Coast Guard Required Drug Testing part 2

Coast Guard Required Drug Testing part 2

Last updated on July 7th, 2020 at 04:23 pm

…What do you need to know to perform drug and alcohol testing in the maritime industry? Part 2

… 46 CFR 16 – Coast Guard: Chemical Testing. This regulation includes the chemical testing requirements for marine employers.

Read Part 1 of this Series

Part 3 of this series
Part 4 of this series

One of the confusing aspects about the maritime industry are the issues related to obtain and maintain a credential.  A credential, commonly referred to as a license, is required to operate or work on most vessels that are in commercial service.

Federal licenses, credentials and certificates are issued only by the US Coast Guard and the FAA who issue licenses and certificates for airmen (pilots) and mechanics.

The licensing terms that are used are as follows:

License (Officers)

Merchant Mariner Document (MMD) (Crew)

Certificate of Registry (COR) (Staff Officers)

The above terms have been combined and are now called credential.

STCW (Standards of Training, Certificate and Watchkeeping) Certificate (International) was recently added.  This is a requirement as established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which is part of the United Nations with 133 countries signatory to the STCW requirements.  All personnel that serve on commercial service vessels on international routes are required to have a STCW certificate.

One of the requirements to be in the possession of the license applicant is to have a Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC).  The TWIC can be obtained through the Coast Guard or Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  This requirement is not mandatory if a mariner will be employed on a vessel that is not required to have a vessel security plan.  

A drug test, when required, must be completed in accordance with 49 CFR part 40.  The form CG-719P can be used to report the drug test to the National Maritime Center (NMC) for license application or renewal. Besides using the CG-719P, the drug test report can also be done by one of the following:

  1. Utilizing the Federal CCF MRO Copy; or
  2. A letter on company letterhead; or
  3. C/TPA letterhead.

The data to be included for letters should include the name of the mariner, Social Security Number, date of the test, test result, name and address of the SMHSHSA accredited laboratory and the name and registration number (issued by American Association of Medical Review Officers (AAMRO) or Medical Review Officer Certification Council (MROCC)) of the MRO.

All non-negative drug tests should be reported to the National Maritime Center (NMC).  The argument has been brought up before by medical professionals that reporting non-negative drug tests to Coast Guard would be a violation of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  It is not a violation of HIPAA as HIPAA applies to clinical medicine and not to workplace drug testing.  Workplace drug testing is not clinical but rather a fitness for duty examination as stated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1992.

A periodic drug test is not required if the mariner can document they can meet one of the exemptions in 46 CFR part 16.220 stated below:

(c) An applicant need not submit evidence of passing a chemical test for dangerous drugs required by paragraph (a) or (b) of this section if he or she provides satisfactory evidence that he or she has—

(1) Passed a chemical test for dangerous drugs required by this part within the previous six months with no subsequent positive chemical tests during the remainder of the 6-month period; or

(2) During the previous 185 days been subject to a random testing program required by §16.230 for at least 60 days and did not fail or refuse to participate in a chemical test for dangerous drugs required by this part.

(d) Except as provided by paragraph (b) of this section, an applicant is required to provide the results of only one chemical test for dangerous drugs when multiple transactions are covered by or requested in a single application.

Use of the Federal CCF for periodic testing:

A Federal CCF is to be used for periodic drug test as it is a required Federal Drug Test.  Because that there is no annotation on the CCF for Periodic, the “Other” block on the Federal CCF should be checked and Periodic written in the space after the “Other” block.

There are other requirements to be completed that include an extensive medical examination (Form CG-719K Merchant Mariner Credential Medical Evaluation Report) along with a criminal background check. The criminal background check is performed using a database maintained by the FBI. A check is also made of the mariner applicant using the National Driver Registry (NDR).

There are many different licenses and grades within a license. This is due to the different vessel types and requirements to operate vessels in a safe and efficient manner. The general license categories are:

Deck Officers:

There are a variety of licenses for deck officers, some with geographic and/or tonnage restrictions.  There are licenses without any restrictions and they are termed unlimited.  The tonnage restriction ranges from 25 tons up to 1600 tons.  After 1600 tons, the license is considered unlimited.

An example of licenses with geographic limitation would be certain licenses that permits a vessel master to operate a vessel strictly along certain stretches of the Colorado River. The license is not valid in any other geographic locale.

A special license is required for operators of vessels who do not carry more than six passengers.  These vessels are uninspected and are permitted to carry no more than 6 passengers, hence the term, 6-packs.  These vessels (approximately 25,000 nationwide) operate on rivers, lakes and near the coast line and do half to three-quarter day trips.

Sailing vessels that engage in commercial service are required to have a licensed master in charge.  In addition to the other requirements they have to earn and receive a sailing endorsement.  That implies that these masters know the names and types of sails, plus names of the riggings associated with each sail.  There are several sailing vessels in commercial service that carry passengers. An example are schooners that carry students for a semester at sea.


Licenses are required for personnel who work on the engines or in the engine room on board freighters and other large size vessels and includes ferries on domestic routes.  Engineers on uninspected commercial fishing vessels are required to have an engineer license.

Certificate of Registry:

Staff shipboard officers such as pursers and medical personnel, are issued a Certificate of Registry (COR).

Other Licenses:

Radio Officers and Pilots are issued special licenses in order to perform their assigned duties. Pilots are those individuals who generally pilot vessels in and out of ports.  These are special licenses which are issued to certain qualified individuals to allow them to operate vessels on rivers and or canals or in areas that may have potential navigational hazards.  A pilot is in charge of the vessel whose navigational orders will supersede that of the licensed captain on the vessel.

An important point is a mariner is responsible for having a valid license in order to be employed in a position on a vessel that requires the individual to hold a license.  A marine employer is responsible only to make sure that all personnel that working in positions have a valid license to work in that position on a vessel.  The positions that require an individual to have a credential are identified on the Certificate of Inspection (COI)*.

For most mariners licenses are good for five years and can be renewed.  Licenses for pilots are required to be renewed every year, includes taking an annual physical examination and taking a periodic drug test or meeting one of the drug test exemptions.

* COI is required to be displayed on all inspected vessels that can be viewed by the public.  The COI lists all positions on a vessel required to be manned when the vessel is operating.  The listed positons require mariners holding a valid credential to work in each position.

The next article will talk about SMI – Serious Marine Incident (post-accident) testing and the collection of drug and alcohol specimens. It will also detail the collection of blood specimens for alcohol testing and shipment to the testing laboratory.  46 CFR 4.06 – Coast Guard: Mandatory Chemical Testing Following Serious Marine Incidents Involving Vessels in Commercial Service. This regulation will assist the marine employer in understanding the requirements for drug and alcohol testing following a Serious Marine Incident and the steps to take to achieve complianc


About Bob Schoening

Robert Schoening is well renowned for his knowledge and influence in the drug-testing arena. As the Drug and Alcohol Program Manager for the US Coast Guard (December 2001-March 2013) he developed and managed a successful drug testing program for the marine industry nationwide and internationally.  During this time he developed and implemented a new compliance audit checklist as well as the writing and publishing a new Marine Employers Guidebook for Drug Testing.  He is also the author of the federal regulation commonly known as the two-hour alcohol testing for maritime incidents.