Towing Vessel Operators Need Reliable Connectivity for Subchapter M Compliance

As of July 20, 2018, tugboat and towboat operators must comply with new Coast Guard regulations designed to improve safety. Published in the Code of Federal Regulations at 46 CFR Subchapter M, the rules require that towing vessel operators submit to an annual Coast Guard inspection or implement an approved towing safety management system (TSMS). Many operators are deploying onboard vessel management systems to help meet these requirements, but are struggling to maintain the real-time data communications needed to make the management systems work properly and ensure compliance.

A TSMS isn’t a computer system but rather a set of safety procedures and a process of recordkeeping and reporting. Operators must keep detailed records providing “objective evidence” that the TSMS has been implemented and continuously maintained. The “Towing Vessel Record” may be kept manually or electronically, but many operators are opting to implement vessel management systems because of the benefits they bring to their business.

Logbooks provide chronological records of many aspects of vessel operations. They are essential tools but also create administrative overhead. Studies have shown that officers spend about 20 percent of their time on recordkeeping and other paperwork, and the administrative burden is increasing due to regulatory requirements.

An onboard electronic log offers a number of advantages over traditional paper-based logbooks and tickets. Many entries, such as the periodic recording of ship speed and position, can be captured automatically, and manual entries can be made more quickly and accurately. And with an electronic system there’s no need to maintain growing amounts of paper and protect that paper from shipboard disaster.

A vessel management system integrates onboard electronic recordkeeping with the shoreside enterprise applications that drive the towing vessel business. The business gains a clear view into the myriad processes and procedures required to operate the vessel as well as the data needed to respond to audits and ensure compliance.

However, that depends upon the ability to maintain stable and secure data communications between the vessel and shore. Many operators rely on cellular connectivity, which provides only 75 percent to 80 percent uptime. Satellite services are much more reliable but also extremely expensive.

Global Data Systems supports the towing vessel industry with its NOMAD connectivity solution. NOMAD is a self-contained, portable device that provides high-performance network services in a plug-and-play solution. For tugboats and towboats, GDS implements NOMAD with a multi-carrier private network that delivers 99 percent uptime. This enables operators to fully utilize

their vessel management systems, improve communication with their personnel and better coordinate their activities.

The GDS private network provides predictable operational costs and one easy-to-understand bill for all connectivity services. NOMAD also features advanced, multilayered security to protect against cyberattack that could disrupt operations or compromise the data required for Subchapter M compliance. It is a fully managed solution with 24x7 support by the experts at GDS.

The Coast Guard mandate for improved safety is driving many tugboat and towboat operators to start maintaining electronic records. This enables them to eliminate the old paper logbooks and tickets, and better communicate and coordinate with their shoreside operations. However, cellular data services lack the reliability and security to ensure regulatory compliance and optimize the value of vessel management systems. NOMAD from GDS solves this problem by delivering highly available, secure connectivity in a fully managed, easy-to-deploy solution.