Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Rules of the Road
I was astonished to read recently in a sailing magazine that sailboats in particular and regattas in general have the right of way on the water over any other vessel. To give the writer credit, at least he knew that there are "rules of the road," even if he didn't really understand what they are. Some motorboat and personal watercraft operators seems to thinks it's a free-for-all out there. It's not, or at least it's not supposed to be.
Rules of the road have several levels, starting with the COLREGS (Collision Regulations) that were agreed to by international treaty. Many nations, including the United States, have their own variations on these in domestic waters. The US, in fact, has slightly different sets of rules for the Great Lakes, the "western rivers" (Mississippi, Missouri, and their tributaries), and "inland" waters in general.
I could blog several times a week on the Rules of the Road alone, but some general principles do apply. In terms of right of way, a less maneuverable vessel generally has the right of way over a more maneuverable one and a slower vessel over a faster one. Every vessel is required to keep a proper lookout and every vessel is obligated to take action to avoid a collision if possible.
That sailboater does indeed have the right of way in a lot of situations, but not every time. If he's using his engine, in a narrow channel or designated traffic lane, or encountering a vessel that can't maneuver due to it's work (dredging or recovering divers, for instance), he may have to give way. And that regatta? Unless the Coast Guard or local law enforcement declares the area off limits, it's nothing but a bunch of folks out sailing.
Any vessel more than 12 meters in length is required to have a copy of the rules onboard. The current edition is Navigation Rules (International-Inland), COMDTINST M16672.2D,
To find the complete Rules online, try Handbook of the Nautical Rules of the Road (Third On-line Edition) by Chris Llana and George Wisneskey at http://navruleshandbook.com/index.html
Filed from M/Y Safari Explorer at Baranof, Warm Spring Bay, Southeast Alaska.
Posted by Rob Earle at 8:00 AM