2/28/2019: A century and a half of marine safety and prevention – The Congressional Act of Feb. 28, 1871

From the desk of Rear Adm. John Nadeau, assistant commandant for prevention policy

After a few false starts, the nation established the foundation of a functioning Marine Safety code through the passage of The Congressional Act of February 28, 1871 (16 Stat. L 440).

The Act of 1871 was an important change that combined all the practical features of previous legislation with a number of new requirements to form a coherent and unified body of law for the regulation of steamboats and to prevent marine casualties and loss of life. Examples include the tragedies that befell the steamboats Moselle and Pulaski in 1838 and the Sultana after the Civil War, which combined killed over 2,000 people. Coincidentally, on February 28, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a wartime measure, signed Executive Order 9083, which transferred the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation temporarily to the Coast Guard. This organization was made permanent in 1946, and the marine safety mission has resided in the Coast Guard ever since.

Thankfully, today, technological advancements in ship design and construction have mitigated the unique risks associated with steam-powered vessels, and made it safer for passengers and seafaring professionals alike. Yet, the Coast Guard’s marine safety program has an enduring responsibility to safeguard the thousands of ships and mariners sailing domestic waters and calling on our ports, connecting the U.S. and its citizens to the rest of the world.

The marine safety program planted its roots 148 years ago today to save lives and prevent tragedy at sea, and it continues to evolve as we learn from marine casualties like the Sultana, Marine Electric, Deepwater Horizon, El Faro, and the more recent fishing vessel Destination tragedy. It is fitting to acknowledge the day as a small symbol of the Coast Guard’s commitment to honor all mariners and collaborate with other partners in government and industry to promote the safety, security, and environmental stewardship of U.S. waterways and beyond.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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