NO “RIGHT OF WAY”
In the first issue of our December Channels e-newsletter, we ran an analysis of a collision between a Washington State Ferry and a trawler (we’ve expanded that story in this issue and you can find it on page 54). After posting it to Facebook, follower Sean Welsh objected to our use of the term “Right of Way.” In our original response to Sean online, we acknowledged that there is no use of the term “Right of Way” in the international rules (in the inland rules, the term is used in describing overtaking situations on a river). However, we felt comfortable using this term as a colloquial generalization. Sean took issue and reminded us of our responsibility to use our terms properly, especially when it comes to legal language. He wrote us to say:
The problem with “colloquial usage,” as you call it, is that it can (and does) mislead people who don’t see it as colloquial but rather as de jure, and in particular, newcomers who may not already understand that “right of way” simply does not exist on the water. As professional journalists in the marine industry, it is your responsibility to lead by example and stamp out this sort of potential confusion. Leave the colloquial expressions to the amateurs and hold yourselves to a higher standard. Legal language is precise for a very good reason, and when discussing legalities, it does a disservice to all to replace that precision with shorthand.
Upon further reflection, we agree with Sean. The purpose of our assessment, as you can read in this issue, is to impress upon boaters that even if you are the stand-on vessel, your greatest responsibility— and in keeping with the spirit of all our navigational rules—is to not hit anyone, regardless of who is in the right. Thank you, Sean, for your correction and persistence. If interested, there is more discussion of this topic on Facebook and on our website. As always, we encourage you to participate and interact with us online.