in § l70.090(e) is inconsistent with the range (between 20 and 74) stated in the NPRM preamble. According to the NHANES mean weight data for 1999-2002, the average weight of males and females aged 75 years and older is about 20 pounds less than the figure for adults aged 20 to 74. Using the data for people over 75 would thus bias downward the weight value used to evaluate passenger vessel stability. The Safety Board believes that proposed § 170.090 is responsive to Safety Recommendation M-06-5 but urges the Coast Guard to amend the text of § 170.090(e) to specify the age range as 20 to 74 for both males and females.
The Safety Board also notes that if the rule is adopted, administration and compliance will present challenges both to the Coast Guard and to passenger vessel owners and operators. According to the NPRM, the appropriate average passenger weight to be used for stability tests and calculations will no longer be included in the regulations. Rather, when the CDC publishes new average-weight data, the Coast Guard, "without further rulemaking," intends to publish a Federal Register notice that the new data are available. The notice would include revised calculations of average per-person weight in the United States. The Safety Board is concerned that owners and operators not accustomed to tracking Coast Guard notices in the Federal Register could remain unaware of the latest published value of average passenger weight or not realize that the value has changed. The Safety Board therefore urges the Coast Guard to develop procedures that will keep the marine industry and Coast Guard field offices informed of the latest average passenger weight value to be used for stability tests and calculations. Possible vehicles for conveying the information include navigation and vessel inspection circulars and postings on the Coast Guard's public website.
Current regulations require masters to verify, "after loading and prior to departure and at all other times necessary to assure the safety of the vessel," that their vessels comply "with all applicable stability requirements.,,3 As the Safety Board observed in its report on the Lady D capsizing, even if the number of passengers permitted on a vessel is based on a higher weight standard, a vessel could still be overloaded if enough passengers exceed the standard weight. To give vessel masters an easy way of identifying whether a particular passenger load could compromise a vessel's stability, the Safety Board urged the Coast Guard to take the following action:
Identify a method for detennining the maximum safe load condition of a small passenger vessel at the time of loading, such as a mark on the side of the hull, and require that the vessel owners implement that method. The current classification of Safety Recommendation M-06-6 is "Open-Acceptable Response." The NPRM proposes adding new sections, titled "Stability Verification," to the subchapters that address the inspection of passenger vessels. The new sections would require owners or operators to demonstrate the method masters use to avoid overloading their vessels, based on the most recent stability calculations. Among possible methods cited in the NPRM is "the competent reading of loading or draft marks." The proposed new requirements for small passenger vessels are found at §§ l15.505(a) and l76.505(a). The Safety Board believes that the proposed additions to the small passenger vessel regulations are responsive to Safety Recommendation M-06-6 and urges the adoption of §§ 115.505(a) and 176.505(a).
The proposed rules also require verification that a vessel still meets applicable stability requirements "as soon as practicable" after the vessel or its loading is modified, and the use of the latest data on average per-person weight in the verification procedure. The Safety Board supports the Coast Guard's proposal to require immediate revisions to a vessel's stability information that will reflect the latest assumed average weight per person, and that vessels undergoing modification or loading changes will also receive immediate stability verification. Paragraph (b) of the proposed rules would require a vessel's stability to be verified at 10-year intervals. The Safety Board supports this proposed rule.
The Safety Board notes, however, that the preamble to the NPRM states that the proposed rules require all vessels to meet the latest stability weight standards "immediately upon the effective date of this rule," no matter when a vessel's stability requirements were issued. The proposed regulations contain no specific provision to this effect.
Pontoon Vessel Stability Standards
Intact stability standards are found in subchapter T, part 178, subpart C. The NPRM proposes extensive revisions to the intact stability requirements at §§ 178.320 and 178.330 and to the stability standards for pontoon passenger vessels at § 178.340. The Safety Board has concerns about a number of the proposed revisions.
