USGS Home Page

U.S. Geological Survey Manual

SM 445-2-H CHAPTER 31

Watercraft Safety

31.1  Purpose. To specify minimum Occupational Safety and Health Program (Program) requirements for the safe operation of the Department of the Interior (Department or DOI) and U.S. Geological Survey (Bureau or USGS) watercraft and other nonmotorized boats and for the training and certification of USGS watercraft operators.

A.  This chapter applies to USGS operations and personnel who use any type of watercraft.

B.  This chapter supplements existing requirements or regulations established by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), DOI, and OSHA. Deviations from the requirements of this chapter are not permitted except as described in 31.4B in this chapter.

31.2  References.

A.  33 CFR, Navigation and Navigable Waters, Subchapter S, Boating Safety.

B.  46 CFR 25, Shipping, USCG, Department of Transportation, Requirements.

C.  410 DM, DOI Property Management Regulations.

D.  COMDTINST M16672.2C, Department of Transportation, USCG, Navigation Rules, International-Inland.

E.  412 SM, USGS Manual, Personal Property Management, Transportation, Watercraft.

31.3  Definitions.

A.  Motorboat. Any watercraft 65 feet or less in length, that does not require a USCG license or certification to operate.

B.  Operator. The individual in physical control of the watercraft.

C.  Motorboat Classifications:

(1)  Class A. Less than 16 feet in length.

(2)  Class 1. 16 feet to less than 26 feet in length.

(3)  Class 2. 26 feet to less than 40 feet in length.

(4)  Class 3. 40 feet to 65 feet in length.

D.  Watercraft. Boats and ships, collectively, including air boats, sailboats, and every description of watercraft, except seaplanes, which are used or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water; propelled by machinery whether or not such machinery is the principal source of propulsion.

31.4  Requirements. USGS organizations engaged in watercraft operations will establish a watercraft safety program that includes the following minimum requirements:

A.  Safe Watercraft Operation.

(1)  Operators of USGS watercraft shall be adequately trained, properly tested, and certified prior to official operation of any USGS watercraft. Certification will be in accordance with section 31.4.A of this chapter. Prior to certification, personnel may practice motorboat operation under the supervision of a certified operator aboard the watercraft. Motorboat operation by non-certified personnel will only be used to gain experience prior to completing the necessary training requirements and being certified.

(2)  USGS watercraft will be operated in a safe and prudent manner and in accordance with recognized Federal, State, and local laws and standards, in addition to the requirements of this Chapter.

(a)  USGS watercraft shall be operated in compliance with USCG Boating Safety Regulations and Standards referenced in 31.4.A4 of this chapter.

(b)  Watercraft will be operated at all times with safety as the primary requirement and in accordance with recognized Federal, State, and local laws and standards in addition to the requirements of this chapter. In the event of any conflict, the more stringent requirement will apply.

(c)  All accidents and incidents involving watercraft must be reported and investigated.

(d)  Watercraft must have a dedicated operator plus an adequate number of personnel to perform all other work.

(e)  Watercraft operators will be assigned no other tasks while the watercraft is underway.

(3)  USGS watercraft will meet or exceed applicable USCG design/equipment requirements.

(a)  USGS watercraft will meet or exceed applicable U.S. Coast Guard design and equipment requirements (see 31.4.A4 of this chapter).

(b)  Identification will be conspicuously displayed, and all watercraft will be marked to indicate the maximum horsepower and number of occupants allowed plus any other safe load limits that may apply.

(4)  In addition to basic safety devices required by Federal, State, or local regulations, USGS watercraft will be outfitted, based on expected conditions, with other equipment necessary for safe operation. This may include communications gear, navigation aids, and Satnav. Special consideration should be given for the use of emergency location devices such as Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon or personal locator beacons. Use of these devices is highly recommended where situations may warrant.

(i)  USGS watercraft will be outfitted with other equipment as necessary for safe operation in all expected conditions.

