The Michigan Charter Boat Association’s Drug and Alcohol Program

by Captain Dean Hobbs & Captain Terry Walsh

In 1988 the United States Coast Guard (USCG) promulgated regulations that require professional mariners to participate in a federally mandated Drug and Alcohol Program. The scope of the regulation includes charter boat operators.

Since 1992, MCBA has provided a low cost random drug testing program for its membership. Over the years there have been many changes to the mandated program including recent alcohol testing requirements. To date, MCBA has been able to successfully comply with these mandated program changes, however, recently the MCBA was notified by the USCG that their Drug and Alcohol Program was “non-compliant”. At issue is the response time between the random selection by LexisNexis and the actual collection. A new emphasis has been placed on ”immediate”- the time requirement from random notification to collection.

This aspect (Random Collection) of the regulation is proving to be difficult to address by all Drug and Alcohol Programs that are not ‘confined’ to a factory like setting. Immediate means that the collection will take place within 2-4 hours of the selectee being notified.

The impact to you, as an operator, is that the MCBA must without question be assured that their drug and alcohol program is (1) in compliance with USCG regulations for drug and alcohol and (2) that you as operators clearly understand and comply with the requirements governing the safe operation of your boat. In the application and definitions of the USCG regulation, charter boat operators responsibilities fall under two categories, that is, Professional Mariner and Employer. For this reason, all MCBA members shall be vested in the program and understand the significant role they play in assuring compliance with this regulation.

If the Operator/Employer does not have a compliant drug and alcohol program, individual licenses are at risk of being revoked. Without a license the boat cannot be operated.

The MCBA Board and its’ Directors are working diligently to resolve questions that have arisen. The Board’s intent is to resolve current issues with the USCG that focus on the administration of the random test process that we have used in the past. The regulation is specific regarding the time frame in which operators/employers must collect and/or report. With that being the focus of scrutiny, it is essential that the membership understand the resolve with which the USCG expects to enforce this regulation.

Members role in this process is one of education and compliance to assure that the imposed time frames are met. There will be significant consequences to the membership if compliance with the regulation is not administered according to the plan. It is the Board’s intent to make the process as user friendly as possible and still maintain compliance with the provisions of the regulation. However, without the support and understanding of the membership/operators this cannot be achieved. It is critical that boat operators pay close attention to the time frames outlined in the MCBA Drug and Alcohol Program.

We can all agree that the Great Lakes are one of our precious resources. The MCBA is committed to assuring that its membership is engaged in complying with the USCG regulations that govern our operation on the waterways. You may be asking yourself why in 2010 we are no longer compliant. In practice the Legislature relies upon the USCG to regulate maritime professionals and the administration of existing regulations to assure the safe operation of vessels on the Great Lakes. Whether we classify ourselves as mariners, either by occupation or recreation, it is the responsibility of those who hold maritime documents to uphold the aspects of the regulation that govern safe operation of the vessel. For this reason, the Board wanted to raise your awareness and understanding of the serious role operators play in meeting the intent of this regulation. The MCBA wants to assure that all boats are being operated safety and without implication of drug and alcohol use.

In the next few months watch for additional information on the MCBA Drug and Alcohol Plan and your role in the process of administering drug and alcohol testing. 8