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VOL. 8 NO. 3
Take a class

When in doubt, slow it down

Learn the top 3 factors in determining a safe operating speed

When in doubt, slow it down

After my wife, Kitty, and I sold our sailboat, which had a maximum speed of 7 knots, and bought a powerboat, we had to adjust to its higher speed. With the sailboat, we could rarely overtake another vessel and had plenty of time to make course corrections. This is not so when you are cruising at 25 knots.

The general safety rule under the Unified Rules for Inland Waters, Western Rivers and the Great Lakes states that every vessel, sail or power, shall at all times proceed at a safe speed to avoid collision. The captain has the responsibility of avoiding a collision even if his vessel is the stand-on vessel and has the right of way. The captain must be able to stop his vessel within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances. You should consider three main factors when determining a safe speed for your vessel.

The first factor is visibility. Darkness, fog, heavy weather (rain or snow) and smoke reduce our ability to see. In these conditions, give extra attention to your vessel’s speed. Also consider blind spots such as bridges or sharp bends in channels. Bridges pose a particular hazard, as small fishing boats are often around the pilings and may be just out of sight on the other side of the bridge.

Sea conditions also affect safe operation. Heavy wind and seas require more attention at the helm. Consider the physical limitations of the vessel and crew when operating in rough conditions.

Traffic density is an important factor to consider when determining a safe operating speed for your boat. Sometimes, especially during holiday weekends, it feels as though boats are coming at you from all directions.

When in doubt about a possible collision, slow down and make appropriate course changes.

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