Category Archives: Rules of the Road

More Navigation Rules Series – Commercial Vessel Situations

Large commercial ship approaching a sailboatIf at all possible, stay out of areas where there is commercial vessel traffic such as shipping lanes or traffic separation zones. Large ships and barges have special problems in maneuvering and cannot and will not get out of your way.

Think about it, even with an elevated bridge, when you are looking out over a deck that may be the length of a football field there is a cone of invisibility area a certain distance in front that can not be seen. In that area you will also be invisible to the radar.

In addition a fully loaded ship, even going at a relatively low-speed, may take miles to come to a complete stop.

Just remember it is not a good idea to “tangle with a tanker.”

If you must operate around commercial vessels, take heed of the following:

  • Avoid ship channels. If you must cross, do so at right angles and as quickly as possible.
  • Be alert. Watch for traffic.
  • Be seen, especially at night.
  • Know the sound signals, especially the danger or doubt signal.
  • Keep your VHF radio tuned to channel 16 and listen carefully.
  • Order all aboard to wear PFDs.
  • Be familiar with the area and have current navigation charts.
  • Don’t be a non-survivor of a collision with a large ship.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Meeting Situations

In the following situations, the give-way vessel must take action to keep well clear. The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, you should take action to avoid collision.

Meeting Head-On

When two power driven vessels are approaching head-on or nearly so, either vessel shall indicate its intent which the other vessel shall answer promptly. In a meeting situation, neither vessel is the stand-on vessel.

It is generally accepted that you should alter course to starboard and pass port-to-port. The accompanying sound signal is one short blast. If you cannot pass port-to-port due to an obstruction or other vessels, you should sound two short blasts to indicate your intention to pass starboard-to-starboard. Make sure the other vessel understands your intent before proceeding. The other vessel should return your two-short-blast signal.

Passing Port to Port

Meeting head on.

Passing Starboard to Starboard

Passing starboard to starboard

Meeting head to Head

Meeting head to head.

*Response not sounded on International Waters

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More Navigation Rules Series – Overtaking Situations

When two vessels are moving in the same direction, and the astern vessel wishes to pass, it must initiate the signal to pass as shown in the diagram. The vessel passing is the give-way vessel and should keep out of the way of the vessel being passed. The vessel being passed is the stand-on vessel and must maintain its course and speed. If the stand-on vessel realizes that the course intended by the give-way vessel is not safe, it should sound the danger or doubt signal.

A vessel is deemed to be overtaking when the vessel is approaching the vessel ahead in a direction of 22.5 degrees abaft her beam. At night you would only be able to see the stern light of the vessel being overtaken. You would not be able to see either sidelight.

Inland Rules”I intend to pass you on your port side”
2 short blasts (1 sec.)”Agreement”
2 short blasts (1 sec.)International Rules:”I intend to pass you on your port side”
2 prolonged blasts/2 short

“Agreement”
1 prolonged/1 short/1 prolonged/1 short

Overtaking Inland Rules”I intend to pass you on your starboard side”
1 short blast (1 sec.)”Agreement”
1 short blast (1 sec.)International Rules:”I intend to pass you on your starboard side”
2 prolonged blasts/1 short

“Agreement”
1 prolonged/1 short/1 prolonged/1 short

If you are the overtaking vessel, remember that you are the give-way vessel until well past, and safely clear of, the passed vessel. Do not cut in front, impede or endanger another vessel.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Crossing Situations

When two power driven boats are approaching at right angles or nearly so, and risk of collision exists, the boat on the right is the stand-on vessel and must hold its course and speed. The other boat, the give-way vessel, shall maneuver to keep clear of the stand-on vessel and shall pass it by its stern. If necessary, slow, stop or reverse until the stand-on vessel is clear.

Danger zone

In the example above, the red vessel is the give-way vessel and should alter course and speed to pass behind the blue vessel. If the skipper of the blue vessel does not observe the red vessel taking action to avoid collision, then he/she must take the required action to avoid a collision.

Sailing Craft and Vessels Propelled by Oars or Paddles

Sailing craft (not under power) and boats propelled by oars or paddles are stand-on vessels when approaching power driven boats. In this situation, the power-driven boat should alter course to pass behind the sailboat.

Sailboat in the stand on vessel

An exception to this is if the sailboat or self-propelled watercraft is passing a power driven vessel. In an overtaking situation, the overtaking vessel is the give-way vessel, even if it is not propelled by an engine.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Pecking Order

There are a series of scenarios that determine who is the stand-on and who is the give-way vessel. This is sometimes referred to as the “Pecking Order.”

There are two sets of navigation rules; inland and international. A nautical chart will show Detail of a nautical chart.you the demarcation lines where the rules change from international to inland and vice versa. In general, these demarcation lines follow the coastline and cross inlets and bays. On the seaward side of the demarcation lines, international rules apply.

We will concentrate on the inland rules, since most of your recreational boating will occur on the landward side of the demarcation lines.

