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Rights Of Way At Sea Explained

Nov 25, 2007
All of us on land have had the experience upon walking down the street of meeting another pedestrian, turning to the right and having him turn to his left, then turning to the left and having him turn to his right and finally bumping him. To the pedestrian on the sidewalk, such action and such a collision is comical but between two boats on the water, it is serious, yet boats often behave like human beings and do that very thing.

To prevent such things as collisions, very carefully considered rules have been laid down so that the duty of the skipper in charge of any boat under any meeting, overtaking or crossing situation is pretty definitely prescribed.

Duty of Man at Wheel

It should be remembered as the first principle to learn, that the man at the wheel while he is on watch has but one duty in life - the safe guidance of his ship. Everything else should be absolutely out of his mind until his boat is brought to her destination or the command is turned over to another person.

A Captain or person in charge is the absolute authority over the guidance of his ship as well as being responsible not only for her safety but for the safety of all on board. Under ordinary conditions the judgment, instructions and commands of the Captain must be complied with and may not be questioned.

Safety First

The Golden Rule for small boat handling is Safety First and Keep to the Right. Indecision of action or those actions having an obscure motive may mislead the other vessel and confusion may result. Time should never be considered wasted if safety is at stake. When there are alternate methods of avoiding danger, the safer of the two should be selected.

Rules of Road Applicable To All Types of Vessels

The rules of the road are applicable to all types of vessels when under way. Therefore, they apply with equal force whether a boat has headway or sternway. They apply to craft which are adrift or not under control. They apply to boats driven by steam, motor or sail power, ferry boats, pilot boats, tugs and tows, sailing vessels and, to some extent, to a vessel propelled by hand power and the current.

When Is A Vessel Underway?

A boat is considered underway when she is not at anchor, aground or made fast to the shore. Under all other conditions except these three, a boat is considered underway and the Rules of the Road are applicable.

Where Inland And International Rules Prevail

The Inland Rules are those applicable to the navigation of all vessels on all harbors, rivers and inland waters of the United States tributary to the sea, including coastal waters inshore of the lines established by Congress as dividing the inland waters from the high seas. Upon the high seas, that is, waters outside of these established boundary lines laid down, the International Rules apply.

The inland rules also apply (generally speaking) at all buoyed entrances from seaward to bays, sounds, rivers etc. for which specific lines are not prescribed by the Pilot Rules, inshore of a line drawn approximately parallel with the general trend of the shore, drawn through the outermost buoy or other aid to navigation of any system of aids. The Pilot Rules list in detail the lines of demarcation which have been established between the inland waters and high seas.

Fundamental Objects of Rules

The fundamental objects of the Rules of the Road whether they be the International, Inland or Pilot Rules are to prevent collisions at sea or on the water. Therefore, it may be assumed that the Rules of the Road are applicable only when danger of collision exists. Danger of collision may be deemed to exist also when there is uncertainty or doubt from any cause.

It is imperative for the boat owner to become familiar with these rules.
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