(ii)  This equipment will include, at a minimum:

(i)  Visual distress signals.

(ii)  Bailing device.

(iii)  Automatic Kill or Dead-mans switch for Class A (less than 16 feet) and Class 1 (16 to less than 26 feet) motorboats.

(iv)  Bilge pump for Class 2 (26 to less than 40 feet) and Class 3 (40 to less than 65 feet) motorboats.

(c)  All watercraft must have:

(i)  Anchor and line.

(ii)  First aid kit tool kit.

(iii)  Communications equipment, if operated on open waters.

(iv)  Navigation aids for operation outside sight of land.

(v)  A compliance checklist for each state in which the watercraft will be operated.

(d)  Special consideration should be given for the use of emergency location devices such as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or a Personal Locator Beacon. Use of these devices is highly recommended where situations warrant, such as large bodies of water, remote rivers, and coastal areas.

(e)  Special lighting will be placed on the watercraft when it is being used in the performance of public safety activities or when the activity may pose a hazard to the public, such as when making tag line measurements or when towing. The lighting will meet the specifications of 33 CFR 88.12.

(5)  On Class A or Class 1 vessels, all persons must wear a USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD) at all times while on board. On Class 2 or Class 3 vessels, all persons must wear USCG-approved PFDs at all times when on an open space such as the deck, and at the discretion of the vessel operator at other locations on the vessel.

(6)  PFDs will be international orange in color and equipped with retro reflective tape in accordance with 46 CFR 25.25-15 and 46CFR164.018. See Appendix 31-1, Retroreflective Material for Personal Floatation Devices.

(a)  Existing PFDs not meeting these requirements must be replaced.

(b)  USCG-approved PFDs must be worn at all times aboard Class A or Class 1 watercraft.

(c)  On Class 2 or Class 3 watercraft, USCG-approved PFDs must be worn on any open space such as the deck and at other locations at the discretion of the watercraft operator.

(d)  PFDs must be inspected by the wearer prior to and after each use.

(e)  PFDs will be inspected as part of the annual watercraft inspection program.

(f)  PFDs that do not meet code or are otherwise damaged or defective will be replaced.

(g)  PFDs not meeting code or that are otherwise defective must promptly be destroyed in a manner that would preclude further use or repair of the PFD.

(h)  Suspender Type Flotation Devices (STFDs) that are not USCG-approved are acceptable for nonboating use only (e.g., wading streams, making measurements from cableways and bridges, and working from docks and piers).

(i)  U.S. Coast Guard approved STFDs will have a USCG approval number and statement of use on the label.

(j)  STFDs will only be allowed when used in strict accordance with the USGS STFD Use Requirements.

(k)  Detailed STFD inspection logs will be maintained and copies sent to the respective Regional Safety Officer after each annual inspection which will include inflation by activation of the inflating mechanism, repacking the buoyancy cell, and rearming the CO2 inflation system.

(l)  Warning: Follow the manufacturers recommendations relating to the use of STFDs. Use another type of USCG-approved PFD if you are a non-swimmer or weak swimmer, small in stature (less than 80 lbs or shorter than 5 feet 5 inches), large in stature (with a chest girth greater than 52 inches), are working in conditions that could result in being subjected to impacts (such as falling or being thrown from a moving watercraft), or will be working in conditions where the buoyancy cell could be punctured or abraded and rendered useless.

(7)  Cold water protective equipment, such as exposure suits and/or immersion suits, will be provided where cold water conditions pose a hazard during watercraft operations. All personnel on board will be trained in the use of this equipment.

(a)  Cold water protective PFDs such as antiexposure coats, coveralls, jackets or immersion suits must be provided where operations pose a potential exposure to hypothermia (water temperatures of less than 21 C [70 F]).

(b)  All personnel aboard will be trained in the proper use of the cold water protective PFDs.

