Suspension & Revocation (S&R) Hearing Procedures

This document is an effort to provide a general overview of the procedures used by Administrative Law Judges in suspension and revocation hearings. This information is intended solely for general purposes and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of an attorney.

  1. Suspension and Revocation (S&R) hearings are administrative proceedings before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concerning a Merchant Mariner's Credential, License(s) or Document(s) and the right to hold those documents and serve under them. These proceedings ONLY affect a Merchant Mariner’s Credential, License(s) or Document(s) - there is absolutely no criminal aspect to these proceedings, nor are jail sentences or criminal fines imposed.
  2. Because these proceedings are administrative, the Government (Coast Guard) does not provide an attorney or representation for Mariners. Mariners do, however, have several options in regard to representation at a hearing. A mariner may obtain an attorney at his or her own expense, seek to obtain a attorney through local clinics/services, choose to have some other non-attorney assist, or choose to represent his or herself.
  3. S&R cases begin when a Coast Guard Investigating Officer (IO) files a complaint with the ALJ Docketing Center. This complaint lists the violation(s) allegedly committed by the mariner (also known at this point as the respondent), the IO’s findings of fact, and the IO’s proposed sanction.
  4. After receiving a complaint, the mariner must submit an answer to the complaint with the ALJ Docketing Center within twenty (20) days. The answer must state whether the mariner agrees or disagrees with the facts, allegations, and proposed sanctions asserted in the complaint.
  5. Once a complaint is filed and docketed, an ALJ is assigned to the S&R case.
  6. The ALJ is an independent judicial officer who reviews all filings, schedules and conducts hearings as required, and issues decisions and/or orders regarding the charges in the complaint.
  7. In S&R proceedings, the burden of proof is on the IO to establish the allegations in the complaint by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, the IO must establish that the allegations are more likely than not to have occurred. Once a hearing has concluded, the ALJ has the authority to enter an appropriate finding and issue an order after carefully reviewing the evidence that has been presented by both parties.
  8. The complaint served on the mariner does not in and of itself constitute proof of anything. The complaint is merely a statement of the IO’s position. The IO must prove the allegations in the complaint to prevail.
  9. Before a hearing, the IO and the mariner are required to exchange witness and exhibit lists to provide notice of what evidence the other intends to present at the hearing.
  10. At the hearing, the ALJ addresses any questions on whether evidence should or should not be admitted for consideration. The rules governing the procedures to be followed by the parties are contained in Title 33 CFR Part 20 and 46 CFR Part 5.
  11. The IOs present their evidence first because they bear the burden of proof. After the IO presents the Coast Guard’s case, the mariner may make motions or arguments as to whether or not the IO has proven his or her case. 
  12. The mariner then has the opportunity to also present evidence. Once the mariner presents evidence (if any), the IO may rebut in response to any new matters raised by the mariner’s evidence.
  13. After all of the evidence is presented, the ALJ may allow the parties to make closing arguments summarizing their views of the case. Arguments are not evidence.
  14. At the end of the hearing, the ALJ will ask the parties whether they want to present written briefs, including proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. If either of the parties wants to submit these matters in writing, the ALJ will provide a schedule for making the written submission.
  15. If both parties waive submitting written briefs and request a decision from the bench, the ALJ may make an oral decision on the record at the close of the hearing followed by a short written decision summarizing the decision stated on the record.
  16. Should the IO fail to meet the burden of proof, the ALJ will dismiss the complaint. A dismissal means that the mariner would leave the proceedings with his or her credential, license(s) and/or document(s). 
  17. Once a decision is issued by the ALJ, the parties are given notice and information that explains how to appeal the decision if they disagree with it. There is a time limit of 30 days or less to appeal. 
  18. More detailed information and specific requirements for S&R proceedings are contained in the federal regulations. The regulations for S&R hearings in 33 CFR Part 20 and 46 CFR Part 5 may be viewed from a Government website (
  19. Additional information may also be found in the frequently asked questions (FAQs) which are also provided on this web site.