Intact Stability Requirements. The Coast Guard's multiphase pontoon stability project launched after the Lady D capsizing included an evaluation of the current stability process and an analysis of alternate stability standards. On April 28, 2005, a Coast Guard study team published its Study on the U.S. Domestic Intact Stability and Subdivision Requirements for Twin Hull Pontoon Passenger Boats Less Than 65 Feet in Length, which reviewed the pontoon vessel simplified stability test (PSST) variables found in subchapter T regulations, as well as industry and international standards. Among other results, the study recommended restricting the applicability of the PSST to defined parameters related to full load submergence (percentage of pontoon diameter underwater when carrying a full load), pontoon diameter, and distance between pontoon centers. The study concluded that the PSST's margin of safety (conservativeness) was questionable if pontoon vessels with characteristics falling outside the restrictions were tested using the PSST.
Based in part on the Coast Guard's 2005 study, the NPRM proposes a new subsection, § 178.320(g), which contains nine restrictions on when a multihull vessel "may undergo" a PSST. As recommended by the study, two provisions, §§ 178.320(g)(8) and (9), restrict the applicability of the PSST to vessels that meet criteria for the distance between pontoon centers and the diameter of each pontoon. The study also recommended a full load submergence of not more than 50 percent as a boundary condition for the application of the PSST. The proposed regulations do not include such a restriction, despite the safety concerns raised by the Coast Guard study.
The Safety Board's report on the capsizing of the Lady D, which referred to the 2005 Coast Guard study, found that the Lady D capsize condition was 56 percent submergence of the pontoon.4 The Safety Board urges the Coast Guard to include the 50 percent full load submergence criterion in the proposed restrictions on the application of the PSST. The Safety Board believes that the regulations should require the stability of pontoon vessels that do not meet the nine criteria in § 178.320(g) and the 50 percent submergence criterion to have their stability evaluated under the provisions of subchapter S.
According to the NPRM preamble, the revisions to § 178.320 are intended to clarify which passenger vessels are subject to the PSST and which to the subchapter S stability requirements. In the Safety Board's opinion, the proposed rules have little potential for clarifying the stability standard applicable to pontoon passenger vessels. Not only do the proposed rules contain technical errors, they are difficult to follow, in large part because of the multitude of cross-references. For example, § 178.320(b) states: "Except as provided by paragraph (i) of this section, each vessel must comply with paragraph (c), (d), (e), (t), (g), or (h) of this section." Paragraph (c) sends readers to part 170 subparts G and H and part 171 subparts A and B. Paragraph (g) sends them to § 178.340. Paragraph (i) provides an exception to paragraph (b) that mayor may not apply to pontoon vessels. In comparison, current regulations at § 178.320 are clear and easy to follow. It is unlikely that the stability standard applicable to pontoon vessels would be misunderstood, inasmuch as current regulations at § 178.320(b) clearly state that "a pontoon vessel operating in protected waters must undergo a simplified stability proof test" unless the owner chooses to comply with subchapter S requirements.
The potential for confusion about the standards for pontoon vessels is compounded by the absence of the limiting condition, "operating in protected waters," from the text of the proposed regulations (it appears only in Figure 178.320). The Safety Board believes that the limiting condition is critical and urges the Coast Guard to make it clear in proposed § 178.320(g) that the regulation applies only to pontoon passenger vessels operating on protected waters. The Safety Board is particularly concerned that proposed § 178.320(i) appears to give the cognizant officer in charge, marine inspection (OCMI) the authority to develop his own stability test or to dispense with stability requirements altogether. Current standards at § 178.320(c) allow OCMIs to dispense with a simplified stability test (SST), but that relaxation of the rules has until now been extended only to monohull vessels, not to pontoon vessels. The Safety Board believes that the stability of all pontoon passenger vessels should be evaluated, whether by PSST or through subchapter S calculations, for the loading and environmental conditions under which they are intended to operate. The Safety Board therefore urges the Coast Guard to clearly state that proposed § 178.320(i) applies only to monohull vessels.
The NPRM proposes adding Table 178.320 to the regulations as a summary of the intact stability requirements. To make it clear that proposed § 178.320(i) applies only to monohull vessels, as the Safety Board believes it should, Note 2 should be removed from the "Non-sailing" doublehull column of Table 178.320. In addition, the Safety Board notes that an entry for number of passengers seems to be missing from the column for double-hulled sailing vessels (rightmost column).
