US Coast Guard Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations

… Drug and Alcohol Testing as required by the DOT and the United States Coast Guard …

Us Coast Guard Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations – Synopsis


This article will summarize the U.S. Coast Guard requirements for the drug and alcohol testing regulations in Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 4, 5 and 16; 33 CFR part 95 and 46 CFR part 40.  These same regulations are augmented by published policy guidance.

Applicable Regulations:

There are several drug and alcohol testing regulations that apply to marine employers and that a well-informed marine employer will know or be aware of.  These same regulations are equally applicable to C/TPAs that want to provide a credible compliance service to marine employers should have a working knowledge of these same regulations along with published policy guidance.

46 CFR 4.03.2:  Serious Marine Incident

46 CFR 4.06:  Mandatory Chemical Testing Following Serious Marine Incidents Involving Vessels in Commercial Service.

46 CFR 5 Subpart E):  Deposit or Surrender of Coast Guard Credential or Endorsement.

46 CFR 16:  Chemical Testing.

49 CFR 40:  Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug Testing Programs.

33 CFR 95:  Operating a Vessel While Under the Influence of Alcohol or a Dangerous Drug.

Policy Guidance: On the Internet at:  https://homeport.uscg.mil.  Click on Investigations tab located on the right side of the webpage.  That will take to a link to the drug and alcohol program where the policy guidance is located.


Crewmembers who hold are credentialed working on commercial service vessel are subject to the testing regulations.  Part of this requirements is to determine the crewmembers that have duties that are defined in the Operations definition of 46 CFR part 16.  Each vessel is unique and so an evaluation must be done to determine who and who is not subject to the testing regulations.  With the exception of serious marine incident testing requirements, the regulations contained in Part 16 are not applicable to foreign flag vessels or those vessels that do not require licensed personnel. Examples of vessels where licensed personnel are not required (and therefore these regulations do not apply) are towing vessels under 26 feet in length and commercial fishing industry vessels under 200 gross tons.

Testing Methodology:

DOT testing is only allowed for the five specific drugs or drug classes identified in 49 CFR part 40.85.  Testing for drugs is conducted using urine samples collected in accordance with 49 CFR part 40.  Testing for alcohol in the marine industry may be conducted using breath, oral fluid or blood.  If blood is tested, only a qualified medical person may collect it.  Breath or saliva or oral fluid specimens testing may be done by anyone trained to conduct such tests. The Coast Guard does not mandate the use of Evidential Breath Testing devices.  

The procedures identified in 49 CFR 40 will be utilized for all drug tests including the collection and handling of split specimens.

Urine samples collected in order to meet the requirements of the Coast Guard rules may not be tested for any other drugs.  If an employer wants to test for other drugs, samples must be collected and processed separately from samples used for DOT tests.

The regulations require five types of testing:

Pre-employment: A crewmember must pass a drug test before an employer may employ him/her. A prospective crewmember who submits a urine sample cannot be employed until a negative test result is confirmed.

Periodic: Periodic tests are the responsibility of the individual mariner, not the marine employer, for transactions involving licenses, CORs, or MMDs.

Random: An employer must conduct random drug testing of certain crewmembers at an annual rate of not less than 25%.

Reasonable cause: An employer shall require any crewmember who is reasonably suspected of using drugs to be tested for drugs and/or alcohol.

Serious Marine Incident: A crewmember whose negligence cannot be discounted as contributing or involved in a serious marine incident is to be tested for drugs and alcohol. Serious Marine Incident applies to all vessels in commercial service regardless of flag of origin of they have a Serious Marine Incident in US waters.  This testing also applies to commercial fishing vessels under 200 gross tons if they have a serious marine incident.

Employee Responsibilities:

All employees must provide a urine sample for drug testing, and a blood, oral fluid or breath sample for alcohol testing, when directed by their marine employer for any of the above testing reasons.

Marine Employer Responsibilities:

A marine employer is by definition in 46 CFR part 16 one or more of the following:

  • the owner of a vessel;
  • the managing operator
  • the charterer, the agent, the master;
  • any other person in charge.

The marine employer is responsible for administering drug and alcohol testing programs for their employees to include all of the following but is not all inclusive:

Ensuring that all testing is done as required

Supervisory and employee awareness training

Record keeping to include all record reporting, compliance with all applicable regulations and with 49 CR part 40.25 requirements.

While there is a plethora of information for compliance, it behooves a service provider to stay informed of all applicable regulations and any regulatory changes that take place.  If ever unsure about compliance and what to do, ask.


I remain available to answer all concerns and questions at [email protected]

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. 

Robert’s drug testing career began in the Navy Medical Department, where he received the Navy Achievement Medal for his work on development of the Navy drug-testing program which was the first major workplace drug-testing program in the country. He retired in 1985 after serving 24 years. 

Upon his retirement, Robert established his own drug testing consulting company assisting other companies to establish drug-free workplaces and drug testing programs, concentrating primarily on the marine industry. His knowledge of regulations and policy helped build his company to be one of the premier providers of drug testing services for the marine industry. During this time he was instrumental in establishing many of the current federal policies that are in place. 

Robert has served on the Board of Directors of the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA) as well as chairing the Governmental and Legislative Affairs committee. He was one of the first individuals to be recognized as an expert in the Drug and Alcohol testing industry and to receive designation as a Certified Substance Abuse Program Administrator (1996). 

Robert is active participant in community service.  He recently served on the Policy Board for the Alcohol Safety Action Program in Fairfax, VA (January 1989-December 2012).  Since moving to Whidbey Island in Washington, he has been named to serve on the Substance Abuse Committee and recently been named to serve on the Ferry Advisory Committee both of these committees are located in Island County, WA. 

Robert is currently a consultant for Workplace Drug Testing and Drug Abuse Prevention Programs.