Soundings - - Contents - BY PAT MUN­DUS

Know­ing the Rules of the Road can keep you out of all sorts of trou­ble on the water.

How well do you know the Rules of the Road? Here’s a sit­u­a­tion you might en­counter. You are tran­sit­ing a nar­row East Coast river dur­ing day­light hours with clear vis­i­bil­ity. You see, at a dis­tance, the top of a tug’s wheel­house head­ing to­ward you and know the tug will soon come around the bend. How should you pro­ceed?

Your equip­ment is in good work­ing or­der. Ex­pe­ri­ence has taught you to plan ahead and use all of the means avail­able to you. You have AIS and know the name of the ves­sel. You call the tug on the VHF ra­dio, and a re­ply comes im­me­di­ately: “Hi cap­tain, I see you. I’m push­ing a deep- draft barge, and I’m gonna need plenty of room. Can you hold back and I’ll meet you on two whis­tles af­ter I make the bend?”

Do you know what the tug means and what the Rules of the Road re­quire you to do? You’ve been no­ti­fied of the tug’s needs and the spe­cial cir­cum­stances of its deep­draft barge. The rules re­quire you to take early ac­tion and com­ply with the re­quest to take off all way or slacken speed so as not to im­pede the safe pas­sage of a ves­sel con­strained by its draft in a nar­row chan­nel.

The tug’s skip­per also re­quested that you de­vi­ate from the de­fault con­duct of two meet­ing ves­sels (pass­ing port to port). “I’ll meet you on two whis­tles” is work­ing ver­nac­u­lar that com­mer­cial ves­sels use; it means, “I in­tend to leave you on my star­board side.” You should ac­knowl­edge the tug skip­per’s re­quest on the VHF, stop your ves­sel be­fore the bend and let the tug go by star­board to star­board.

All ves­sel op­er­a­tors must have a good work­ing knowl­edge of the Rules of the Road, which are found in the hand­book of the Coast Guard Nav­i­ga­tion Rules and Reg­u­la­tions, a com­pen­dium that in­cludes In­ter­na­tional Reg­u­la­tions for Pre­vent­ing Col­li­sions at Sea, or COLREGS. The hand­book con­tains ma­neu­ver­ing con­duct rules for both in­land and in­ter­na­tional wa­ters. An up­dated copy should al­ways be on board (also avail­able on­line at nav­

Even if you’ve been a boater for many years, it’s a good idea to brush up on the COLREGS. It’s easy to de­velop bad habits.

(Try your hand at the monthly Seamanship Quiz on Page 20 of this mag­a­zine.)

Your goal should be to un­der­stand the rules well enough to know where your boat fits in the hierarchy of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties among ves­sels. Are you or the other ves­sel pro­pelled by ma­chin­ery? Is ei­ther ves­sel sail­ing, fish­ing (not to be con­fused with trolling), not un­der com­mand or re­stricted by its abil­ity to ma­neu­ver? Are you the stand-on (priv­i­leged) or give-way (bur­dened) ves­sel?

I can’t cover all of the rules in a short col­umn, but in gen­eral, when two power-driven ves­sels are cross­ing, the ves­sel with the other on her star­board side shall keep out of the way. At night, the side-light mem­ory aid “red means stop” is use­ful.

Any power-driven ves­sel over­tak­ing an­other shall keep out of the way of the ves­sel be­ing over­taken. At night, if you can see the other ves­sel’s side lights, you are not over­tak­ing.

When two power-driven ves­sels are meet­ing head-on, each ves­sel shall al­ter course to star­board so that each passes on the port side of the other. At night, meet­ing ves­sels should see each other’s mast­head lights in line and red/green side lights.

Whether un­der power or sail, make course al­ter­ations early and sub­stan­tial enough to be read­ily un­der­stood by the other ves­sel. Avoid suc­ces­sive small al­ter­ations in course and speed, keep a safe dis­tance and take way off com­pletely if nec­es­sary.

Dis­play the re­quired lights and be sure they are vis­i­ble. Take care not to block nav­i­ga­tion lights with a kayak, dinghy, deck gear or pas­sen­gers. Do not ob­scure the mean­ing of nav­i­ga­tion lights with a boat’s color LED dec­o­ra­tions.

The rules state: “Ev­ery ves­sel shall at all times main­tain a proper look­out by sight and hear­ing, as well as by all avail­able means ap­pro­pri­ate in the pre­vail­ing cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions so as to make a full ap­praisal of the sit­u­a­tion and of the risk of col­li­sion.” This means radar and col­li­sion-avoid­ance equip­ment alone are no sub­sti­tute for eyes and ears.

There is no such thing as the “rule of ton­nage,” but ships do have dif­fi­culty see­ing small craft and ma­neu­ver­ing quickly, so they present spe­cial chal­lenges. A ship’s aft wheel­house has a deck the size of a foot­ball field for­ward of it, which cre­ates a blind spot dead ahead. If you are in this sec­tor, you will not be seen.

Stay on your toes and act early in the vicin­ity of large com­mer­cial ves­sels. A ship trav­el­ing at 17 knots cov­ers 1.7 miles ev­ery six min­utes. That’s a lot of clos­ing dis­tance in a hurry if you go be­low to make a sand­wich. Add to this that a ship’s “trans­fer” is cum­ber­some if it does try to avoid you at the last minute. An av­er­age loaded su­per­tanker do­ing 17 knots re­quires about a half-mile from the time the rud­der is put hard over to the mo­ment it achieves a 90-de­gree course change.

One last re­minder about ships: The height of eye on a big ship’s bridge is well more than 100 feet above the water. If you ra­dio the bridge and tell the mate you are the “white sail­boat on your star­board bow,” he or she might see a dozen sail­boats like yours. Iden­tify your ves­sel with your GPS po­si­tion or bear­ing and range. Make cer­tain it is you he has iden­ti­fied be­fore you make ma­neu­ver­ing agree­ments.

“Know be­fore you go” is an apt say­ing. Know your place in the rules hierarchy, and know how you are re­quired to op­er­ate. Act pru­dently and in plenty of time, and avoid small head­ing changes that are hard for other ves­sels to dis­cern. Use all means avail­able to you, in­clud­ing eyes and ears (yours and your crew’s). Dis­play proper lights and make sure they are not ob­scured. Last, do not hes­i­tate to give com­mer­cial ves­sels a wide berth. Your pas­sen­gers rely on your sound judg­ment.

A work­ing knowl­edge of the Rules of the Road will help in­form your de­ci­sion­mak­ing when op­er­at­ing around con­tainer ships and other com­mer­cial ves­sels.

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