(8)  Annual inspection and maintenance programs will be established for all USGS watercraft. Inspeciton records must be kept in accordance with this requirement.

(a)  Qualified personnel will make inspections.

(b)  USCG inspection services will be used to the maximum extent available.

(c)  Deficiencies must be corrected before the watercraft is returned to service.

(9)  USGS personnel operating watercraft subject to USCG licensing regulations will be licensed in accordance with the requirements of reference identified in Section 31.4A2b in this chapter, notwithstanding the general exemption of Federal titled watercraft under that reference. USGS watercraft will meet the applicable USCG inspection and certification requirements.

(a)  USGS Class A and Class 1 motorboats must be registered in the State of principal use unless that State exempts public vessels of the United States.

(b)  USGS Class 2 and Class 3 motorboats must be documented in accordance with the USCG regulations of 33 CFR. USGS waives the general exemption provided to federally titled watercraft cited under 33CFR.

(c)  USGS watercraft shall meet all applicable USCG inspection and certification requirements.

B.  Exceptions to Safe Watercraft Operation Requirements.

(1)  Deviation from the requirements of 31.4A of this chapter may be permitted if special mission requirements, such as may be involved in special law enforcement operations, cannot be otherwise satisfied. Deviations must be authorized in writing by the supervisor of the organizational unit conducting the operations prior to the conduct of the activity. The written authorization will identify alternate safety measures to be taken. Deviation s will be authorized on a case-by-case basis except where they have the concurrence of a regional (or equivalent) safety manager. In those cases, the deviation may be authorized for a period not to exceed 1 year. Deviation from other requirements of this chapter is not permitted.

C.  Operator Training and Certification.

(1)  Operators of USGS watercraft will be trained in safe watercraft operation in accordance with the requirements of this chapter.

(a) Operators of all motorboats, other than those requiring U.S. Coast Guard licensed operators (see reference identified by Section 22.4B(1)(b) of this chapter), will successfully complete the Motorboat Operator Certification Course (MOCC) training requirements specified in Section 22.5C in this chapter and Appendix 31-4 in this Handbook. All current operators will be trained and certified in accordance with these requirements.

(i)  Operators of USGS watercraft will be adequately trained, tested, and certified prior to watercraft operation. Operation by non-certified personnel will only be to gain skill and experience prior to completing certification and must be performed under the direct supervision of a certified operator. Each operator will possess a U.S. Government Motor Vehicle Operators Identification Card (OF-346), or an equivalent verification card showing current certification to operate USGS watercraft. Specific training requirements are as follows:

  Operators of all Class A and Class 1 motorboats must successfully complete the DOI MOCC.

(b)  Operators of watercraft covered by USCG requirements will complete all training and certification requisites for operation of those vessels.

(i)  USGS personnel operating Class 2 or Class 3 watercraft must successfully complete the DOI MOCC in addition to being licensed in accordance with USCG licensing requirements identified in paragraph 2.B.

(ii)  USGS waives the general exemption granted to federally titled watercraft under this reference.

(2)  Motorboat operator certification will be valid for 5 years. Prior to recertification, operators will complete an 8-hour refresher course that addresses the minimum subject areas described in Appendix 31-4, Motorboat Operator Refresher Training (MOICC/MOCC) of this Handbook.All personnel who operate or work in watercraft will be required to maintain certification in American Red Cross Standard First Aid, or equivalent, and CPR.

(3)  Operators of nonmotorized boats are exempted from the requirements of Section 31.4A of this chapter. However, they must receive alternate appropriate training necessary for the safe operation of these boats, as determined by the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager (BWSPM) with concurrence by the Bureau Safety Manager.

31.5  General Training and Certification.

A.  The Office of Managing Risk and Public Safety, in coordination with the USGS, will develop and maintain standards for the MOICC, the MOCC, and the 8-hour refresher training (see Appendix 31-4 of this Handbook).