The Nav Rules are written with the understanding that not all boats can maneuver with the same ease. Therefore, Rule 18 states that certain vessels must keep out of the way of other vessels due to their ability to maneuver.

A power driven vessel underway must keep out of the way of the following:

  • A sailing vessel, under sail only, and vessels propelled by oars or paddles. (Note: when a sailboat has its motor running, it is considered a power driven vessel.)
  • A vessel engaged in fishing, whose fishing equipment restricts its maneuverability. This does not include a sport fisher or party boat and generally means a commercial fishing vessel.
  • A vessel with restricted maneuverability such as a dredge or tow boat, a boat engaged in work that restricts it to a certain area, or a vessel transferring supplies to another vessel.
  • A vessel not under command – broken down.

Each of these vessels must keep out of the way of the next vessel. For example, a sailboat must keep out of the way of a vessel engaged in fishing, which in turn must keep out of the way of a vessel with restricted maneuverability. And everyone must keep out of the way of a vessel not under command.

When two power driven vessels are in sight of one another and the possibility of collision exists, one vessel is designated by the rules as the stand-on vessel and the other is designated as the give-way vessel. The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. The give-way vessel must take early and substantial action to avoid collision.

If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, the stand-on vessel must act to avoid collision.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Risk of Collision

Every means available shall be used to determine if risk of collision exists. This could be information from your lookout, radar, or other means. If there is any doubt as to the risk of collision, you should act as if it does exist and take appropriate action.

In determining if risk of collision exists, the following considerations shall be among those taken into account:

  • Risk of collision shall be deemed to exist if the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appear to change
  • Risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow, or when approaching a vessel at close range.
  • If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.
  • When maneuvering to prevent collision, do so early and make the maneuver large enough to be recognized the other vessel. Small alterations of course and/or speed should be avoided.

When two power driven vessels are in sight of one another and the possibility of collision exists, one vessel is designated by the rules as the stand-on vessel and the other is designated as the give-way vessel. The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. The give-way vessel must take early and substantial action to avoid collision.

If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, the stand-on vessel must act to avoid collision.

So, how do you know a risk of collision exists? An example: your boat and another boat are on a course with a constant bearing but a decreasing range. You are both heading to the same point at the same speed. The risk of collision exists if neither of you alter course and/or speed.

For a graphical view of constant bearing and decreasing range go to: http://boatingbasicsonline.com/content/general/6_2_b1.php

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More Navigation Rules Series – Safe Speed

Practicing the art of good seamanship is a talent that is developed over time by acquiring knowledge and skills. You must keep safety foremost in your mind when operating your boat. Do what you can to stay out of the way of other boats and always proceed at a safe speed.

The Rules of the Road provide consequences for any vessel owner, operator or crew who neglects to comply with the Rules.

It is your responsibility to act in a reasonable and prudent manner consistent with the ordinary practices of recreational boating. Safe speed means taking into consideration the current operating conditions and your own level of skill and experience.

To determine safe speed consider all of the following factors:

  • visibility: is it clear, overcast, foggy?
  • the density of boat traffic
  • the maneuverability of your vessel. Be sure to consider stopping distance and turning ability in the prevailing conditions
  • at night, does the presence of background light from shore affect your vision
  • the state of wind, sea and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards
  • your draft in relation to the available depth of water

Most specific speed regulations are local ordinances or state laws. Many states have speed and distance regulations that determine how close you can operate to other vessels, the shoreline or docking area, and swimming areas. For example, some state regulations require that you maintain a no-wake speed when within 250 feet of shore or when within 100 feet of another vessel. Be sure to check with state and local authorities to determine what regulations apply to you.

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More Navigation Rules Series – Proper Lookout

 

The rules are very specific about maintaining a proper lookout at all times. In fact the rules state Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout 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 of the risk of collision.”

Pair of binoculorsWhat this means is that we must keep eyes and ears open to observe or hear something that may endanger someone or affect their safety. You must look up for bridge clearances and power lines, down for floats, swimmers, logs and divers flags and side to side for traffic prior to turning your boat. Additionally, it is also important to look behind you to see if any traffic is going to overtake you. A proper lookout can avoid collisions.

A good rule to follow is to assign one or more people to have no other assigned responsibilities except the task of lookout. They can then rotate the lookout duty.

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Navigation Rules Series Part 2 – More Definitions – Sound Signals

Navigation rules require sound signals to be made under certain circumstances. Meeting, crossing and overtaking situations described in the Navigation Rules section are examples of when sound signals are required. Recreational boats are also required to sound signals during periods of reduced visibility.

Vessels 39.4 feet (12 meters) or more in length are required to carry a whistle or horn. Vessels less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length (including PWCs) may carry a whistle or horn or some other means to make an efficient sound signal audible for 1/2 mile.

