Story and photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Micallef
Marine Safety is one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s important 11 statutory missions, and is the area where the Coast Guard interacts the most with commercial vessels. Coast Guard personnel work to ensure commercial vessel safety by inspecting vessels under construction, inspecting vessels in service, investigating marine casualties, and licensing professional mariners.
Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay and its marine inspectors play a pivotal role in this mission. Chief Warrant Officer Christian Wilson, a Coast Guard Marine Safety Specialist with over 18 years of service, is one of a handful of inspectors charged with protecting the passengers and crews who embark on over 200 commercial vessels that operate between Shark River, New Jersey to the Delaware/Maryland line, and the navigable portions of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.
“I’m physically putting my signature on the certificate stating that the vessel meets regulations and is fit for service,” said Wilson. “My job is to ensure each vessel is in compliance with federal regulations. When I’m finished, I would be comfortable sending my wife and two tiny daughters tuna fishing 100 miles offshore on this vessel. This is what is in the back of my mind; my family, and every other crewmember and passenger on those vessels.”
Wilson has been conducting vessel safety inspections on foreign and domestic vessels for the last three years in Sector Delaware Bay. Vessel safety inspections ensure the safety of the crew and passengers by thoroughly examining critical systems to ensure they are in good working order and that all safety equipment is up to date and properly maintained.
“We look at all aspects of the vessel,” said Wilson. “Navigation, safe handling, engineering, fire fighting, and life saving equipment are all covered when conducting safety inspections.”
The public will know a vessel is inspected because it will have an inspection sticker like on a car posted in a prominent location and will have a certificate of inspection available for viewing like in an elevator. The Coast Guard has been inspecting vessels since before cars and elevators were inspected.
Wilson has inspected numerous commercial vessels throughout Sector Delaware Bay’s area of responsibility; one of these vessels is the commercial fishing boat Gambler, homeported in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.
“We’ve just completed the hull inspection on the Gambler and their topside inspection and everything is always really positive,” said Wilson. “That’s usually the case with our inspections.”
Capt. Mike Bogan is one of three captains aboard the Gambler. The Gambler typically sails from April through January, carrying upwards of 100 people per day out to sea in search of a wide variety of fish. Bogan understands that with each passenger comes a solemn responsibility to ensure their safety and understands the importance of Coast Guard vessel safety inspections.
“I think sometimes people get aggravated about it, but I think the Coast Guard might find something we are not aware of,” said Bogan. “I would rather that be the case than to have us be ignorant of a problem that could turn into something serious.”
Bogan believes that safety is everyone’s responsibility.
“Every day, consider yourself an inspector,” said Bogan. “If you see something you’re not sure of don’t hesitate or wait until something happens — be on top of it.”
In addition to safety equipment, the Coast Guard periodically inspects the structure of the vessel itself.
“We conduct hull exams,” said Wilson. “Every couple of years, we inspect the underwater body while it’s out of the water and make sure all of the fittings and anything that penetrates the hull is in good working order. We inspect a wide range of boats constructed from wood, aluminum, steel, and fiberglass reinforced plastic — so this job requires a lot of knowledge.”
After the safety inspection, the Coast Guard issues a certificate, which is valid for five years, stating the vessel meets federal regulations. The Coast Guard also performs an annual inspection to ensure the vessel is meeting standards.
If you’re paying to fish for tuna, watch the sunset, or watch whales, you should first look for a valid Coast Guard safety sticker. Once you see it, you can be assured the vessel and master have met all federal safety standards.