Vessel Contingency Plan Program

The California Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) has developed a comprehensive vessel contingency plan program to prevent and manage oil spills in California waters. The program requires vessels operating in California waters to have a contingency plan in place that outlines the necessary steps to be taken in the event of an oil spill.

The program requires vessels to submit their plans to the Response Certification and Planning Unit for review and approval before they enter California waters. The Response Certification and Planning Unit conducts thorough reviews to ensure that each plan meets the program's standards and is in compliance with California Code of Regulations, Title 14.

Overall, the program plays a vital role in preventing and responding to oil spills in California waters by ensuring that vessels have well-developed contingency plans in place and that these plans are continuously updated and maintained.

A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document is available for viewing and downloading. The FAQ document has been carefully curated to address common inquiries and provide helpful information on vessel contingency plan program.

Response Certification and Planning Unit

The Response Certification and Planning Unit (RCPU) is responsible for conducting thorough review and granting approvals for more than 1500 vessel contingency plans that operate within the state waters of California. These plans are mandated to have a Qualified Individual (QI) with in-depth knowledge of the plan, a certified Spill Management Team (SMT) capable of seamlessly integrating into the Incident Command System (ICS) structure, a contracted rated Oil Spill Response Organizations (OSROs), a contract for salvage and marine firefighting, as well as comprehensive insurance coverage, California Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) in the event of an oil spill.

Vessel Contingency Plan Submittal

RCPU has established an email account to better streamline communication and document submittal.

All California vessel oil spill contingency new plans, renewals, revision updates, general inquiries or questions should be addressed to

RCPU have established a Large File Transfer (FTP) server for all vessel contingency plan related documents. All plan preparers or plan holders require a password protected individual account to upload their documents.

Please email initial account setup request to

Team Contact

Vessel Contingency Plan Regulatory Requirements

The California vessel contingency plan regulatory requirements are established in California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Division 1, Chapter 3, subchapter 3, Sections 815.01 – 818.03 for tank vessels and subchapter 4, Sections 825.01 – 827.02 for non-tank vessels. Tank vessels carrying oil as cargo and nontank vessels over 300 gross tonnages are required to have a valid State of California Contingency Plan on file. All tank and nontank vessels shall submit a plan, or an amendment or an update to a plan, which is received by RCPU at least five working days or seven calendar days prior to entering California marine waters.

Gross Tonnage

US-flagged vessels on domestic voyages will only have Regulatory tonnage (GRT). Vessels traveling internationally will have Convention tonnage (ITC). But could also have Regulatory tonnage, referred to as dual tonnage.

  • If a vessel came from outside US waters, OSPR uses Convention tonnage (ITC).
  • If vessel has dual tonnage…
    • If a vessel came from outside US waters, OSPR uses Convention tonnage (ITC).
    • If vessel only operates US (or CA) waters, OSPR uses Regulatory tonnage (GRT).

California Code of Regulations

The California oil spill regulations were established to protect the state's environment and natural resources from the harmful effects of oil spills. Oil spills can have devastating effects on the environment, including damage to marine life, ecosystems, and recreational areas, as well as economic impacts on the fishing and tourism industries. To mitigate these risks, the California oil spill regulations were established to set standards for the prevention, response, and cleanup of oil spills. By requiring oil transporters and facility operators to take preventative measures and adhere to strict reporting and cleanup protocols, the regulations aim to minimize the environmental and economic impacts of oil spills in California. RCPU reviews and approves all vessel contingency plans by applying the following regulations:

To learn more about the California Code of Regulations. Please visit the OSPR Regulations web page.

Certificate of Financial Responsibility

OSPR issues Certificates of Financial Responsibility (COFR) to vessels and facilities after they have provided an application and proof that they have the financial resources to cover the costs of response for their “reasonable worst-case spill” volume as defined by regulation.

To learn more about the requirements and application process, please visit OSPR’s Financial Responsibility web page.

Oil Spill Response Organizations

Oil Spill Response Organization (OSRO) is a specialized company or organization that provides oil spill response services, including containment, cleanup, and mitigation of oil spills. OSROs are typically contracted by companies that operate in the oil and gas industry and other entities that are required to a California Contingency Plan. OSROs must be prepared to respond to spills of various sizes and types on a specific timeline, and they must have the necessary equipment, personnel, and training to do so safely and effectively. All California vessel contingency plans are required to have an OSRO.

To learn more about the program, please visit OSPR’s Oil Spill Response Organizations web page.

Spill Management Teams

Spill management teams (SMT) provide personnel who fill incident command system (ICS) positions in an organization managing a spill response. Under the National Incident Management System (NIMS), oil spill responses are managed by a unified command with representation from federal, state, and local trustee agencies, as well as from the responsible party.

All plans are required to have an OSPR certified SMT on file. OSPR’s current list of SMT coverage and contact information.

To learn more about the program, please visit OSPR’s Spill Management Teams Web page.

Drills and Exercises

Each contingency plan must describe the vessel's drill and exercise program that meets the requirements of Section 820.1 of subchapter 3.6, to ensure that the elements of the plan will function in the case of an emergency.

To learn about the requirements, please visit OSPR’s Drills and Exercises web page.


While contingency plan holders have the option to submit their plans themselves, they may also choose to use a consultant to assist with the process. OSPR is responsible for overseeing these plans and does not require the use of a consultant. However, it can be helpful for plan holders who may not have the expertise or resources to create a comprehensive plan.

A consultant can provide guidance on regulatory requirements, risk assessment, response strategies, and training, ensuring that the plan meets all necessary criteria and is ready for implementation in the event of an oil spill. Plan holders can retain industry consultants to assist with generating a vessel plan. Please note OSPR does not recommend or endorse any specific consultants.

The following is a list of current consultants who submit plans on behalf of plan holders. However, plan holders are not limited to this list.

CDFW Public Record Act Requests

Oil Spill Contingency Plans submitted to OSPR for approval are available for review. A Public Records Act request can be submitted for review of a plan. Copies of the plans will be provided in accordance with the Public Records Act. A list of currently available plans for public review are listed in the link below.

To submit a Public Records Act, please visit CDFW Guidelines for Public Records Act Requests web page.

Questions about Public Request Act request for vessel contingency plans should be emailed to

Office of Spill Prevention and Response
Mailing: P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090
(916) 375-8580 for OSPR Information

Report Oil Spills
(800) 852-7550 or (800) OILS-911

Email OSPR | Office Locations

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