As a former full time liveaboard and current seasonal liveaboard I am on the water quite a bit and see a wide range of boating skill and etiquette from my fellow boaters. Often I wonder if a certain boat operator has even taken a look at the ColRegs AKA the rules of the road for boaters. If you haven’t yet I suggest visiting the coast guard website and downloading their free copy of the amalgamation of the International (72 COLREGS) and Inland Navigation Rules. I will touch on the major parts of the rules here but won’t get as in depth as the official source.
First rule is avoid a collision. It is the position of the Coast Guard and the Admiralty Court that there are no accidents. If a collision occurs the navigation rules were not followed. Plain and simple.
Second, a constant watch and lookout is required anytime a vessel is underway. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve witnessed both power and sail boats operated in tight navigational areas by people who were not keeping a lookout. I have had a large cabin cruiser almost hit me and several others being operated by autopilot while the “captain” was sitting on the aft deck having a drink with his guests. This is illegal and a good way to hurt or kill other people.
Stand on Vessel and Give way vessel which are you?
The “Stand on Vessel” (the one that has the Right of Way) is required to hold course until such time that it is determined the “Give Way Vessel” (the one that is yielding the right of way) is not going to Give Way. The Stand on Vessel is then required to avoid a collision. All maneuvers must be made early and obvious to avoid any chance of misinterpretation.
The “Give Way” vessel is the vessel that must yield (the term used on roads when you drive a car) to the other. “Stand On” is the vessel that has the right of way.
A Stand on Vessel MAY give up it’s rights. However any maneuvers must be made early and obvious BEFORE it becomes Stand on to show the vessel that would be the Give Way Vessel that it is not required to make an avoiding maneuver.
“Obvious” It’s an important word. Let’s say you are the give way vessel approaching the stand on vessel. You make a slight course adjustment to pass the stand on vessel but that adjustment is so slight the stand on vessel is confused as to what your intentions are. I try to make it clear both visually and on the radio or horn what my intentions are when meeting or passing a vessel. This possibly means a safe yet exaggerated turn to the proper side.
The following is from the Maritime.College website and is linked here
Rules to remember when two vessels meet
- When two power vessels are approaching head on,both vessels should alter course to starboard to pass port-side to port-side.
- When two power-driven vessels are in crossing situation on a collision course, give way to the vessel to starboard (right).The give way vessel must take early and obvious action to avoid a collision by either stopping or altering course to starboard.
- If the give way vessel has another power-driven vessel from the Port (left) which does not take obvious action to give way, or alter course to starboard, then the Skipper of give-way (stand on) vessel must take evasive action by either stopping, or again, altering course to starboard.
- Every vessel (power or sail) that is overtaking must keep well clear of the over taking vessel. You are overtaking if you are approaching another vessel anywhere in a 135 degree sector at its stern.
Channels and harbours
- All vessels must keep to the starboard (right) side of any channel.
- Inside a harbour (normally shown on the pilotage limit on the chart) you must keep out of the way of any ship over 500 tons. (which is about 50 metres in length)
- Do not create a wake which causes unnecessary danger to other vessels or people.
- You must not anchor in a channel.
- All small craft must keep out of the way of larger vessels which are restricted by their draft to maintain passage and steering within the channel.
When power meets power
- You must give way to another vessel on your starboard. (right)
- If you meet head on, both vessels must turn to starboard. (right)
When power meets sail
- Power gives way to sail unless the sailing vessel is overtaking.
- Sailing vessels should avoid sailing in a narrow channel. They have to give way to power-driven vessels restricted in their ability to manouvre in the channel.
When sail meets sail
- The vessel which has the wind on its starboard (right) side has the right of way. The vessel which has the wind on its port (left) side must give way.
- When both boats have the wind on the same side the windward (upwind) boat has to give way.
When things go wrong
- If the give way vessel does not appear to be giving way, the stand on vessel must take evasive action and should turn to starboard (right). Do not alter course to port, it could place you into the path of the give way vessel.
Five or more blasts of a horn indicate immediate danger. If five or more blasts are heard you should immediately determine the source of the danger and take immediate evasive action if required.
The above are a few of the common ways you’ll meet and navigate around other vessels for a more indepth look read the ColRegs or purchase a book on seamanship. I also recommend the US Power Squadron Books and Courses to every boater. They cover everything from beginning to advanced topics.
There is so much more to boating safely I may make a few more posts in the future discussing topics like navigation and aids to navigation. This post touches on the rules of the road and is meant as a companion to truly learning the rules, taking a certified boaters course and other self study. It is in no way complete or intended as the sole source of information.