Pontoon Simplified Stability Test. The Coast Guard's NPRM states that in revising § 178.340, it seeks to "codify existing policy on pontoon vessel intact stability, clarify those requirements, and improve consistency of application." The Safety Board believes that the proposed changes do not meet the stated objectives.
The proposed revisions involve reorganizing § 178.340 to "align with" § 178.330, which gives the procedures for administering an SST to monohull vessels. The Safety Board finds that the proposed changes would, contrary to the stated objectives, introduce inconsistencies between the PSST and the SST. For example:
• The SST includes the weight of personal effects and excludes crew weight in calculating total test weight. The PSST includes both passenger and crew weight but does not address the weight of personal effects. The Safety Board believes that the weight of crew, passengers, and personal effects should be consistently accounted for in the tests.
• The PSST includes the weight of sewage tanks, whereas the SST is silent about them.
• The current SST procedure requires fuel and water tanks to be "approximately three quarters full." The NPRM proposes to require that fuel and water tanks on pontoon vessels be filled to 100 percent capacity when a PSST is performed. The Safety Board believes that the proposed change does not reflect actual operating conditions for pontoon vessels and could reduce safety margins because it does not account for the negative effects of free surface on stability. The Safety Board urges the Coast Guard to remove the requirement for filling tanks to 100 percent capacity.
The Safety Board has serious concerns about the proposed regulations regarding the formulas used to calculate a vessel's stability. Evaluating whether a vessel has the minimum stability for its proposed operation involves calculating the wind heeling moment and the passenger heeling moment.5 The passenger heeling moment is based on the beam of the vessel and the number of passengers carried. The wind heeling moment is based on the projected lateral surface of the vessel exposed to wind pressure. The larger of the two heeling moment calculations is used in conducting a stability proof test on the vessel that involves shifting weights on the deck until that heeling moment is reached.
The formulas for calculating heeling moments are found in the current regulations applicable to monohull vessels (§ 178.330). Seven months after the Lady D capsizing, the Coast Guard issued guidance for conducting stability tests that included formulas for calculating heeling moments specifically for pontoon passenger vessels. 6 The formulas are incorporated in the proposed regulations at § 178.340(b). However, a critical change has been made to the formula given in the guidance document for calculating passenger and crew heeling moment.
The Safety Board is concerned that the change would reduce the safety margins for pontoon passenger vessels. The proposed formula contains a factor, K, that was not part of the formula given in the Coast Guard's guidance document. K reduces by 2 feet the maximum transverse distance of the deck area accessible to passengers. The consequence of the change in the formula is to reduce the magnitude of the passenger heeling moment in the PSST. There is no discussion in the NPRM preamble justifying this reduction, nor does the public docket contain information supporting a reduction in the passenger weight shift test. If the proposed formula had been applied to the Lady D, it would have reduced the passenger heeling test moment applied to the vessel during a PSST by 25 percent.8 The result would have been to allow a corresponding increase in the number of passengers the Lady D was permitted to carry.
The preamble to the NPRM refers to the "overall good safety record of the passenger vessel industry" that "reflects safety factors inherent in the stability requirements applied to passenger vessels." The effect of introducing K into the stability formula would be to reduce the safety factors in the stability requirements for pontoon passenger vessels. Such a change could very well negate the effect of increasing the assumed passenger weight for stability calculations. Any attempt to reduce the safety factors inherent in the PSST is contrary to the interests of safety. The Safety Board does not support such a reduction in safety and urges the Coast Guard to reconsider the proposed change.
As part of the proposed revisions to § 178.340, the NPRM has revised the figures intended to illustrate the PSST procedures. The Safety Board considers that the general readability of Figures 178.340(d)(1) and 178.340(d)(2) has been improved. However, inconsistencies between the illustrations could mislead those conducting a PSST as to the positioning of the test weights. Figure 178.340(d)(2) shows the weights raised to meet a vertical center of gravity (VCG) of 30 inches above the deck, while Figure 178.340(d)(1) shows the test weights positioned on the deck. The Safety Board suggests modifying Figure 178.340(d)(1) to show the weights positioned to meet a VCG of 30 inches above the deck.
