By: Capt. Alan E. Spears
In order to protect the boating public, and passengers in particular, Congress has mandated that licensed mariners be subject to drug testing. Consequently, maritime employers are required to establish and implement random testing programs. This means that every licensed seaman must randomly test drug-free or face losing his/her license.
The Code of Federal Regulations says: "An individual may not be engaged or employed, including self-employment, on a vessel in a position as master, operator, or person in charge for which a license or merchant mariner’s document is required by law or regulation unless all crew members covered by this section are subject to the random testing requirements of this section."
(46 CFR 16.230(f).)
Masters, Mates, Able Seamen, and Engineers are crew members for drug testing purposes.
There is no single preferred method by which random testing is accomplished.
Employers are free to ". . . use sponsoring organizations, or may use contractors, to conduct the random chemical testing programs required by this part." (46 CFR 16.230(d).) equally subject to selection." (46 CFR 16.230(c).)
Many companies have random drug-testing programs which choose employees at random by computer, requiring them to provide urine specimens on one day’s notice.
Are you relieved to know that the Coast Guard presumes that a positive test makes one a user? They’re just following the law which provides that: "If an individual fails a chemical test for dangerous drugs under this part, the individual will be presumed to be a user of dangerous drugs." (46 CFR 16.201(b).) This is a legal presumption which may be used against the mariner in a license suspension/revocation hearing.
A positive drug test generally sets in motion a Coast Guard license suspension/revocation hearing pursuant to 46 CFR Part 5, which is similar in many respects to a military court martial. The law is quite simple:
Positive drug tests are reported to the Coast Guard. "If an individual holding a license, certificate of registry, or merchant mariner’s document fails a chemical test for dangerous drugs, the individual’s employer or prospective employer shall report the test results in writing to the nearest Coast Guard Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection (OCMI). The individual shall be denied employment as a crew member or removed from duties which directly affect the safe operation of the vessel as soon as practicable and shall be subject to suspension and revocation proceedings against his or her license, certificate of registry, or merchant mariner’s document under 46 CFR part 5." (46 CFR 16.201(c).)
Maritime employers are required to maintain the test records and the Coast Guard is privileged to inspect them.
"Employers shall maintain records of chemical tests which the Medical Review Officer reports as positive for a period of at least 5 years and shall make these records available to Coast Guard officials upon request. . . ." (46 CFR 16.260(a).)
What all this means in practical terms is, that unlicensed personnel testing positive may encounter difficulty getting licensed; licensed personnel may not only lose their license in a suspension/revocation proceeding, but may encounter difficulty in obtaining upgrades and endorsements.
Fear not, sailors! There’s a new product on the market called the Rapid Drug Screen Kit®. It is manufactured by Rapid Drug Testing Services, Inc. 2125 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 370, Miami, FL 33137, (305) 576-6800, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The kit is an FDA-approved urine test kit that will screen for Marijuana, Cocaine, Opiates, PCPs and AMPs with immediate results. FDA regulations preclude its sale to individuals.
Anyone required to submit to a random drug test may be well-advised to carry a Rapid Drug Screen Kit® and self-test in the immediate presence [observation] of a responsible adult— preferably the ship’s Master. The date, time, place, and result should be entered in the Log. If at all possible, the observer should take a snapshot of the test result. Assuming the test yields negative results, the observer could be called as a witness to refute a contrary finding by the lab to which the random test specimen was sent. Self-testing may not prevent screw-ups at testing labs, stop company Medical Review Officers (MROs) from sending positive lab test results to the Coast Guard, or employers from firing seamen for testing positive, but at least it gives you something to work with in a Coast Guard suspension/revocation hearing.
Unfortunately, thanks to the FDA, the Rapid Drug Screen Kit is not available to parents who suspect their kids of drug usage.
About the author: Capt. Spears is a regular columnist for Dockside Magazine. His articles have also appeared over the past couple of years in Pacific Maritime Magazine, Sea Magazine, and The Log Newspaper. He is also the author of several books, including "Drug Testing", (ISBN 0-939837-04-8) published by Paradise Cay Publications.