Vessels 65.6 feet (20 meters) or more in length are required to carry a whistle or horn and a bell that are audible for 1 mile. Please note that the bell is no longer required on a boat 12 meters or more but less than 20 meters in length.

These requirements are to enable you to signal your intentions and to signal your position in periods of reduced visibility.

Every vessel is required to carry some kind of efficient sound producing device to signal their intentions as outlined below. Vessels are required to sound signals any time that they are in close quarters and risk of collision exists.

  • The term “short blast” means a blast of about one second.
  • The term “prolonged blast” means a blast of from four to six sconds.

The following signals are the only ones to be used to signal a vessel’s intentions ( inland rules only).

  • One short blast – I intend to change course to starboard.
  • Two short blasts – I intend to change course to port.
  • Three short blasts – I am operating astern propulsion (backing up).
  • Five or more short and rapid blasts – Danger or doubt signal (I don’t understand your intent).

Note: Inland rules use sound signals to indicate intent to maneuver and a response should be received. In International rules the signals are given when the maneuver is being executed.

Vessels indicate their intention to maneuver by using sound signals. If you do not agree with or understand clearly what the other vessel’s intentions are, you should sound the danger or doubt signal (5 short, rapid blasts). Each vessel should then slow or stop until signals for safe passing are sounded, understood and agreed to.

The danger or doubt signal can also be used to tell another vessel that its action is dangerous. If a boat is backing up into an obstruction you would sound the danger signal to warn the operator.

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Navigation Rules Series Part I

Why not use the remainder of the winter preparing for the 2013 boating season by refreshing your understanding of the USCG Navigation Rules? During the next few weeks we will be posting articles  to help jog your memory about what the rules are, to whom they apply  and we will attempt to explain, in non-legalize, what they mean. This first in the USCG Navigation Rules Series will focus on definitions.

The “Navigation Rules” or Collision Avoidance Regulations (COLREGS) were designed to give direction to vessels in order to set a standard that everyone could follow in order to prevent collisions of two or more vessels. They are many in number and cover almost every imaginable sequence of events that may lead to collision.

The rules are laid out to describe International Rules and Inland Rules. Although many are the same for both International and Inland, there are some differences that should be noted. You do not have to memorize them all, but be aware of the basic rules that apply in order to operate safely on the water.

You will be using terms when dealing with the rules of the road that may be unfamiliar to you. Because the rules are federal laws, the definitions of these terms are important. The following terms are found throughout the rules of the road. You should have a thorough understanding of their meaning.

Except where noted, the following definitions apply to both International and Inland Rules:

  • Vessel – Every craft of any description used or capable of being used on the water.
  • Power Driven Vessel (Motorboat) – Any vessel propelled by machinery.
  • Sailing Vessel – Any vessel under sail alone with no mechanical means of propulsion. (A sailboat propelled by machinery is a Motorboat.)
  • Vessel engaged in fishing means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls or other fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus that do not restrict maneuverability.
  • Seaplane includes any aircraft designed to maneuver on the water .
  • Underway– Not at anchor, aground or attached to a dock or the shore.
  • Vessels are in sight of one another only when one can be observed visually from the other.
  • Restricted visibility means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sand storms or any other similar causes.

The following two definitions apply to Inland Rules Only:

  • Western Rivers means the Mississippi River, its tributaries, South Pass, and Southwest Pass, to the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States, and the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route, and that part of the Atchafalaya River above its junction with the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route including the Old River and the Red River.
  • Great Lakes means the Great Lakes and their connecting and tributary waters, including the Calumet River as far as the Thomas J. O’Brien Lock and Controlling Works (between mile 326 and 327), the Chicago River as far as the east side of the Ashland Avenue Bridge (between mile 321 and 322), and the Saint Lawrence River as far east as the lower exit of Saint Lambert Lock

Additional definitions included in the Rules of the Road:

  • Danger Zone – An arc of 112.5 degrees measured from dead ahead to just aft of the starboard beam.
  • Stand-On Vessel – The vessel that should maintain course and speed.
  • Give-Way Vessel – The vessel that must take early and substantial action to keep clear of the stand-on vessel.
  • Visible (when applied to lights) – Visible on a dark, clear night.
  • Vessel not under command means a vessel that through some exceptional circumstance is unable to maneuver as required by the Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.
  • Vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver means a vessel that, from the nature of her work, is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by the Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel .
  • Vessel constrained by draft means a power-driven vessel that, because of her draft in relation to the available depth and width of navigable water, is severely restricted in her ability to deviate from the course she is following.
  • Length and Breadth of a vessel means her length overall and greatest breadth.
  • Secretary means the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating.
  • Inland Waters means the navigable waters of the United States shoreward of the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States and the waters of the Great Lakes on the United States side of the International Boundary. Inland Rules or Rules mean the Inland Navigational Rules and the annexes thereto, which govern the conduct of vessels and specify the lights, shapes, and sound signals that apply on inland waters.
  • International Regulations means the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972, including annexes currently in force for the United States.

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