B.  Appendix 31-2, Motorboat Operator Instructor Certification Course (MOICC) Standards outlines the MOICC standards. Personnel successfully completing the MOICC will be authorized to present the MOCC and to certify individuals to operate USGS watercraft.

C.  Appendix 31-3, Motorboat Operator Certification Course (MOCC) Standards outlines the authorized local MOCC standards. Appendix 31-3 in this Handbook details minimum requirements only and may be modified by the USGS to add additional modules to meet specific USGS and field needs. Individuals successfully completing the MOCC will be certified for operation of USGS watercraft. This course is to be instructed by persons trained in the MOICC as described in Appendix 31-2. Training materials will be developed by the Department and distributed to the USGS as necessary for reproduction and use.

D.  Other watercraft training programs may be substituted for the USGS MOCC. Requests for substitution must be submitted for final concurrence by the Bureau Safety Manager, upon review and approval by the BWSPM. Substituted training must demonstrate that it will meet the MOCC objectives, including on-water proficiency (see Appendix 31-3). Examples of acceptable training are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Boat Operators Training Course and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Marine Law Enforcement Training Program.

E.  The USGS will designate an individual as the responsible person for all watercraft training and certification activities within the organization. This individual will help coordinate watercraft safety activities and operator certification functions, and serve as a program point of contact with other bureaus and the Department. That individual must have successfully completed the Departmental approved 40-hour MOICC as outlined in Appendix 31-2. Additional instructors will be designated, as necessary to assist in motorboat operator certification training. All instructors must complete the Departmental MOICC.

F.  Watercraft Safety Work Group. The Department has established a standing Watercraft Safety Working Group to serve as a forum for peer group discussion of watercraft safety issues and to provide policy and program recommendations and other input to the Department of the Interior Safety and Occupational Health Council. The work group membership consists of the Bureau watercraft coordinators identified in Section 31.6D of this chapter, in addition to other designated individuals. The work group will meet as necessary, but generally at least once annually.

31.6  Responsibilities.

A.  Bureau Designated Safety and Health Official (DASHO). Provides appropriate personnel and budgetary resources to establish a Bureau-wide watercraft safety program.

B.  Bureau Safety Manager.

(1)  Designates an individual as the responsible person for all watercraft training and certification activities within USGS (i.e., BWSPM).

(2)  Provides final concurrence on substitutions to other watercraft training programs upon review and approval by the BWSPM.

(3)  Provides final concurrence on alternate training necessary for the safe operation on non-motorized boats upon the recommendations of the BWSPM and/or Bureau Watercraft Safety Committee.

(4)  Provides administrative support to the BWSPM and Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Committee, as appropriate.

(5)  Provides for establishment of a Watercraft Safety Committee which advises the Bureau DASHO through ad hoc membership on the Bureau Safety, Health, and Environmental Council to address all watercraft issues and to review all watercraft issues and to review all accidents related to watercraft, inclusive of making recommendations to prevent recurrence of similar accidents.

C.  Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Manager (BWSPM). Must successfully complete the DOI MOICC and

(1)  Serves as the Bureaus chief technical expert on watercraft safety issues.

(2)  Serves as the Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Committee Chair, responsible for coordination of meetings and agendas and publishing minutes.

(3)  Maintains a high level of technical proficiency regarding watercraft including DOI MOICC, and USCG certifications.

(4)  Serves as technical representative for USGS on watercraft issues requiring coordination with the Department and other bureaus or agencies.

(5)  Serves as lead investigator for watercraft accidents involving serious injury or major property damage. Reviews all watercraft-related accident reports to identify any trends and make recommendations for control.

(6)  Coordinates with the BWSPM to compile a fiscal year watercraft program action/accomplishment plan and submit annually to the Bureau Safety Manager.

(7)  Completes a watercraft program self-assessment.

(8)  Monitors watercraft operator and instructor training to ensure consistency, accuracy, coverage, and overall quality.

