January 23, 2008

Comment period extended on new safety rule for boarding boats


U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R – NC) received confirmation Friday, Jan. 11, that National Marine Fisheries Service will extend the comment period on a proposed regulation that would require fishermen to carry a U.S. Coast Guard-approved pilot ladder on fishing vessels.

Jones requested a 30-day extension when he learned that most fishermen weren’t aware of the proposed law until after the original comment period expired on Jan. 10, explained Joshua Bowlen, legislative director for the North Carolina congressman. 

The pilot ladder requirement is intended to provide a safer way for authorized personnel to board fishing vessels. 

Coast Guard officers routinely board vessels to check compliance with fishing regulations, safety requirements, and other laws.  National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) enforcement agents, as well as observers and scientists collecting data, also board vessels.

Current regulations require vessels to provide “a safe boarding ladder,” but NMFS noted in the announcement of the proposal in the Federal Register that some vessels provide unsuitable ladders. 

The proposed regulation requires a pilot ladder on all vessels with a freeboard of 4 feet or greater.

The freeboard is defined as “the working distance between the top rail of the gunwale of a vessel to the water’s surface” in the notice.

For vessels that have openings in bulwarks specifically for boarding, the freeboard is “the distance between the top of the lowest portion of the structure to the water’s surface.” 

NMFS estimated that most of the 6,050 vessels 65 feet or longer registered with the Coast Guard have a freeboard of at least 4 feet.

The notice stated that the number of smaller vessels that would need to comply with the pilot ladder requirement was unknown.

Coast Guard-approved pilot ladders vary in material and design, but NMFS estimated the cost running up to $1,392 for a synthetic rung ladder.

Bowlen said the comment period could reopen very soon.

After the comment period reopens, comments, identified by “RIN 0648-AV78,” can be submitted electronically at http://www.regulations.gov.  Comments can also be faxed to the attention of William D. Chappell at 301-713-1175, or mailed to Alan Risenhoover, Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, with the outside of the envelope marked “Comments on Boarding Ladder Rule.”

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