NO “RIGHT OF WAY”

Passage Maker - - From The Pilothouse -

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.

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