COMPLIANCE FOR USCG DRUG TESTING REGULATIONS

Last updated on February 18th, 2021 at 12:20 pm

HELP!  What Do I Need to Be in Compliance?

… Marine Employers – Help is available for your drug testing program

This is a long article about the trials and tribulations of operating a vessel for hire and the requirements of drug and alcohol testing.

I have just acquired a 65 feet long boat after making the decision to do charter boat fishing and taking passengers out for leisurely day of fishing.  I previously owned a boat before for my personal use but was not aware of all that I would have to do now I am venturing into the commercial sport fishing world.

I have obtained a master’ license which allows me to operate a vessel that that weighs up to 100 gross tons.  One of the things that I had to complete was to take and pass a drug test to get my Master’s License.  I passed the written exam and took a physical examination to get the license.  Now if I can figure out how the fish finding gadget works, I will be all set to go, or so I thought.

The Coast Guard came by paying me a visit wanting to inspect the vessel to ensure that it was safe to carry passengers.  They wanted to see my license which I was proud to show to them.

The boat passed inspection but with conditions. The Coast Guard told me that I would be required to carry at least two crewmembers in order to safely operate the vessel.  That means that I will have to hire two individuals who will not be afraid to touch a fish.  The Coast Guard said they would be back after I hired these deckhands.  Fortunately, they do not have to have a license. The Coast Guard also gave a list of items that I would have to have in order to be in compliance. 

I quickly reviewed the list of items and one thing caught my eye.  I have to have a drug test program.  I asked my marine insurance carrier about this.  They told me that if I did not have that drug test program that they would not be able to cover me nor pay any claims that I might incur.

I went online to National Drug Screening (NDS) to see what information they had for me to be in compliance.  NDS had helped me get my drug test completed for my license.  National Drug Screening offers an affordable program with a DOT US Coast Guard Drug Testing Consortium.  They had a wealth of information on their website with numerous articles written by the now retired Coast Guard Drug and Alcohol Program Manager.

After a review of the posted information, I decided that I could not manage this by myself and so I selected NDS to manage my drug and alcohol testing program. That was a very wise decision that I made as it made my life that much easier.  Now all I have to worry about is keeping the passengers happy and where to find fish once I figure out how that dang fishing finding device works.

I found out from reading the regulations there are several requirements that I will have to do in order to be in compliance with the drug and alcohol testing program.  Some of the regulations which the Coast Guard told me to be aware of was:

49 CFR part 40 (Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs;

46 CFR part 4 (Marine Casualties and Investigations);

46 CFR part 5 (Marine Investigation Regulations – Personnel Action);

46 CFR part 16 (Chemical Testing); and

33 CFR part 95 (Operating a Vessel While under the Influence of Alcohol or a Dangerous Drug.

Part II – HELP!  What Do I Need to Be in Compliance? – USCG Drug Testing Regulations

After reading all of those drug and alcohol testing regulations, I am now beginning to doubt my sanity and wondering why I decided to get in this business.  What do I have to do before I can start on my first charter, I start to make a list.

Need to locate a drug test consortium but I think I will use the group that helped me get my Coast Guard Captain’s license as their rates are reasonable and in line with other consortiums.

That takes care of the following issues:

Locate a collection site qualified to collect drug test specimens.

Deciding what SAMHSA (What does that acronym stand for anyway?) accredited lab to use,

Locate a doctor that is qualified to serve as a Medical Review Officer.

After reading the drug testing regulations again and comparing that list to the list of items that Coast Guard left me, I had better make sure that all is in order as that will be what they will be looking for when they pay me a visit again.  It is time to update the list again.

  • I have to appoint somebody as a Designated Employer Representative (DER).  Ummm, have to ask my wife to see if she would be willing to be the DER.  What does the DER do anyway, better get familiar with the responsibilities before asking her.
  • Still have to hire two people as deckhands who are not afraid to touch a fish and still pass a drug test.
  • Take a drug and alcohol supervisory course on drug and alcohol for myself.
  • Get an employee awareness program for drugs and alcohol for my deckhands.
  • Get some alcohol test kits, hopefully the drug test consortium can assist with this.
  • Get all the official drug and alcohol test forms that I need to be in compliance.
  • Still have to figure out how that fish finder device works before I take any fishing passengers out for a great and fun day of fishing.

