Serious Marine Incident (SMI) Testing part 3

Serious Marine Incident (SMI) Testing part 3

Last updated on October 6th, 2020 at 01:33 pm

…Alcohol testing must be completed within 2 hours following a serious marine incident (SMI), the collection of drug-test specimens of each individual must be conducted within 32 hours of when the SMI occurred

… What do you need to know to perform drug and alcohol testing in the maritime industry?  Part 3

By Robert Schoening – Former  Drug and Alcohol Program Manager for the US Coast Guard 

Drug and alcohol testing in the maritime industry Part 1

Drug and alcohol testing in the maritime industry Part 2 

Part 4 of this series

This article will cover Serious Marine Incident (SMI) testing, what it means and when is this testing required.  This article and subsequent articles will cover the collection and shipment of blood specimens when these specimens have been collected to perform a blood alcohol analysis. In addition, a future article will cover time frames for having both drug and alcohol tests completed and the rationale for these time frames and a discussion about required Coast Guard forms required to be completed in all instances when there is a SMI.  One of the biggest questions to be discussed and answered in a future article is why there is no conformation alcohol testing when a screen test shows the presence of alcohol.

The governing regulation is 46 CFR part 4. This particular regulation has been in place since May 29, 1986 with the drug and alcohol portion added November 21, 1988.  There was a major update December 22, 2005 for required alcohol testing.

There are some terms that should be defined or clarified before proceeding further.  All marine accidents are called marine casualties.  These definitions apply to all vessels except for public vessels (vessels owned by the US Government or a foreign state).  They also have to occur upon the navigable waters of the United States or territories or possessions and also applies to US flagged vessel worldwide.   It should be noted that foreign flagged vessels are not exempt from SMI testing when they are in United States waters.  As noted in a previous article, United States territorial waters extend 12 miles out from the coastline.

There are several events that fall under the term “Marine Casualty”.  Some of them are:

Any fall overboard, injury, or loss of life of any person.  This is very important for marine casualty and can lead to a more serious type of incident. The reason why this is important is one of the primary missions of the Coast Guard is the preservation of life and the prevention of injury to passengers and/or crewmembers.

Any occurrences of injury or loss of life to any person while diving from a vessel and using any type of underwater breathing apparatus. Breathing apparatus includes Hookah, Hard Hat and SCUBA.

Besides the above type of incident there are several other occurrences involving a vessel that can result in one or more of the following (some of these are self-explanatory):





Foundering (filling with water

Reduction or loss of a vessel’s electrical power, propulsion, or steering capabilities;

Failures or occurrences, regardless of cause, which impair any aspect of a vessel’s operation, components, or cargo;

Any other circumstance that might affect or impair a vessel’s seaworthiness, efficiency, or fitness for service or route;



Allision (not a collision but hitting the side of a stationary object like a bridge);

Any incident involving significant harm to the environment.

While all of the above happen frequently, they are required to be investigated by US Coast Guard Investigating Officers.  These casualties oftentimes do not involve required drug or alcohol testing but if any of these events rise to a certain level, then there is required drug and alcohol testing. That level is called Serious Marine Incident and it is when a marine casualty as stated above has one or more of the following events as cited in 46 CFR part 4.03-2:

  • One or more deaths;
  • An injury to a crewmember, passenger, or other person which requires professional medical treatment beyond first aid, and, in the case of a person employed on board a vessel in commercial service, which renders the individual unfit to perform routine vessel duties;
  • Damage to property, this damage includes the cost of labor and material to restore the property to its condition before the occurrence, in excess of $100,000; (This does not include cost of salvage, cleaning, gas-freeing, drydocking, or demurrage.)
  • Actual or constructive total loss of any vessel subject to inspection under 46 U.S.C. 3301. The type of vessels are:

(1) freight vessels.

(2) nautical school vessels.

(3) offshore supply vessels.

(4) passenger vessels.

(5) sailing school vessels.

(6) seagoing barges.

(7) seagoing motor vessels.

(8) small passenger vessels.

(9) steam vessels.

(10) tank vessels.

(11) fish processing vessels.

(12) fish tender vessels.

(13) Great Lakes barges.

(14) oil spill response vessels.

(15) towing vessels.

  • Actual or constructive total loss of any self-propelled vessel, not subject to inspection under 46 U.S.C. 3301, of 100 gross tons or more. There are certain types of fishing vessels that operate primarily in Alaska that are exempt but the conditions for exemption are strict in interpretation. If readers are interested in seeing how these exemptions are worded please Google 46 U.S.C. 3002.
  • A discharge of oil of 10,000 gallons or more into the navigable waters of the United States, as defined in 33 U.S.C. 1321.  This discharge does not have to be the result of a marine casualty but can be an accident that occurs during loading or offloading of oil or petroleum products as an example.
  • A discharge of a reportable quantity of a hazardous substance into the navigable waters of the United States, or a release of a reportable quantity of a hazardous substance into the environment of the United States, whether or not resulting from a marine casualty.

When one or more of the above events happen, SMI drug and alcohol is required to be done. 

The next article will discuss how required drug and alcohol testing is to be conducted, including how and when along with required time frames.


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.