(9)  Maintains watercraft safety program management databases (e.g., training, operator, instructor, and watercraft asset) for the USGS.

D.  Bureau Watercraft Safety Program Committee.

(1)  Develops and recommends basic watercraft safety program standards for USGS.

(2)  Develops or endorses specialized training curricula specific to USGS watercraft-based operations (e.g. specialized watercraft, tagline use, measurements from watercraft, electro-fishing, fast water, locking/dams, etc.).

(3)  Reviews and evaluates DOI and USCG instructions and regulations for impact on USGS operations and develop recommendations and propose alternatives for implementing compliance programs.

(4)  Evaluates and recommends safety equipment for operating both basic and specialized watercraft and for performing watercraft-based tasks.

(5)  Provides an outlet to ensure communication and resource sharing between Bureau, regional, and science program personnel.

E.  Regional Director. In coordination with the Regional Executives will designate individuals to serve on the USGS Watercraft Safety Program Committee (BWSPC). Regional representation on the BWSPC will consist of up to two technical and one management representative each from region. All technical representatives must be DOI MOICC certified. The BWSPC may also include exofficio members to address specific subjects as needed.

F.  Regional Safety Managers/Officers. Provide support and assistance to field organizational Collateral Duty Safety Program Coordinators and MOICC instructors in establishment and implementation of watercraft safety program requirements and training.

G.  Organizational Managers. Provide appropriate personnel and budgetary resources to establish a local watercraft safety program inclusive of operator training, periodic inspection and maintenance, and personal protective and other equipment as mentioned herein as necessary for safe operation of watercraft in all expected conditions.

H.  Watercraft Operators.

(a)  Complete a float plan and file the plan with their supervisor or someone knowledgeable of their intent to operate a watercraft.

(b)  Routinely conduct weather checks, aborting activity anytime weather/sea conditions affect operator ability to pilot the watercraft safely. The operator has absolute final authority over operation of the watercraft.

(c)  Perform no tasks other than operating the watercraft while underway, and will not operate a watercraft continuously for more than 2 hours without an appropriate break.

(d)  Brief passengers on the location and use of all emergency equipment on the watercraft including PFDs.

(e)  Report any accident involving watercraft on USCG CG-3865 Boating Accident Report Form to the State Boating Law Administrator of the State in which the accident occurred within 48 hours. The report must be made for any accident that results in the loss of life, personal injury which required medical treatment beyond first aid, complete loss of the vessel, or in which a person disappears from a vessel under circumstances that indicatedeath or injury. Report other accidents which result in damage to the vessel or other property in the amount set as a threshold by the State in which the accident occurred within 10days. Call the State Boating Law Administrator of the State in which the accident occurred to verify the threshold for that State. The Federal threshold is $500, but you are required to file at the lower figure.

(f)  Report all accidents and incidents within 5 working days using the DOI Safety Management Information System (SMIS).

(g)  Complete appropriate training and maintain certification as defined in this chapter.

31.7  Additional Resources.

A.  Boat Owners Association of The United States (BOAT/US), http://www.boatus.com/

B.  National Safe Boating Council, http://www.safeboatingcouncil.org/

C.  Reference Guide to State Boating Laws, http://www.uscgboating.org/reg/reg_stateboat.asp

D.  USCG Boating Safety Topics, http://uscgboating.org/reg/reg_circularx.asp

E.  USCG Federal Requirements and Safety Tips, http://www.uscgboating.org/reg/reg_fr_contents.asp

F.  USCG State Boating Offices, http:www.uscgboating.org/links/links_state.asp


SM 445-2-H Table of Contents || Handbooks || Survey Manual Home Page
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA, USA
URL: http://www.usgs.gov/usgs-manual/handbook/hb/445-2-h/ch31.html
Contact: APS, Office of Policy and Analysis
Content Information Contact: wrmiller@usgs.gov
Last modification: 10-Jan-2005@14:08 (kk)