Well, I read up on what the duties and responsibilities of the DER is and that does not seem like a heavy or onerous task.  So, I asked my wife and she said that she would do it ager some discussion. She asked me why I could not assume that responsibility.  I told her that the DER has to be a person in a non-safety sensitive position and as master of the vessel I was in a safety-sensitive position so I could not be the DER.   Whew, that is one task completed.

Next task, I have located two individuals who have worked on charter boats before and are not afraid to touch a fish.  They are hired provided that they pass a drug test and they know that is requirement plus being subject to random drug testing.

Now to take a supervisory course on drugs and alcohol.  Fortunately, there are several available with using CD or DVD as the teaching technology.  I bought the DVD and took the course.  It was a very interesting course and I actually learned a lot from it.

HELP!  What Do I Need to Be in Compliance? Part 3

Marine Employers – Help is available for your drug testing program; the US Coast Guard requires a drug and alcohol testing program and drug testing consortium.  USCG Drug Testing Regulations, are you in compliance?

Now that I have come this far towards getting my sport fishing business together, I will hurry up and complete all the requirements as this is taking more time and money than what I expected.  Perhaps there is something to that old adage that a boat is nothing more than a hole in the water that you toss money in.  I need to stop pouring money into this boat and use it to make some good hard cash.

Now to review what I need to do to get in compliance.

  • Have hired two deckhands provided that they pass a drug test.
  • Get an employee awareness program for drugs and alcohol for my deckhands.
  • Get some alcohol test kits, hopefully the drug test consortium can assist with this.
  • Get all the official drug and alcohol test forms that I need to be in compliance.
  • Still have to figure out how that fish finder device works before I take any fishing passengers out for a great and fun day of fishing.

The two deckhands took and passed the drug test so they can work for me.  The plus is that they are not afraid to touch a fish and know how to net and bring a fish on board and prep them for our clients that caught them.

I still have to give them some awareness information for drugs and alcohol, so I do not have that issue to face when operating a vessel.  The Consortium provided me with some information to give to my employees and myself.  The consortium also helped provided a policy concerning drugs and alcohol along with consequences for use.

They also provided me with a national hot line number which is required me for me to display.  This is the phone number people who are seeking assistance with a substance abuse problem can call to get some help and direction on what to do.

Some of the items provided but not required was a certificate that had the vessel name and vessel document number on it stating that my vessel had a drug-free program and was in compliance with the required drug and alcohol testing regulations.  That I put in the document locker next to the still incomplete Certificate of Inspection (COI).  Plus, they issued cards to myself and my crewmembers stating our names and that we had passed a pre-employment drug test and the date that the test was conducted.

Now to get some alcohol test kits that I can use in the unlikely event of a Serious Marne Incident (SMI).  I need to make a copy of the requirements so I know when I will need to do those tests.  Two hours to get them completed means that I will have to carry them on board the vessel.  The Coast Guard means business but then again, their goal is maritime safety and to investigate marine casualties when they do occur.  I am just glad that I do not have to carry evidential breath testing devices as that would be cost prohibitive.  Those breath testing devices would be around $3,000 plus training costs. The screen test devices are right around $5.00 per unit, plus I do not need any formal training to use them as they are very simple to use.  I have a good cool place to store them on the vessel.  The consortium will keep track when I have to replace them, thank goodness, so I do not have to remember that little detail.

Let us see now, I have some drug test chain-of-custody forms now along with the forms to be completed if there is a SMI.

I think I am ready for the Coast Guard to pay me a visit and re-inspect me to ensure that I am in compliance and ready to safely carry passengers.

I finally figured out how that fish finder works and all I have to do is hook it up and make sure it works after it is put in place.  I have extra fishing poles, reels and fishing lures and a bait locker.  I also obtained gaff hooks for landing fish and some well -trained deckhands who know how to land fish.  They even know what to do if a passenger falls overboard.  I have advertised and have several passengers ready to go deep sea fishing.

I am so excited my dream is about ready to come true.   Now to call the Coast Guard as they said they would come out the following day after I called them.

