Advice on a minor collision


I don’t know colregs better than you all but as a long time sailor I have read them that if your engine is turned over (in neutral) in a situation like this you would be considered a power driven vessel. The reason being is in this case if that vessel “adrift” can see it appears to be under power because of the exhaust and water coming out the transom.

Also, Hogsnort, sorry but I have not recently (within the past 16 years) seen a boat racing with its engine on for the allowable rule that you state (I used to race, but it has been a few years). Also, that may have been true decades ago when batteries didn’t have the bankable capacity they do today (such as AGMs) we also have solar cheaply now (and more energy efficient systems, example, LED interior and running lights). We don’t even have AGMs aboard, just group 27 nothing special, and a small solar panel and never have needed the engine to keeps things up and running, including our large refrigerator that keeps ice cream. Only use the gemny at anchor after a couple of days.


The Volvo around the world yachts only have an auxiliary engine.


Rule 3 states propelled by machinery. If it isn’t it isn’t.




IMHO you are both at fault and unless someone died I would suggest you each fix your own boat and not involve lawyers or the USCG. On your boat, you sailed right into a boat that apparently was hardly moving if at all. On their boat, they sat there doing nothing while someone ran right into them. Each you had engines running but claim to not be in gear*. I cannot see any judge or authority sorting this out. IIRC, there is a duty for stand-on to avoid collisions as well, you can’t just drive into someone and yell STARBOARD.

  • try finding a path through 100 fishing boats where 50 are anchored, 25 are drifting with engines on, and 25 are making 2 knots and NONE of them are looking at anything but their fishing gear.


Something about COLREGs that reliably causes the conversation to devolve into a “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” type discussion.

Switching between power / sail in a busy area without a lookout what difference does it make if the engine is in gear or not?


Rule 2, good seamanship, if the vessel is stopped while the crew lowers the sails it may be, for a short period of time at least, considered a special circumstance because it’s limited in it’s ability to maneuver in a practical sense.

Of course the term “restricted in her ability to maneuver” has a specific meaning under COLREGS


Claiming lowering sails as restricted maneuverability is the sailing equivalent of some guy trolling for fish in his Bayliner and thinking he has rights because he is TRAWLING like a commercial fishing boat LOL.
There is the common courtesy thing though - if I see you drifting along and you are up on deck wrangling a sail, I am going to try and give you space if I can.


Nobody has claimed that, it’s just that using the term “restricted” rather than “limited” triggers the COLGEGS pedantics.


Legal question:

Hmm. Will a maritime attorney please comment about “propelled by machinery” with case law and citations?

'cuz it seems to me that if a sailboat does not have it’s engine turning the propeller, then the vessel is not being “propelled by machinery”. And if Boat #1 is dropping it’s sails, and not making turns on the prop, then it’s still a sailboat until the sails are furled.

That said, it’s a given this collision was avoidable; no denying that. Both vessels are at fault.


I was taught that if a sailing vessel has its engine running (no matter or not if the transmission is engaged), it is classified as a power-driven vessel. The reason being, that if it needs to use the engine to maneuver, it is already running and ready for that purpose.

This makes sense to me, since otherwise a similar claim could be made that a motor vessel is no longer power-driven simply by disengaging the propeller and dropping an oar in the water.

But if you are looking for a maritime lawyer’s perspective, here is a link:
Beware that the legal answer does not clear things up anymore than the excellent observations already posted.


Thank you for the thoughtful replies!
To be clear, we didn’t turn to port because we thought he was going to turn to starboard…like any other boat in this situation. We didn’t turn to port because we would have then been head-on if he decided to turn. I took it for granted that he was able to keep clear and alter his course…and wasn’t just drifting about. It was, in fact, a really bad place to be doing just that…a few hundred yards from the entrance to the busiest marina in the Puget Sound. I’ve done it hundreds of time but always knowing that if something came my way i’d get out of the way.
I spoke with the director of a maritime school here and he said he thought it was 70/30 and that I bore the 30% share of responsibility. Seems reasonable.


So what’s the reason the guy was drifting? Did he claim anything like loss of steerage?

From what you stated and all the comments, as a sailor I agree with that 70/30. Unless something catastrophic happened to that guys boat you don’t just chill out in front of a busy entrance.
What boat values and damage are we talking here?

It sounds like the insurance companies will duke it out. Hope the other guy had insurance. I was hit by a drunk by 10 am fisherman while docked at my end tie slip once…he had no insurance and laughed it off, he was going to take off but I demanded he pull over, got the harbor master involved quickly and made him give me his drivers license etc.

I hope your daughter still likes sailing and understands this kinda drama is just the nature of boats once in a while.


Sadly she knows that even sailors can be jerks…and he was an epic jerk!
Nope. Just out for a drift.
The boat was a club-owned boat out for charter. The sailing club is owned by a very reasonable guy who I have known for years…so we will work it out without ins. or courts. He (the club owner) seemed to think it was mostly my fault but I think he just doesnt want to pay for the whole thing and perhaps doesn’t understand (I dont really either) right of way/rules of the road type stuff.


Yeah, you are right, there can be a lot of jerks out on the water. Makes no sense either since it’s a special place to be and one should be grateful to be enjoying it. The issue is there are a lot of people who forget the word courteous.

Haha it’s a sailing/charter club, no wonder this all happened! Goes back to my issue with it being unfair how little training or certs are enforced for boat owners (and I am not a big pro regulations person). This is most definitely a sailing club owner trying to the push blame. I still think you should have turned sooner, but I wasn’t there and and being at the entrance of a busy marina certainly could make that sooner turn into another boat collision. If I were you I would be posting this (or using their search tools) at sailinganarchy, pressuredrop, maybe cruisersforum rules of the road section, those first two are big racing forums, racers have been in this situation much more often than here. However, just remember the sailing club owner could be reading all this.


If a sailboat has the engine running and all he has to do is put it in gear to avoid a collision he will not get a free pass if someone runs in to him. Similar would be a jet ski in neutral, which has a throttle available to propel him forward. If a sailboat has sails down and no engine running then he would be considered a “vessel” and he would be bound by Rule 2 to use common sense and stay out of the way.

Nothing in the Rules shall exonerate any vessel from the consequences of neglect. The 70/30 is probably correct but most judges who are not familiar with the Rules would likely say 50/50, as long as both sides presented a reasonably prepared debate.


That about sums it up.


«I tboned another sailboat the other day while taking down my sails.»
Taking down the sails in such a close quarter situation might not be the first of the priority.

«I had assumed they were moving and we would take their stern but they were just drifting.»
Never assume. Ascertain. But in that case, it would be accepted to doubt about a court ruling!

When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other and from «any» cause either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt «shall» immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least «five short and rapid blasts on the whistle».

It is more often than not a very efficient wakeup call and saved my butt scores of times!


You want a lawyer to do legal research and offer a professional opinion? Are you going to pay for this?

Lack of compensation notwithstanding, you’re not going to find a lawyer willing to offer legal advice to someone who is not a client, professional ethic rules prohibit it


Handbook of the Nautical Rules of the Road by Llana & Wisneskey seems like a reliable source and it’s on-line. It says a vessel under sail and using the engine to charge battries or heat water is not considered propelled by machinery.

This link more useful: Table of Contents

From Rule 3 – General Definitions

Vessels using only their sails for propulsion are included, even though they may be fitted with an engine. Operation of the engine to generate electricity or to heat water, for example, does not make the sailing vessel a power-driven vessel, so long as the propeller (or paddle wheel) is not engaged.