THE RULES OF THE ROAD OR COLREGs (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) that govern the interactions between vessels are designed to give mariners a set of guidelines that dictate the safe operation of their vessels, and to
predict the expected behavior of others around them. One of the guiding principles is that
the vessel that is most restricted in its ability to maneuver has the privilege of sticking to
its course, often referred to as the stand-on vessel.
One corollary of this rule often taught to recreational boaters, “Sailboats under sail have
the right of way,” is more complicated than it seems, because as soon as merchant ships get
in the mix, the rules are less absolute. Sometimes referred to as the “Rule of Tonnage,” a
vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver by its draft (meaning channel-bound) has the right
of way over smaller, more maneuverable boats, even small sailboats, such as in the case
Captain Oatway describes. Captains of all vessels have the duty to avoid collisions. Not steering your vessel out of harm’s way puts you squarely at fault. For tips on avoiding big ships,
see this article online, www.BoatUS.com/Magazine. To brush up on the rules of the road, take
the free online boating safety course created by the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety,
www.BoatUS.org — MICHAEL VATALARO
Guard rules and guidelines. Because of
recent upgraded regulations, tugs are now
as well-equipped as larger ships, and the
captains are held to an even higher stan-
dard than in the past. But all the rules in
the book and a captain with the highest
professional standards can’t stop a barge or
ship once it’s too late.
her chicks. I have a lot of respect for these
instructors, their skill, and the responsibility they carry. I’m confident right of way is
taught by instructors in these classes. But I
wonder if we impart enough common sense
when we teach the rules of the road.
Tugboat captains are professional mariners and held to the strictest U.S. Coast
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I’d like to offer my professional advice to
all boat operators and to schools teaching
Capt. Oatway operates the tug Hope in New England.
boat operation to young and old alike, in
hopes that a tragedy may be avoided: Please
teach waterway rules with common sense
applied; never assume the other vessel sees
you, knows the same rules, or cares; turn
“early and obvious” so everyone is clear
about your intent; and have fun with this
wonderful sport, as it’s one you can enjoy
for the rest of your life.
PHOTO: DOUGLAS BERNON