USCG Drug Testing

The Drug and Alcohol Testing Program of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) is a way to maintain a drug-free and safe working environment. It ensures that marine personnel performs their duties at their best, helping all passengers and cargo in the U.S. waterways to travel safely. The USCG complies with Department of Transportation (DOT) drug and alcohol testing. The two agencies work together to help fight substance abuse in the workplace.

In this article, we will discuss important things to know about the DOT-USCG Drug and Alcohol Testing Program.

Who are subject to drug and alcohol testing?

According to USCG, all employees who are under the following duties are covered by the program:

  • Those on board a vessel working under the authority of a merchant mariner’s document or license registry.
  • Employed or engaged on board a U.S. owned vessel and the vessel is employed, engaged, or operated by someone with a license, merchant mariner’s document, or certificate of registry.

Those who fall under these categories are called crewmembers and they are all subject to drug and alcohol testing.


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When are crewmembers tested for prohibited substances?

According to DOT and USCG, crewmembers are subject to drug and alcohol testing, or more known as chemical testing, during pre-employment, random, periodic, reasonable suspicion, post serious marine incident (SMI), and return-to-duty testing.

What are the substance prohibitions of the USCG?

According to USCG, it is prohibited to use and possess illegal substances at all times; the following drugs are tested for during chemical testing:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • PCP
  • Amphetamines
  • Opiates
Regarding alcohol use, consumption of the substance 4 hours before and during duty is prohibited. In case of reasonable suspicion, a crewmember must undergo a chemical testing.

How are crewmembers tested for drugs and alcohol?

The USCG uses chemical testing when determining drug and alcohol use. It is a scientific test that analyzes blood, urine, breath, tissue, and saliva to trace illegal drugs and alcohol in the body. A urine sample is needed, following the DOT urinalysis where the sample is split into two containers using an EZ Split Key Urine Drug Test Cup. One sample for the initial testing, the “split” is for a crewmember’s right to get a second opinion in case the first sample was tested positive.

Chemical testing provides alcohol concentration from the specimen. However, all procedures are based on DOT regulations on collection and handling of specimens. Only authorized collectors are allowed to administer chemical testing.

What happens to crewmembers that violate the DOT-USCG prohibitions?

Those who are tested positive for prohibited substances are immediately removed from their duties. They have to talk to a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) before they can go back to work. The SAP will evaluate and determine if a crewmember is healthy enough to go back to work. As part of DOT’s drug and alcohol program, a crewmember caught positive can only return to duty after completion of a rehabilitation program set by the USCG.

US Coast Guard Drug Testing Regulations

  • All crew members whether full-time, part-time, seasonal, year-round or contracted must submit to the drug testing process.
  • Any crew member who has a positive result or is found to have violated that test must be removed from any job that is considered safety sensitive by the DOT.
  • There are no regulations requiring a marine employer to fire anyone who has a positive result on a drug screen. This is up to the employer but must be specifically stated in the employee handbook if they choose to take on this regulation and shouldn’t be worded in such a way that could be considered subjective or easily misinterpreted.
  • All marine employers are required to have the service of a substance abuse professional (SAP) available to their employees and should have proper contact information for that person.
  • All personnel policies relating to drug paraphernalia, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs on board the ship should be made clear in the employee handbook of the employer.
  • A signed sheet verifying that each employee has read and understands the information on drug policy must be kept on file until that person is no longer employed there.
  • The employer must determine a set location for testing to occur, the method of collection, the DHHS lab they will use for testing, times at which testing will occur (pre-employment, random, post-accident, etc.) and list the 5 drugs that will be tested for (marijuana, opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, and phencyclidine).

Regulations of the Testing Process

  • All US Coast Guard employees must submit to a pre-employment drug test and pass it before they can do any jobs that are considered safety sensitive.
  • Random drug screens are conducted on employees based on computer table based selections which are randomly done throughout the year without notice or a specific pattern.
  • 50% of the crew should be tested every year.
  • After accidents that are fatal, cause extensive property damage or cause serious harm to others the crew members involved must undergo a drug test within at most 24 hours of the incident.
  • Periodic drug testing must also be done for Regional Examination Centers that regulate licenses and the documents of merchant mariners.
  • All drug testing results and records must be kept (including the failed pre-employment tests of any potential employee for 1 year) so that they can be reviewed by the Coast Guard as they wish. All records must be kept for a minimum of five years.
  • All employers must have and display information about substance abuse and methods of treatment on board. Their personal policy and any hotlines that could be of assistance need to be included as well.