The Safety Board also notes an inconsistency between the text of proposed § 178.340(c) and Figure 178.340(d)(1). The text specifies the following:
With the appropriate heeling moment applied to the most adversely affected side of the vessel, the remaining exposed cross sectional area of the hull, without consideration of the cross-structure area on that side, must be equal or greater than-( l) The cross sectional area submerged due to the load shift (for an example, see Figure l78.340(d)(1); and, (2) One-quarter of the cross-sectional area on one hull. For consistency with the text, the Safety Board suggests revising the box in Figure 178.340(d)(1 ) to read, "With load in outboard positions (Position 2), Area A must be equal to or greater than Area B and at least 1/4 of the cross-section area of one pontoon."
Finally, the NPRM proposes changing the title of § 178.340 from "Stability Standards for Pontoon Vessels on Protected Waters" to "Pontoon Simplified Stability Proof Test (PSST)." The Safety Board believes that this section should apply only to pontoon passenger vessels operating on protected waters, as specified in the existing regulation, and urges the Coast Guard to modify the section heading to read, "Pontoon Simplified Stability Proof Test (PSST)-Protected Waters."
Policies and Procedures Pertaining to Weather Conditions
Stability Criteria. As a result of its investigation of the Lady D accident, the Safety Board issued the following safety recommendation to the Coast Guard:
Revise the stability criteria for small passenger pontoon vessels for all passenger loading conditions to minimize the potential for capsizing in wind and waves.
The Safety Board classified Safety Recommendation M-06-7 as "Open-Acceptable Response," pending the results of the Coast Guard's review of the subchapter S stability criteria and PSST procedures and its proposed corrective action. The Coast Guard's proposed rulemaking does not include a standard for pontoon vessel dynamic stability that, if met, might have prevented the Lady D capsizing. The Coast Guard has maintained that dynamic stability standards for pontoon passenger vessels are unnecessary because pontoon vessels have an acceptable accident record. The Lady D accident cannot be considered as part of an acceptable safety record, and the stability of pontoon vessels is not comparable to that of monohull vessels in bad weather. The Safety Board is unaware of any rigorous effort by the Coast Guard to analytically evaluate the dynamic stability ofpontoon vessels operating in wind and waves and is disappointed that the Coast Guard has not indicated actions in the NPRM that would meet the intent of Safety Recommendation M-06-7.
Environmental Conditions. In response to the Lady D accident, the Coast Guard announced on April 26, 2006, voluntary interim measures for owners and operators of all small passenger vessels certificated for operation only on protected waters (71 Federal Register 24732). The voluntary measures included operating only in "reasonable operating conditions," defined as not including times when (1) a small craft advisory is in effect, (2) wind gusts are over 30 knots (35 mph), (3) waves exceed 2 feet, or (4) sustained winds are above 18 knots (21 mph). On November 2, 2006, the Coast Guard issued updated guidance (71 Federal Register 64546) that clarified the scope of voluntary measures published in April. The updated guidance defined "reasonable operating conditions" and addressed pontoon boats separately from other passenger vessels under 65 feet that operate on protected routes. Owners and operators of pontoon passenger vessels were advised to voluntarily operate in "reasonable operating conditions" that do not include wind gusts over 30 knots (35 mph), waves over 2 feet, sustained winds over 18 knots (21 mph), or conditions associated with a small craft advisory. Other small passenger vessels were advised to "give special consideration" to the reasonable operating conditions defined above.
The updated guidance was consistent with the following safety recommendation, which the Safety Board issued to the Coast Guard after the capsizing of the Lady D:
Establish limiting environmental conditions such as weather in which pontoon vessels may safely operate, and list those limiting conditions on the vessel's certificate of inspection.
