225 years of Service to Nation: Marine safety

Aug. 4, 2015 marks the 225th birthday of the United States Coast Guard. Throughout the year, we’ll be unveiling a series of blog posts and other events that mark this important milestone. Stay tuned to learn more about the Coast Guard’s 225 years of Service to Nation and join the celebration! Today, we share the history of the Coast Guard’s marine safety mission.

Written by Scott Price

Tim Wilcox and Petty Officer 2nd Class Cindy Washburn, port state control officers at Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Prevention, speak with crew members during an inspection of the engine room aboard the 600-foot Panamanian-flagged bulk freight ship Teizan, at Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor, May 19, 2015. Coast Guard crew members conduct inspections to ensure a vessel has a suitable structure, correct documentation, proper working equipment and lifesaving equipment, and adequate accommodations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.

Tim Wilcox and Petty Officer 2nd Class Cindy Washburn, port state control officers at Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Prevention, speak with crew members during an inspection of the engine room aboard the 600-foot Panamanian-flagged bulk freight ship Teizan, at Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor, May 19, 2015. Coast Guard crew members conduct inspections to ensure a vessel has a suitable structure, correct documentation, proper working equipment and lifesaving equipment, and adequate accommodations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.

 

In the U.S. Coast Guard, the responsibility to safeguard life at sea falls heavily on the shoulders of those who operate within the marine safety mission. This mission does this by striving to prevent maritime incidents through regulation and inspections of commercial vessels and by conducting thorough investigations when accidents do occur.

But where did this mission come from?

The U.S. Coast Guard traces its roots to 1790 with the establishment of the Revenue Cutter Service; however, the marine safety mission came into prominence in the early to mid-1800s, with the invention and proliferation of steamboat transportation.

Following a number of deadly explosions on steamboats around the nation, with the loss of over 1000 lives, the federal government needed to take action. In 1838, Congress passed laws to “provide better security of the lives of passengers on board of vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam.” The laws were enforced by the Justice Department through the appointment of local inspectors by district judges. This milestone marked one of the first regulatory efforts from the federal government over consumer protection.

However, even with these new laws, steamboat incidents and explosions continued to increase in number and severity, prompting the passage of the Steamboat Act of 1852. This act moved regulation and responsibility for steamboat inspections to the Department of Treasury. Under this new organization, the first federal maritime inspection service began to emerge, appointing nine supervisory inspectors that reported directly to the Secretary of the Treasury on their specified regions of operation.

A Coast Guard marine inspection officer boarding a ship from a boat manned by temporary reservists during World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A Coast Guard marine inspection officer boarding a ship from a boat manned by temporary reservists during World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard’s marine safety mission continued to evolve throughout the rest of the 1800’s largely driven by the Act of Feb. 28, 1871. The Act of 1871 was significant in that it superseded or repealed nearly all previous legislation regarding the inspection of steam vessels, and licensing of officers. The act created the Steamboat Inspection Service and established the federal regulatory framework that remains in place today.

At the turn of the century, the Steamboat Inspection Service was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor, where in 1932 it was merged with the Bureau of Navigation, which had been established in 1844 to oversee the regulation of merchant seamen.

In 1936 the Bureau of Steamboat Inspection and Navigation was reorganized to form the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. On Feb. 28, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt, as a wartime measure, signed Executive Order 9083, which transferred the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation temporarily to the control of the Coast Guard. This transfer was made permanent by Reorganization Plan Number 3 on July 16, 1946, and the marine safety mission has resided in the Coast Guard ever since. This merge of service’s marked the first time that all functions of maritime safety fell under a single agency.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers transferred the administration of the federal bridge program to Coast Guard control in 1967 and just four years later, the Coast Guard’s regulatory authority over recreational boating was increased through the Federal Boat Safety Act, further developing the Coast Guard’s marine safety mission into what it is today.

Perhaps Adm. Russell Waesche said it best in his 1944 Congressional testimony, when he described each of the Coast Guard missions. The following is what he had to say about the Coast Guard’s marine safety mission:

“Less dramatic than (these) rescue services, but of equal or greater importance, are the contributions of the Service to the prevention of disasters and the promotion of safe navigation. It is only natural that the agency responsible for rescue activities should be concerned with the prevention of marine casualties. The Coast Guard administers the country’s vast and complex system of aids to navigation – which includes lighthouses, lightships, buoys, fog signals, and radio stations and beacons. In connection with this activity, it is constantly endeavoring, through research and experimentation, to develop new and more effective navigation aids. In addition, Coast Guard activities contributing to safe navigation include the location and destruction of derelicts and other obstacles to navigation; the administration of the International Ice Patrol in the North Atlantic; ice-breaking on inland lakes, rivers, canals and in harbors on the Atlantic coast; as well as assistance to the Weather Bureau in the collection and dissemination of flood, storm, and hurricane warnings and other weather data.

Merchant_marine_safety

One of the most important of the maritime safety activities of the Coast Guard is its administration of laws and regulations relating to the inspection of merchant vessels and their safety equipment, as well as the licensing and certification of their officers and crew. Although the responsibility was not transferred to the Coast Guard until after the outbreak of the war, it may properly be classified among the normal peacetime activities now under Coast Guard administration. These inspection activities include the review of plans for the construction or alteration of merchant vessels; the periodic inspection of ships and their equipment; the approval and inspection of lifesaving and firefighting equipment; the examination and licensing or certificating of merchant seamen; the supervision and enforcement of discipline on merchant vessels; and the investigation of marine casualties and accidents.

In addition to assistance and regulatory activities with respect to merchant vessels, the Coast Guard is also concerned with safety standards relating to the construction, equipment, and operation of yachts, motorboats, and other noncommercial vessels. One of the most effective programs along these lines has been its organization of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a voluntary organization of yacht and motorboat owners. By enrolling these owners in the auxiliary and providing them with competent instruction in the principles and practice of navigation, the Coast Guard has improved safety standards among the auxiliary’s members. In addition, the auxiliary has developed into an organization capable of supplementing regular Coast guard personnel and vessels in rendering assistance to vessels in distress and instructing others in safety practices.”

Since then, the Coast Guard’s marine safety mission has continued to evolve and grow as needed to keep our waterways and Nation safe. Today and looking toward the future, the marine safety mission continues to build on the foundation established in the early 1800’s to protect people, property and the environment.

Now that you’ve learned all about the Coast Guard’s marine safety from inception to present day, stick around to learn about the remaining Coast Guard missions in the coming weeks!

Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Croyle, a member of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego's prevention department, watches as the crew boat departs from the tanker ship Ardenne Venture after an annual exam off the coast of San Diego. The Coast Guard carries out exams on foreign vessels to ensure they comply with United States and international regulations governing necessary safety equipment, crew qualifications and pollution restrictions prior to operating in U.S. waters and ports. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Henry G. Dunphy.

Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Croyle, a member of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego’s prevention department, watches as the crew boat departs from the tanker ship Ardenne Venture after an annual exam off the coast of San Diego. The Coast Guard carries out exams on foreign vessels to ensure they comply with United States and international regulations governing necessary safety equipment, crew qualifications and pollution restrictions prior to operating in U.S. waters and ports. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Henry G. Dunphy.

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