course and speed.” (Rule 17 – Action by
Stand-On Vessel.) This brings up one of
the most important principles underpinning the Rules: that it’s more important
to avoid an accident than it is to follow
the Rules. The implication is that no one
has the “right” to keep course and speed if
doing so will lead to a collision. Rule 17
allows the stand-on vessel to “take action
to avoid collision by her maneuver alone”
as soon as she recognizes that the other
boat isn’t following the Rules, and Rule 2
makes every boater responsible for taking
any precaution which may be required by
the ordinary practice of seamen or by the
special circumstances of the case. (Rule
2 – Responsibility and Rule 17 – Action
by Stand-On Vessel.) Let’s look at those
three scenarios and see what the Rules say
about how to avoid collisions.
This one’s simple: “Any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of way of
the vessel being overtaken.” See Figure
1. So far, so good. But when, exactly, is a
vessel overtaking? The Rules are explicit:
when she’s coming up on another from
a direction more than 22. 5 degrees abaft
her beam. OK, but what if you’re not sure
about the angle? Again, the Rules answer
that one: Assume that you are overtaking.
(Rule 13 – Overtaking.)
“When two power-driven vessels are
meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal
courses so as to involve risk of collision,
each shall alter course to starboard so that
each shall pass on
the port side of the
other.” See Figure 2.
But what if you’re
not sure whether
your courses are
the Rules are ready
for that one: Assume
that they are, and
(Rule 14 – Head-On Situation).
These situations are by and large han-
dled identically whether under Inland or
International Rules (see tip to learn which
rules apply to you). But Inland Rule 14
adds a wrinkle for the Great Lakes and
certain other inland waters: “A power-
driven vessel . . . proceeding downbound
with a following current shall have the
right-of-way over an upbound vessel.”
Notice that phrase “right-of-way”? This is
one of its rare appearances – and it’s in the
Inland version only, not the International.
“When two power-driven vessels are
crossing, so as to involve risk of collision,
the vessel which has the other on her own
starboard side shall keep out of the way
and shall, if the circumstances of the case
admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other
vessel.” See Figure 3.
And that’s it. The idea is that if a boat
poses a collision risk, it can only be coming from one of three directions: ahead
of you, from the side, or from behind.
Of course, we’ve only spoken here about
powerboats that can see each other in daylight. Sailboats under power, even if they
have sails raised, and personal watercraft
follow the same rules as power-driven
vessels. Other Rules describe the different
responsibilities of sailboats, fishing boats,
tugboats, and others, as well as boats operating at nighttime or in fog (see sidebar).
What about canoes and kayaks? The
Navigation Rules treat them as vessels,
but they aren’t explicitly included in the
hierarchy of stand-on and give-way vessels, nor are they named in the Rules that
recommend actions to avoid collision. The
U.S. Coast Guard website replies to the
question this way: “Ultimately, the issue
of who gives way would fall to what would
be ‘required by the ordinary practice of
seamen or by the special circumstances
of the case’ (Rule 2 – Responsibility).”
Common sense says that canoes and kayaks should paddle outside marked navigation channels, cross any channels quickly
and at right angles, and keep to the sides
of navigable creeks or rivers when other
boats are using the deeper channel.
Reading and understanding all 38 of
the Navigation Rules should help you
avoid any waterborne pileups and other
problems. But on a recreational powerboat, with these three simple Rules firmly
planted in your mind, you can focus better
on what’s really important: the indelible
fun of being out on the water.
Tim Murphy is the former executive editor
of Cruising World magazine.
76 | BoatU.S. Magazine DECEMBER 2015
Responsibility Between Vessels
On the water, you’ll encounter many different types of boats and ships. When different types of vessels pose a risk of collision, the Rules establish a hierarchy of privilege, laid down in Rule 18. These are shown below in order
of priority, based on ability to maneuver.
Except where Rules 9, 10, and 13 otherwise require, a power-driven vessel
underway shall keep out of the way of another vessel, in the following order:
■ Vessel Not Under Command: The emphasis here is on unusual circumstances:
mechanical failure, or injury to the operator.
■ Vessel Restricted In Its Ability To Maneuver: The emphasis here is on vessels that
are hard to maneuver either by design or by the nature of their work. Buoy tenders
and dredgers are good examples.
■ Vessels Constrained By Draft: In the International Rules (not Inland), this applies to
boats that can’t leave a channel or course because they would run aground if they did.
■ Vessels Engaged In Fishing: This applies to commercial boats with trawls, nets, or
lines that restrict maneuverability. It does not apply to someone trolling.
■ Sailing Vessel: This applies to sailboats under sail, with the engine off. When the
engine is on, even if the sails are up, the boat is considered a power-driven vessel.
■ Power-Driven Vessel: Any boat propelled by machinery.
There’s one exception to this hierarchy: overtaking. The overtaking vessel is the
give-way vessel no matter what; the hierarchy of privilege doesn’t apply.
Finally, we’ll leave you with one more thought. When is a vessel underway? It’s
underway when it isn’t moored, anchored, made fast to the shore, or aground.
To learn whether
your home waters are covered
by the Inland
rules go to: www.