Finally, in compliance with Coast Guard, What is Next? Part 4

Well, I finally made it and have a US Coast Guard issued Certificate of Inspection (COI) and a sticker issued by the Coast Guard visible to the public, so the public knows that I am okay to carry passengers.

The inspection was very detailed and included a man overboard drill which the crewmembers did a good job in rescuing the dummy passenger. They also checked out the operational aspects of the vessel and reviewed the Stability Letter to make sure that it was current.  The inspection was thorough, but I passed, and the vessel was deemed in compliance with all safety regulations.

The Coast Guard was pleased with the drug test results for the crewmembers where they tested negative and are able to work.  The inspectors were quick to remind me that if a crewmember tested positive, they would like to know so that could be entered into the Coast Guard database.  They also told me that they will run a background check on each crewmember to make sure that they are eligible to work and do not have any prior positive drug tests that were reported to the National Maritime Center.  The Coast Guard again checked my license to make sure it was valid and that all of us were entered into a scientifically valid random selection program.  I was also reminded that if I tested positive, I would be subject to losing my license.

I have obtained a commercial license from the state to go commercial sport fishing off the coast with passengers that want to go deep sea fishing.  The passengers are also required to have a license.

I have advertised and have several passengers that are wanting to go sport fishing on a two-day fishing trip.  I have sodas, snacks on board to sell along with a short order fry cook to prepare hamburgers and other short order type food items.  Oh yes, the local food inspectors came on board to make sure that all would be done in accordance with hygiene so there is a certificate posted for that.  I did hire a short order cook, but he is not in a safety-sensitive position and is not subject to drug testing.

I also had to hire another licensed captain as I am allowed to operate the vessel for only 12 hours then to take 12 hours off.  Yes, he passed his drug test thank goodness and he is also in the random drug testing pool.  That makes 4 people in the random drug test pool and with a random testing rate, that means at least one person, if not more will be selected to take a random drug test.

The passengers are embarked, and all lines are cast off and off we go to fish for albacore and tuna.  Everybody is excited and oh yes, the fish finder as I finally figured out how it works.

Passengers are reminded that is a drug-free boat and the use of marijuana and other drugs will not be tolerated.  Offenders will be reported to the local law enforcement when we get back to port.  The use of alcoholic beverages is not allowed as I do not need passengers onboard that are intoxicated.

On the way to the fishing grounds, we stop to pick up live bait to use to catch albacore with.  Yes, albacore and tuna like live fish.  A fun day of fishing is ahead for the paying passengers.

  • Do not forget your pre-employment chemical test for dangerous drugs available from National Drug Screening, Inc – 866-843-4545
  • Do you have a random testing program meeting the criteria of Title 46 CFR 16.230 – Coast Guard regulations for drug testing – call our national drug testing centers – 866-843-4545
  • DOT 5 Panel test that ONLY tests for Marijuana, Cocaine, Opiates, Phencyclidine, and Amphetamines using a “Federal Drug Testing Custody and Control Form”
  • Do you need a DOT/USCG PERIODIC DRUG TESTING FORM (CG-719P) – call our drug screening centers located nationwide – 866-843-4545

Operating a Sport Fishing Charter Boat and Events That Have Happened – Part 5

Whew, operating a sport fishing boat for charter is a lot of work but there is pleasure in it this business.  Some of the advantages are no suit, shirt or tie, just blue jeans, t-shirts, and work shoes and can wear a baseball cap.  I can also wear sunglasses on the job.  I am the Vessel Master and in charge.  However, with that comes some awesome responsibilities.  For instance, I am responsible for the following:

  • The safe passage of the passengers is first and foremost.
  • The safe operation of the vessel in accordance with USCG regulations.
  • Having a crew that is qualified to work in safety sensitive positions as outlined in the definition for Operation stated in 46 CFR part 16.  Within that definition the following duties are included:
    • Navigate, steer, direct, manage, or sail a vessel, or to control, monitor, or maintain the vessel’s main or auxiliary equipment or systems. Operation includes:
      • Determining the vessel’s position, piloting, directing the vessel along a desired track line, keeping account of the vessel’s progress through the water, ordering, or executing changes in course, rudder position, or speed, and maintaining a lookout;
      • Controlling, operating, monitoring, maintaining, or testing: the vessel’s propulsion and steering systems; electric power generators; bilge, ballast, fire, and cargo pumps; deck machinery including winches, windlasses, and lifting equipment; lifesaving equipment and appliances; firefighting systems and equipment; and navigation and communication equipment; and
      • Mooring, anchoring, and line handling; loading or discharging of cargo or fuel; assembling or disassembling of tows; and maintaining the vessel’s stability and watertight integrity.

