Navigation: Rules of the Road (some of them!)
| Every vessel must maintain a proper lookout and always proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective
action to avoid collision. When you take action to avoid collision, any alteration of course or speed you make should be large
enough to be readily apparent to another vessel.
Do I Have a Potential Collision Situation?
When the distance between two vessels decreases and the relative angle of the other vessel off the bow remains the same, then you will soon be trying to occupy the same spot in the water - a collision situation. Three situations involving collision risk are crossing, meeting head-on, and overtaking. When one of two vessels is to keep out of the way (give-way vessel), the other, the stand-on vessel, must maintain course and speed. However the stand-on vessel must take avoiding action when it becomes apparent that the vessel required to give way is not taking appropriate action.
The Crossing Rule
Both International and Inland Rules state that when two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side (the give-way vessel) must keep out of the way and, if circumstances permit, cross behind the other vessel (the stand-on vessel). One way to remember this is that at night the give-way vessel will see the red (means danger) side light of the stand-on vessel and therefore must take action to pass astern. If you see a green side light, green means go, and you should maintain course and speed as the stand-on vessel.
The Meeting Situation
At times there may be some doubt whether the situation is a crossing or a head-on meeting. In case of doubt, you should assume that it is a meeting situation, in which neither vessel has a clear-cut "right-of-way," and each must act to avoid the other. Each vessel in a meeting situation must alter course to starboard so that each will pass on the port side of the other. At night, you will recognize a meeting situation if you simultaneous see a white bow light and both red and green side lights.
The Overtaking Situation
Any vessel overtaking any other vessel must keep out the way of the vessel being overtaken. The former is the give-way vessel and the latter is the stand-on vessel. This rule applies even if the overtaking vessel is propelled by wind, oars, or rubber band paddlewheel.
The "Pecking Order"
There is a "pecking order" that can be used as a simplified memory aid to determine right of way for vessels of different types. The uppermost vessel on the list has right-of-way (stand-on vessel) over any vessel (give-way vessel) below it on the list:
1. Overtaken vessel (top priority)
2. Vessel not under command
3. Vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver
4. Vessel constrained by its draft
5. Fishing vessel (commercial fishing or trawling but not trolling)
6. Sailing vessel (engine not on)
7. Power-driven vessel
A sailboat with motor running is defined as a motor boat. The "pecking order" between sailing vessels is more complex. When two sailing are approaching one another so as to involve risk of collision, one of then shall keep out of the way of each other as follows:
1. When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other.
2. When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward.
3. If a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other.
When meeting head-on or overtaking under Inland Rules :
one short blast means, "I intend to leave you on my port side."
two short blasts mean, "I intend to leave you on my starboard side."
The vessel hearing the signal of the other vessel must, if in agreement, sound the same whistle signal and take steps to effect a safe passing. If in disagreement or doubt, the only allowed alternative signal is the doubt or danger signal (5 or more short and rapid blasts).
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