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Inspecting ships for substantial risks

We work hard every day to achieve our legislative goal of “zero spills.” Our vessel inspectors are professional mariners with extensive experience in ship operations and regulatory requirements. They board vessels to identify issues and share best practices to enhance oil spill prevention and improve maritime safety. Their work ensures that vessels in Washington waters are operating safely.

Vessel inspections reduce the risk of spills to state waters

We conduct inspections according to our substantial risk rule for cargo and passenger vessels. These are the regulations that implement our substantial risk inspection program. We believe our vessel boarding program:

  • Protects the state's resources.
  • Provides for safe marine transportation in state waters.
  • Determines whether ships operating in state waters pose a substantial risk of harm to the environment or the public.
Vessels we inspect

We board cargo vessels greater than 300 gross tons. Our priority is to board the vessels that we have ranked as higher risk. We assign vessels with a risk score based on their age, inspection history, past incidents, and spill history. This risk score combined with other factors, such as whether we’ve inspected them before, helps determine if we will board a vessel.

Currently we don’t inspect tank vessels for substantial risk. However, tank vessels are invited to join Washington state’s voluntary Exceptional Compliance Program.

Any vessel which spills oil into state waters will be inspected to determine the cause of the spill and how much was spilled.

Inspection standards

What to expect when we inspect your ship

These checklists can help vessel operators prepare for inspection.

Checklist Description
Cargo and Passenger Vessel Boarding Checklist This form is used by our inspectors to conduct an inspection of a cargo or passenger vessel.
Cargo and Passenger Vessel Boarding Checklist – Short Form This form is used by our inspectors to conduct a shorter inspection of a cargo or passenger vessel.
Preliminary Boarding Report A summary of our inspector’s findings and concerns. Our inspector will leave you a copy of this when the inspection is complete.
Fishing Vessel Boarding Checklist This form is used by our inspectors to conduct an inspection of a fishing vessel.

Our vessel inspectors are professional mariners who have many years of experience. We always try to time boardings to accommodate the vessel and crew’s schedule. If our inspection interferes with the vessel’s schedule or the crew’s work hour/ rest hour schedule, our inspector will postpone the inspection and provide educational oil spill prevention information.

During a substantial risk inspection, we are able to engage meaningfully with vessel crews to discuss the operating company’s safety management system as it relates to marine safety and pollution prevention. Comparing a company’s policies and procedures with our Accepted Industry Standards, inspectors and vessel crew members can identify opportunities to increase marine safety and prevent oil spills.

By supplying vessels with educational materials and training aids, we help improve vessel crew’s knowledge of spill prevention. Additionally, we send vessel operating companies a copy of the inspection checklist, educational materials, and any recommendations the inspector has for enhancing vessel safety and decreasing the risk of an oil spill in Washington waters. When companies implement these recommendations, marine safety is enhanced across the entire fleet.