I, along with the alternate Captain plus the deckhands are knowledgeable in their respective duties and responsibilities.  It looks like I have a smooth and efficient running vessel.  The vessel is 85 ft. in length with a galley and dining space with a cook who makes good tasting cheeseburgers and other short order food items.  The vessel also has some staterooms for the overnight trips.  There is also a saltwater distiller to make fresh water.  In addition, there are bait tanks for live bait that are flushed with continuously running sea water.

I have done a couple of day trips now where we went after yellow fin tuna and did some close inshore fishing going after kelp bass.   These trips have been highly successful with all the passengers catching their limits and having fun.  The kelp bass go around 3-6 pounds and are very good tasting.  The fishermen have to be careful as sometimes these kelp bass can dive into the kelp frond tangling the line, making them harder to catch.  The yellow fin tuna, weighing between 15 to 20 pounds gives the fishermen a fight before they are finally landed, although some of them break free and go back into the deep blue sea.  The deckhands have been very skilled in assisting the passenger in landing their catch.  It can get very difficult when a large number of passengers have “fish-on” at the same time and going up and down the decks trying to land their catch.  It is very entertaining and fun to watch all of this activity.

The next few trips will be further offshore where we will go after the larger blue fin tuna and a very serious event happens.

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Operating a Sport Fishing Charter Boat and a Serious Marine Incident (SMI) – Part 6

We left on a two-day trip to go after the Bluefin tuna, a magnificent fish to catch that is very good to eat but a lot of work to catch.  That meant we left in the early evening to travel during the night to get to the fishing grounds.  That way the embarked passenger could take all day to fish to their heart’s content.  Then we would return to port steaming all night to be back a little after sunrise.

We got to the fishing grounds as planned and the fish finder showed where there was a large school of blue fin tuna.  I informed the anglers and gave some safety briefs on how to cast your line with live bait and not to hook another passenger with a hook as you are casting out your line.  With 25 passengers on board, safety is a must and that entails good fishing techniques.

The deckhands are busy showing the passengers how to put live bait on their hooks and how to cast their lines.   Soon we hear the zing of lines coming off of the reels as the tuna take the live bait.  Often times there would be over 600 feet of line going off of the reel before the tuna dives to the bottom.  Once that happens then it is man against the tuna to reel them in, all 600 plus feet of line with the tuna fighting every inch of the way.  It is hard task but a rewarding one as your tuna comes to the surface, sometimes after a 45-minute struggle.  The deckhands are busy bring the fish onboard and soon the deck is covered with the caught tuna, some of them weighing up to over 100 pounds.  The fishermen/passengers are having a great time.

All of a sudden, I hear cry for help.  I immediately go to the source of the cry for help after turning control of the vessel over to the other captain.  I see a passenger on the deck with his leg looking like it is broken.  I clear away the other passengers, summon the deckhands after asking the passenger what happened.  The passenger told me that he slipped, and his leg feels like it is broken.  I look at his right leg and it does look like it is broken being twisted at an odd angle.  I tell one of the deckhands to get the first aid kit and something to splint his leg in to make it immobile.  We manage to get the leg in a splint, then lift and carry him into the cabin.  The passenger is in a lot of pain. I give him a morphine Syrette to help ease the pain.  That does help.  I told one of the deckhands to inform the other captain to notify the Coast Guard that we needed medical assistance.  That notification is done.

The Coast Guard responded right away that they were sending a rescue helicopter out with a medic on board to assist.  We are about 50 miles away so it will take a few minutes for the helicopter to get here.