In its comments on the Federal Register notices, the Safety Board supported the language used in the notices and the guidance offered to operators of both pontoon passenger vessels and small passenger vessels under 65 feet. However, in the Safety Board's opinion, the revisions proposed in the NPRM at 46 CFR 185.304, "Navigation Underway," do not meet the intent of Safety Recommendation M-06-9. Section I85.304(a) specifies eight conditions that masters must pay "special attention" to while under way. Although the NPRM proposes changing condition 3 from "prevailing visibility and weather conditions" to "prevailing and forecasted visibility and environmental conditions, including wind and waves," it also would add paragraph (b) to the regulations, as follows:
Masters of vessels not greater than 65 feet (19.8 meters) in length must have means available, satisfactory to the OeMI, to obtain or monitor the latest marine broadcast in order to comply with the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section. The Safety Board is disappointed that the Coast Guard has retreated from its earlier position to specify limits on environmental conditions, such as wind speed and wave height, in which pontoon passenger vessels may safely operate. The proposed rule would require the operator only to obtain the latest marine weather forecast and plan his voyages accordingly. That is nothing more than good marine practice. The Safety Board is particularly disappointed that the proposed regulations would continue to rely on the undefined phrase "reasonable operating conditions" on a pontoon vessel's certificate of inspection rather than providing definitive operational guidance to the vessel's operator.
Strong winds and waves challenge pontoon vessels to a greater degree than they do monohull vessels. Without specific environmental limitations on a vessel's certificate of inspection, the operator may place passengers at unnecessary risk. Simply having access to a marine weather forecast, as was the case for the operator of the Lady D, would not significantly reduce the risk of capsizing in strong winds and waves. The recommendation to "establish limiting environmental conditions such as weather in which pontoon vessels may safely operate, and list those limiting conditions on the vessel's certificate of inspection" was also made by the Coast Guard study team in its review of pontoon passenger vessel stability for vessels operating in conditions approaching Beaufort force 4 (1.5-foot wave heights, 29-knot wind gusts). The Safety Board believes that to assist pontoon boat operators in planning a voyage, the Coast Guard should provide guidance on weather conditions that may be hazardous, based on the stability characteristics of the boat. The Safety Board is disappointed that the Coast Guard has not indicated actions in the NPRM that would meet the intent of Safety Recommendation M-06-9. The Board urges the Coast Guard to reconsider its position in this matter and continues to believe that limiting environmental conditions should be explicitly listed on a pontoon vessel's certificate of inspection.
• In proposed § l70.170(a)(2), the term f in the formula for P (ocean service) should be ft2,
• In proposed § l78.330(b), in the formula for Mp, the term W, defined as the total test weight, should be in pounds (kilograms), not pounds (meters).
• In proposed § l78.340(a), citing the applicability requirements of § l78.330(b) and (e) appears to be an error; those sections do not contain applicability requirements.
As noted earlier, the Coast Guard conducted an impact study to determine the effect on the marine industry of increasing the standard allowance for passenger weight and size used to calculate the intact stability of domestic passenger vessels. As stated in the Coast Guard's announcement,10 the study was also intended to "identify the regulations potentially requiring change." The study was published in March 2007.
The subject NPRM focuses on the effects of increased average passenger weight on vessel stability but does not address the effects of increased average passenger size. The impact study identified other areas in 46 CFR that would be affected by increased passenger weight and size-weight loads for structural design; passenger loading based on deck area or rail length; passenger seating widths; sizing of means of escape; window and aisle widths; spacing of seat fronts to seat fronts; buoyancy and strength calculations related to lifejackets, liferafts, and buoyant apparatus; and loading and seaworthiness of liferafts, life boats, and survival capsules.
The NPRM does not indicate whether the Coast Guard plans further work related to the effects of increased passenger weight and size on regulations found in 46 CFR.
The Safety Board appreciates this opportunity to comment on the Coast Guard's proposed rulemaking regarding passenger weight and vessel stability requirements. The Safety Board urges the Coast Guard, however, not to lose sight of other regulations that could be affected by increased passenger weight, girth, and height.