On December 28, 2009 (last year), an article was published titled Risk of Collision – How Do You Know?. This article explained Stand-On vs Give-Way vessels and showed a video of a collision between a USCG vessel and a smaller recreational vessel.
At the end of the article readers were challenged to let me know, in the comments section, who should have been the stand-on vessel and who should have been the give-way vessel. Also, what rules of the road were violated?
Well, no one answered, so I’m going to put on my accident investigator hat and put forth my two cents worth.
The beginning of the video is a shot from a helicopter of the USCG vessel. Two things stand out:
- There doesn’t seem to be a blue flashing light visible which would indicate that the USCG vessel was acting as a law enforcement or rescue vessel.
- If you look closely in the background for a millisecond, you will see the yacht that the small recreational vessel is later seen looking at. What this tells me is that the video, which later is apparently shot from the USCG vessel, is taking place in the approximate location of the collision.
From the angle of the approach of the recreational vessel and the fact that there didn’t appear to be a blue flashing light, this would indicate that the small recreational vessel was the stand-on vessel and the USCG vessel should have been the give-way vessel. As the give-way vessel the USCG vessel should have slowed down and passed by the stern of the stand-on vessel.
What rules of the road were violated?
Rule 2 – Responsibility
“Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.”
This is sometimes called the General Prudential Rule, Rule of Good Seamanship or the “gotcha rule!”
This is the “damned if you don’t” part. You are responsible for anything that happens if you don’t follow the rules. This applies to the owner, Master or crew.
This is the “damned if you do” part. If you could have avoided a collision by not obeying the rules, you’re still in trouble. You should have departed from the rules.
Both vessels violated this rule.
Rule 5 – Look-Out
“Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and the risk of collision.”
This rule was violated by the recreational vessel. It was obvious, from the video, that both the driver and the passenger were looking at the yacht and not looking around for other traffic. The USCG did spot the recreational vessel since they tried to make them turn away.
Rule 6 – Safe Speed
“Every vessel shall at all time proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.”
In my humble opinion both vessels violated this rule.
Rule 16 – Action by Give-way Vessel
“Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.”
USCG did not follow this rule.
Rule 17 – Action by Stand-on Vessel
“When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision. “
Again the recreational vessel did not abide by this rule.