The helicopter arrives in what seems very quickly and lowers the medic to my vessel.  The medic very quickly assesses the situation and decides to med-evac the passenger to the hospital for treatment.  A basket is lowered and the medic along with myself and a deckhand lift the passenger, gently placing him in the stretcher basket.  The stretcher basket is hoisted into the helicopter along with the medic.  They radio if we need anything else but that they are going to take the passenger to the hospital into the port that we departed from.  I told the chopper crew that we are okay and headed back into port.  The helicopter then flew off with the passenger in the stretcher basket.

Because this was an incident that met the requirement of being a serious marine incident, that particular requirement was an injury to a passenger that requires professional medical treatment. We are now required to conduct drug and alcohol testing.

I break out the alcohol test kits and read the instructions on how to correctly use this test kits for alcohol.  I perform the tests on all of the crewmembers with negative results.  The other captain performed the same alcohol test on me with a negative test result.  All alcohol tests were performed within two hours of the incident.  I document the times the tests were done and the results in the vessel logbook.  Now to get the drug tests collected.  Those tests have to be collected with 32 hours of the incident.  I start doing the paperwork to report this incident using the CG-2692 form to report the incident to the Coast Guard Investigating Officer (IO).  This report has to be done within five days of the incident.

Coast Required Drug and Alcohol Testing…Operating a Sport Fishing Charter Boat: Test Results and Follow-Up Testing – Part 7

We left off with having to conduct drug and alcohol testing after a Serious Marine Incident (SMI)

All of the tests results have been received with some astonishing results.  All the alcohol tests were negative, but the drug tests showed that one of the crewmembers and my relief captain tested positive for drugs.  The crewmember tested positive for marijuana and the relief captain tested positive for cocaine. Those test results were a complete surprise to me, but I knew what I had to do.

The crewmember’s employment was immediately terminated.  The relief captain was also terminated, and I made a report to the Coast Guard as required per regulation.  I asked the Coast Guard Investigating Officer (IO) about the non-credentialed crewmember and if I should report that person to the Coast Guard. The IO responded stating that I could report him and that they in turn would forward that report to the National Maritime Center (NMC) to prevent this person from getting a credential in the future until the person had completed certain treatment requirements.

Now I have to hire another crewmember and a relief captain before I can do any more charters.  That is a loss of income plus I have to notify the people that have chartered to go on the fishing trip and see if they are willing to rebook.  I will have to offer these passengers a discount to entice them to rebook or I will have to refund the complete charter fee.  This is part of the unseen cost for use of controlled substances.

I locate a relief captain and an individual who is willing to be a crewmember. I send both of them to the clinic to get a drug test completed.  I also ask if they had worked on any other charter boats within the previous two years. They said yes, so now I have to do a drug and alcohol history check as required in 49 CFR part 40.25.  I completed that task and mailed out the requests to their previous employers, with each one a getting an original signed request.  Hopefully, the requests will come back in a timely manner, but the previous employers have up to 30 days to return the requests to me.

The drug tests came back negative so I can hire them and do another charter trip with a full crew.  I can start doing more charter trips again, thank goodness.  Having a charter boat sit idle costs money!

The drug and alcohol history checks came back but the crewmember (Steve) has had a positive drug test for marijuana within the past two years.  I investigate and talk to him.  He tells me that he did complete the requirements of the Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and the Coast Guard requirements.  He presents me with a copy of the letter from a Medical Review Officer (MRO) and the letter of completion from the SAP.  I phone the MRO and SAP to make sure that they letters are not fakes or forgeries.  They are, indeed, genuine letters.

The next few charter trips take place without any incidents but the recent SMI and the positive drug tests linger in the back of my mind.  I keep a watchful eye on Steve, who previously had a positive drug test, and work with him to complete the rest of the required SAP Follow-Up drug tests.

On one of the trips, Steve, who had a positive drug test starts having behavioral problems. I sit him down and talk to him, but he denies any drug or alcohol use.  I document his behavior and my discussion with him plus his work habits.

I finally have enough documentation and an articulable belief that this crewmember is using drugs.  I make arrangements for a reasonable cause drug test.  I send him in for a drug test explaining to him why.  He still adamantly denies drug use.

