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Improve Passenger and Fishing Vessel Safety

​​​​​​​​Passenger and fishing vessels present distinct safety challenges within the marine transportation industry.

Passenger Vessels

Passenger vessels range in size from small charter vessels, such as dive boats and amphibious passenger vessels (DUKW boats or “duck boats") to large cruise ships operating in international waters. The number of passengers and crew on these types of vessels may vary.

Fires pose a catastrophic threat to passenger vessels, as we saw in the Conception dive boat accident off the coast of California in which 34 people died. Our investigations have revealed that crew training and safety regulations for these vessels vary, increasing the risk to passengers and crew. To prevent needless deaths and mitigate injuries, passenger vessels should have safety management systems, use voyage data recorders, and provide adequate fire-detection and extinguishing systems and enhanced emergency egress options. Operators need t​o ensure their crews have enhanced training that includes fire drills and firefighting techniques. We also need to see more roving patrols on our waterways to ensure passengers are being transported safely.

Commercial Fishing

The commercial fishing industry, which remains largely uninspected, is another marine sector of concern. Fishing consistently tops the list of most deadly occupations, due, in large part, to challenging work environments, such as poor weather and rough waters. These conditions threaten vessel stability and integrity—an issue we have seen in our investigations. More than 800 fatalities have occurred on fishing vessels in the past two decades.

We need new standards to address—and periodically reassess—intact stability, subdivision, and watertight integrity in commercial fishing vessels up to 79 feet long. Many fishing crews aren't trained in stability management techniques or emergency response, and we have found that many vessels do not have proper life-saving equipment, such as flotation devices and search-and-rescue locator devices.


The US Coast Guard can improve safety on both passenger and fishing vessels by implementing our recommendations.

Lessons Learned: NTSB Investigations

The following accidents best exemplify why this safety improvement is needed.

Report image.
Fire Aboard Small Passenger Vessel Conception
Santa Barbara, CA | September 2019

Report image. Sinking of Amphibious Passenger Vessel Stretch Duck 7
Branson, MO | July 2018

Report image. Capsizing and sinking of fishing vessel Destination
George's Island, AK | February 2017

Report image. Fire aboard Roll-on/Roll-off Passenger Vessel Caribbean Fantasy
Atlantic Ocean, 2 Miles Northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico | August 2016

Report image.Capsizing and sinking of fishing vessel Christopher’s Joy
Southwest Pass, LA | September 2014

Stats to Know


Fire-related marine accidents investigated by the NTSB since 2010


US commercial fishing vessels in service in the United States in 2020 (Source: USCG)

805 fatalities, 164 missing, and 2,122 people injured

In commercial fishing vessel accidents in the US between 2000 and 2020 (Source: USCG)

Our Solutions . . . Take Action Now!

The US Coast Guard needs to act on our recommendations. Although many of our recommendations call for regulatory action, passenger and fishing vessel associations, training centers, and marine safety advocacy groups should also promote awareness and encourage operators to take voluntary measures to improve safety on their vessels.

On passenger vessel safety, the US Coast Guard should:

  • Require all operators of domestic passenger vessels to implement safety management systems.
  • Develop a US voyage data recorder standard for ferry vessels that meets the International Maritime Organization's performance standards and require the installation of such equipment on new and existing ferry vessels.
  • Require companies operating domestic passenger vessels to develop and implement a preventive maintenance program for all systems affecting the safe operation of their vessels.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of creating a passenger vessel safety specialist billet and staff sector-level billets at each sector that has the potential for a search and rescue activity.
  • Require fire-detection systems in unoccupied spaces with machinery or other potential heat sources on board small passenger vessels.
  • Require newly constructed vessels and those currently in service with overnight accommodations to have interconnected smoke detectors in all accommodation spaces.
  • Develop and implement an inspection procedure to verify that small passenger vessel owners, operators, and charterers are conducting roving patrols.
  • Require newly constructed small passenger vessels and those constructed prior to 1996 with overnight accommodations to provide a secondary means of escape into a different space than the primary exit.
  • Review the suitability of regulations regarding means of escape to ensure there are no obstructions to egress on small passenger vessels constructed prior to 1996 and modify regulations accordingly.
  • Ensure that amphibious passenger vehicle operators tell passengers that seat belts must not be worn while the vessel/vehicle is operated in the water and visually check that each passenger has unbuckled his or her seat belt.
  • Require DUKW amphibious passenger vessels to have sufficient reserve buoyancy through passive means, and for those that don't, require the removal of canopies, side curtains, and their associated framing during waterborne operations.
  • Require that amphibious passenger vessels equipped with forward hatches enable operators to securely close them during waterborne operations.
  • Review the circumstances of the Stretch Duck 7 sinking and other amphibious passenger vessel accidents, and revise Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular 1-01 to address the issues found in these accidents.
  • Examine existing training and knowledge requirements for understanding and applying fundamental weather principles to waterborne operations for Coast Guard-credentialed masters who operate small passenger vessels; and, if warranted, require additional training.

On passenger vessel safety, operators and organizations representing small passenger vessel operators should:

  • Implement safety management systems to improve safety practices and minimize risk.
  • Develop and/or improve procedures to manage and account for all persons aboard in the event of a mass evacuation of a ship while in port.
  • Perform a worst-case scenario risk assessment for all active water-based fire-suppression systems to evaluate whether the existing freshwater supply is sufficient.
  • Review lifesaving appliance training programs, including recordkeeping procedures, and revise the programs to ensure that crewmembers are proficient with onboard systems.
  • Provide formal and recurrent training to shoreside management and senior shipboard officers to ensure that all senior leaders are fully knowledgeable about the policies and procedures in the safety management system.
  • Develop and apply an oversight system to ensure that maintenance programs comply with the manufacturer's recommended preventive maintenance program.
  • Revise marine firefighting and job training programs, including documenting, both onboard and ashore, that all crewmembers are qualified and can continually demonstrate proficiency in their duties.
  • Review and revise current operating policy to provide specific guidance on vessel operations when adverse conditions could be encountered during any part of the waterborne tour by implementing a go/no-go policy.
  • Modify spring-loaded forward hatches of modified DUKW amphibious passenger vessels to enable their closure during waterborne operations.
  • Re-evaluate emergency procedures regarding lifejacket donning aboard modified DUKW amphibious passenger vessels when equipped with fixed canopies.
  • Share the circumstances of the Conception accident and encourage members to voluntarily install interconnected smoke and fire detectors in all accommodation spaces and a secondary means of escape into a different space than the primary exit.

On fishing vessel safety, the US Coast Guard should:

  • Establish standards for new and existing commercial fishing industry vessels of 79 feet or less in length that address intact stability, subdivision, and watertight integrity and include periodic reassessment of the vessels' stability and watertight integrity.
  • Require all owners, masters, and chief engineers of commercial fishing industry vessels to receive training and demonstrate competency in vessel stability, watertight integrity, subdivision, and use of vessel stability information, including preventing and properly responding to emergency situations as well as the actual use of emergency equipment.
  • Require that all personnel employed on vessels in coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean service be provided with a personal locator beacon.

See our specific detailed recommendations.

Updated December 23, 2022