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VOL. 11 NO. 12
Take a class

Navigation Rules

Follow the rules of the waterways to avoid collision

Navigation Rules

Many of us have experienced what I refer to as the “Sunday Afternoon Scenario”: 50 to 60 vessels converging upon and clogging the mouth of the harbor, traveling at various speeds and moving in all directions. Some operators know the rules designed to avoid collisions. Some have merely heard of them. And some have no idea there are rules governing the movement of watercraft. To say a collision is possible in this scenario grossly understates the conditions.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, collisions are the most dangerous and frequently occurring mishaps on our waters. Collisions not only result in potentially serious and expensive vessel damage, but they may also result in serious personal injury or death.

Avoiding collisions on the water differs from avoiding collisions while driving your car. In a car, you can stay in your lane and slow down. On the ocean, there are no lanes and it’s not that easy to stop. It’s also difficult, if not impossible, to constantly monitor the movement of so many vessels.

The Coast Guard publishes the Navigation Rules, a handbook designed to govern the movement of vessels and help prevent collisions. All mariners are required to know and responsibly apply the Navigation Rules when operating their vessels. You can obtain a copy from the Coast Guard or view the rules online.

Consider the Navigation Rules to be a code of conduct, not a bill of rights. They don’t bestow rights or privileges. They impose a duty to either “give way” or “stand on,” depending on the circumstances. The rules don’t confer the right of way to any vessel. The rules govern the movements of vessels in sight of each other and require that all vessels keep out of each other’s way.

Studies and experience demonstrate that strict adherence to the rules may not always be prudent. In other words, if a particular rule gives your vessel priority but strict compliance would result in a collision, you have to avoid the collision even if it means breaking a rule. As a vessel operator, you can’t assume that the other operator knows the rules and will comply with them.
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