A few days go by and I do another day charter trip with Steve working as a crewmember on board.  His behavior on this trip confirms my beliefs and why I sent him in for a test.  His actions were such that he endangered the passengers and the crew plus he broke laws.  I terminate his employment on the way back into port because of his documented, egregious behavior.  I also notify the local law enforcement to come and arrest this person.  They meet me at the harbor entrance and place this crewmember under arrest, removing him from my vessel.

The drug test results for this crewmember have been received by the DER who relays to me what the test results were.  He was positive for marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.  Now I see why his actions were as they were.

I notify the consortium via radio telephone, to make sure that there are enough forms available for all my crewmembers to take a drug test including myself.  I also notify the collection facility that we be coming in to take a drug test.

We arrive back in port, off load the passengers and their catch of blue fin tuna.  I call the Coast Guard to inquire about the injured passenger and to talk to the IO.  The passenger is doing all right, soon to be released from the hospital with his right leg in a cast.  The IO asks me about the alcohol tests, and I tell him that they were all negative and give him the manufacturer of the alcohol testing device that I used.

The IO asks about the drug tests and I tell him that the crew and I are on our way to get the tests done.  He reminds me that I need to submit the CG-2692 within five days and that the CG-2692 B will be submitted once all the drug test results have been received.  We talk about how the incident possibly occurred, but he still has to interview the injured passenger.

The tests results re received in a few days and I report all the drug and alcohol test results to the IO.

Operating a Sport Fishing Charter Boat: Aftermath of Positive Drug Test Results and Unemployment Issues – Part 8

Lately, it seems that drugs have been ruling my life or should I say I am having to react to positive drug tests.  I think to myself, these crewmembers know that they are subject to testing and are in safety-sensitive positions, yet they still use drugs that will endanger the safe operation of the vessel and can cause harm, death or injury to passengers or to their fellow crewmembers.

I have no choice except to terminate the employment of the individual who tested positive for three different drugs. To have him remain in my employ is a liability that I cannot afford nor want.

He was released from law enforcement after a few hours and came to my boat wanting to work and earn some money.  I assumed he wants to work because of the lawyer bills and other costs.  I talk to him and tell him what his drug test results were and that he tested positive for three different drugs.  He still denies that he is a drug user but makes no excuses for his behavior that led to his arrest by law enforcement.  I tell him that he can no longer work on my boat and give him the name and contact information for a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).  I also inform him that I will not be paying for any treatment costs or for anything else that the SAP may recommend.  That does include the cost of the initial SAP visit and any subsequent visits that I will not be responsible for.  He leaves muttering some words under his breath, but I could make out what he was saying.  If he had his way, I would be going to hell and other unmentionable places.  I thought I had seen the last of him, wrong assumption!

I commenced doing charter fishing trip s again with a brand-new deckhand who passed his drug test plus he came highly recommended from other charter boat operators.  Even though he met one of the exemptions identified in 46 CFR 16.210, I am not taking any chances and had him take a drug test.  The 40.25 drug and alcohol check came back clean with no adverse information released, thank goodness.

The next few trips are good with the passengers happy and content as they are catching fish and enjoying themselves.  Things are back to being peaceful again with no drug or alcohol issues.

This feeling of euphoria lasted for about a month when I received a letter from the local office of the State Labor and Unemployment Board.  In this letter from the Labor Board, my now fired deckhand alleged that I terminated his employment stating that I fired him because he did not do line handling in the way that it should be done.  There was not any mention about the real reason why I terminated him.  The Labor Board wanted to verify the reason why I terminated his employment before paying him unemployment benefits which would come out of my account with the State Labor and Unemployment Board.  After getting over my outrage, I calmed myself down and did a reply on the supplied state form.  I denied the stated reason and stated he had violated my company’s substance abuse policy.  I know that I could not release the drug test results but could state that there was a policy violation.  I am hoping the Investigator on this case would pick up on this substance abuse policy violation.

My terminated crewmember was informed of my response and did not accept it.  He is appealing for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) employed by the state labor board.  I receive written communication from the state labor board informing me of the hearing date. The hearing is set to take place in about 4 weeks.  Because I have to appear in person, I book no charters for that day.  That means another loss of income.

Save money, avoid loss of income – stay compliant with US Coast Guard Drug Testing Regulations

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