Virtually all vessels are subject to regulations enacted by the national maritime authority of the country in which they are registered — their flag state. In the United States, these regulations are written and enforced by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), pursuant to laws enacted by Congress. Under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), vessels of any nation signatory to the convention and over a certain size, or carrying more than 12 passengers and operating internationally, also must comply with the requirements of the Convention with regard to construction, safety equipment, manning, crew training, etc. Compliance is documented in a “SOLAS Certificate” issued by the ship’s national maritime authority.
For each category of inspected vessel, there is a comprehensive set of regulatory requirements governing construction and arrangement, watertight integrity and stability, lifesaving and firefighting equipment, machinery and electrical systems, vessel control and equipment and operations.
With the exception of Uninspected Vessels, all categories of U.S.-registered vessels are subject to Coast Guard inspection on an annual basis and at regular intervals when hauled at drydock. Upon satisfactory completion of the inspection, a Certificate of Inspection (COI) is issued, and must be permanently displayed on board the vessel. The COI spells out what waters the vessel may operate on (its authorized route), how many total persons may be carried aboard (passengers or sailing school students in addition to the crew), the requirement for and location of lifesaving and firefighting equipment, when the next drydock exam is required and so forth. The type of COI to be issued to inspected vessels is determined by both the size and construction of the vessel and the operating intentions of the operator. Some vessels carry dual certification (for example: Small Passenger Vessel and Sailing School Vessel).
The Coast Guard issued COI is also where the minimum manning or crew complement is listed. Qualifications for officers and crew are determined by the size, complexity of sailing rig and route of the vessel. Merchant Mariner Credentials (licenses) are earned through a combination of documented time at sea, academic coursework and comprehensive examination.
Tall Ships America’s U.S.-registered vessels generally fall into one of the following categories (defined in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 46):
For more information about U.S. regulations, contact the United States Coast Guard or the Government Printing Office for the above listed sections of the Code of Federal Regulations. For inspection criteria pertaining to non-U.S. flag vessels, contact the vessel’s home office for guidance to their national authorities.