Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers
Sovereign and other self-governing nations have the right to control any activities within their own borders, including those of visiting yachts. Authority and control over foreign-flagged ships in a country’s ports, used for verifying compliance with the requirements of the applicable maritime conventions, is called Port State Control (PSC).
In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is tasked as the enforcement agency for PSC. In 2018, the USCG conducted 9,025 SOLAS safety exams with a total of 105 detentions and eight ISPS control actions.
While PSC primarily exists to target and eliminate substandard vessels, the USCG also has a program called Qualship 21 to recognize and reward compliant vessels, as well as their owners and flag administrations, for their commitment to safety and quality. To encourage maritime entities to participate in the program, incentives such as certificates, name recognition, and a reduction in PSC examination frequency are offered. The criteria for inclusion are very strict and only a small percentage of all foreign-flagged ships that operate in the U.S. have earned the Qualship 21 designation.
For the purpose of Qualship 21, the initial eligibility criteria are:
The USCG reserves the right to restrict eligibility in the Qualship 21 program to any vessel because of special circumstances. This includes, but is not limited to, significant overseas casualties or detentions and pending criminal or civil investigations.
For flag administrations to qualify for the Qualship 21 program, they must:
As one could assume, the number of qualifying flag administrations is low. For 2019, the USCG identified 27 countries as eligible. They are:
To have a specific ship or yacht enrolled in the Qualship 21 program, vessel owners and/or operators are required to submit the name of the vessel, IMO number, registered flag administration, company name, and company IMO number to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Compliance (CG-CVC-2). After receiving this information, the Coast Guard will screen the information and make a determination of eligibility.
Once accepted into the program, a Qualship 21 Certificate will be issued to the company and the vessel. The vessel will then be listed on the CG-CVC-2’s Qualship 21 web page.
Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (yachtbureau.org). Comments are welcome below.