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46 U.S. Code Chapter 33 - INSPECTION GENERALLY

Historical and Revision Notes

Chapter 33 consolidates the laws governing the inspection and certification of vessels by the Coast Guard that have developed over a period in excess of 140 years. The original laws were directed to the safety of the relatively new and potentially dangerous steam vessel. The demand for Federal remedial legislation began during the early 1800’s after frequent and disastrous explosions of steam boilers on passenger vessels. This directly led to the first maritime safety laws in 1838 that required periodic inspection and certification of vessels engaged in the transportation of passengers and freight on the waters of the United States. This was followed by a more extensive steamboat inspection law in 1852 which adopted for the first time the principle of licensing for river pilots and engineers. It also created a new Federal maritime safety inspection service called the Federal Inspection Service that eventually became the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, whose duties were temporarily assumed in 1941 and permanently assumed in 1946 by the United States Coast Guard.

In 1864 the principal inspection and licensing provisions of the 1852 act were made applicable to ferries, towing vessels, and canal boats. However, steamboat explosions continued with high loss of life and property. One of the greatest of all disasters, the destruction of the passenger vessel Sultana by explosion and fire with a loss of life estimated at more than 1500 lives in April 1865, led to renewed legislation efforts. In 1871 this culminated with legislation that combined a number of new requirements into a coherent and unified body of maritime safety laws. At the time of the adoption of the Revised Statutes in 1874, a maritime safety code was well established for vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam.

In the more than 100 years since then, as the public recognized the need for vessel safety legislation, primarily as the result of maritime disasters, other classes of vessels were subjected to Federal inspection or regulatory control. These included vessels propelled by gas, fluid, naphtha, or electric motors in 1897; sail vessels and barges carrying passengers for hire in 1898; seagoing barges in 1908; motorboats in 1910; steam vessels owned by the Department of Commerce in 1919; seagoing vessels of 300 gross tons and over on June 20, 1936; all tank vessels carrying flammable or combustible liquid cargo in bulk regardless of size or means of propulsion of June 23, 1936; motorboats again in 1940; all vessels carrying more than six passengers in 1956; tank vessels again in 1978; and offshore supply vessels in 1980. There was also considerable legislation that amended or supplemented these primary maritime safety laws.

The net result has been a patchwork quilt of categories and classifications that requires a tabulation of more than seventy different classes of inspected vessels. This revision gathers into one section of the law all classes of vessels that are subject to inspection and certification without changing the application of present law as to any one class of vessel. The revision does not alter the application of the present law so as to expand inspection requirements to any vessel presently not subject to inspection nor to remove from inspection any vessel that is presently subject to inspection.

Editorial Notes

1996—Pub. L. 104–324, title VI, § 607(b)(2), Oct. 19, 1996, 110 Stat. 3932, substituted “Classification societies” for “United States classification societies” in item 3316.

1986—Pub. L. 99–307, § 1(5)(B), May 19, 1986, 100 Stat. 445, substituted “Transporting” for “Carrying” in item 3304.