Washington, DC — Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA), and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) applauded the inclusion of the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act in the final version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The provision requires new safety measures for small passenger vessels in the aftermath of the deadly Conception boat fire in waters off California’s Santa Cruz Island last year.

“The tragedy that occurred off the shores of our community had a profound impact on so many of us, but realigned our commitment to ensuring that adequate safety procedures are implemented to improve passenger and crew safety,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “We cannot allow a preventable tragedy like the Conception boat fire to happen again. The enactment of these safety standards is but a small way to do just that — and honor the 34 individuals lost that day.” 

“My thoughts continue to be with those who lost a loved one in the Conception boat fire. It was a preventable tragedy and, as legislators, we knew we needed to act right away to prevent future loss of life. I was honored to be selected as a conferee for the final NDAA, where I was able to fight for the inclusion of long overdue safety reforms to small passenger vessels like the Conception,” said Congressman Salud Carbajal. “Nothing can ever make up for the loss we experienced that day, but I’m proud to honor the memory of the 34 lives lost by working to make sure a similar tragedy never happens again. I look forward to seeing this crucial bill signed into law.”

“The Conception boat fire should never have resulted in such a devastating tragedy. It could have been prevented with just a few simple safety measures in place,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein. “I’m proud to have worked with Representatives Carbajal and Brownley to update marine safety regulations and help ensure that future passengers on small marine vessels will be protected from such a terrible accident.”

What the bill does:

  • Requires boats like the Conception to have no less than two means of escape to different parts of the vessel.
  • Mandates safety standards for the handling and storage of phones, cameras and other electronic devices with lithium ion batteries.
  • Establishes stricter standards for interconnected fire alarm systems.
  • Requires monitoring devices to ensure the wakefulness of the required night watch.


The Conception boat fire killed 34 passengers in the early morning hours on September 2, 2019, in waters off Santa Cruz Island near Santa Barbara, California.

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report found that smoke alarms on the vessel only sounded locally and were not interconnected throughout the vessel, so the crew above decks weren’t alerted.

Following the Conception fire, the Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin urging that operators limit the unsupervised charging of lithium ion batteries and the use of extension cords to reduce potential fire hazards.

Many of the passengers are believed to have died from smoke inhalation in the bunkroom because flames were blocking an emergency exit.


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