COLREGS and Uncertainty

I agree that many pleasure boaters and small boat fishermen, and small commercial boaters do learn something very similar to that right away pyramid. It’s sometimes called the “gross tonnage rule” and it’s actually quite practical. Simply put, its stay out of the way of large, less manouverable, commercial vessels that have work to do. This is a specie of the “rule of special circumstances.”

As I recall, 50 years ago, the Rules provided that fishing vessels and sailing vessels have the right of way (as they do now), but the Rules did not have the current exceptions that fishing boats and sailboat must avoid impeding larger vessels in narrow channels. That rule change came about because too many fishermen and sailors learned the Rule that they have the right of way, and they started to insist on claiming that right of way in an impractical way that posed a hazard to large vessels.

If it were not for sailboats, fishing boats, and very small commercial vessels obstructing the passage of large commercial vessels, I wonder if Traffic Separation Schemes would have been developed.

The “Gross Tonnage Rule” makes a lot of sense. And it is valuable for large commercial mariners to consider that its what approaching small vessels may be thinking.

No, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t risk.

On the open ocean, I get nervous if the give way vessel isn’t reacting by 8-10 nm because I don’t want to find myself at 4 miles and they haven’t done anything. I think normal, prudent officers react early such that they don’t have to do a huge last minute course change with a lot of rudder.

The term ’ Right of way’ does not exist in COLREGs 1972.

OOWs on a ‘stand on’ vessel often carry this misconception that they have the ‘right of way’. They don’t.

A Stand on vessel is required to maintain her course and speed. By so doing, the stand on vessel is participating in a manouevre that requires the give way vessel to avoid a collision by altering her course and speed. Both the vessels are obligated to following this prescribed manouevre for its successful execution.

But all of this only up to a point. What if the give way vessel does not take avoiding action.? Here is where the OOW on the stand on vessel is required to stop ‘maintaining her course and speed’ , stop yelling “I HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY” and take necessary action to avoid a collision.

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This is about right. These figures have developed over time as practical comfort zones for OOWs. Would make a great subject for a PhD for a Master Mariner

Sure, but honestly, they don’t teach that that “sailboats have right of way over power”. The first thing they teach in those courses is “there is no right of way at sea at all” of “the COLREGS don’t grant absolute right of way” (words of the Coast Guard). And they teach Rule 9, and about lights and signals. But you can’t teach this in an hour or two and expect it to sink in.

I think the “Rule of Gross Tonnage” is absolutely fine, so long as it’s applied PRIOR to the time that the obligation to stand-on arises. I follow it myself. The problem is that many recreational sailors, including obviously whoever wrote that silly chart, believe that the “Rule of Gross Tonnage” is a substitute for knowing or following the actual Rules. In that case, it’s a crutch which justifies erratic maneuvering and lack of knowledge. “I don’t need to know the COLREGS, because I don’t intend to stand on. I follow the Rule of Gross Tonnage.” And pure chaos results from this. Lack of awareness that standing on is an OBLIGATION. Lack of understanding of the stages of maneuvering, and how these must be coordinated between the two vessels.

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That’s not how I remember being taught in my USCGA safe boating class.

The USCGA courses are totally different from ASA courses. They are extremely dumbed-down. Remember that USCGA are just amateur volunteers, many of whom know almost nothing about any of this. The USCG should keep a better eye on what gets taught.

Here’s what it says on the NavCenter site:

  1. Who has the “right of way” on the water? The Navigation Rules convey a right-of-way only in one particular circumstance: to power-driven vessels proceeding downbound with a following current in narrow channels or fairways of the Great Lakes , Western Rivers, or other waters specified by regulation (Inland Rule 9(a)(ii)). Otherwise, power-driven vessels are to keep out of the way (Rule 18) and either give-way (Rule 16) or stand-on (Rule 17) to vessels not under command or restricted in their ability to maneuver, sailing vessels or vessels engaged in fishing, and, similarly vessels should avoid impeding the safe passage of a vessel constrained by her draft (Rule 18), navigating a narrow channel (Rule 9) or traffic separation scheme (Rule 10). The Rules do not grant privileges they impose responsibilities and require precaution under all conditions and circumstances; no Rule exonerates any vessel from the consequences of neglect (Rule 2). Neglect, among other things, could be not maintaining a proper look-out (Rule 5), use of improper speed (Rule 6), not taking the appropriate actions to determine and avoid collision (Rule 7 & 8) or completely ignoring your responsibilities under the Rules."

"The Rules do not grant privileges they impose responsibilities "

Yes. All of that is technically correct and well understood by professional mariners, lawyers and courts.

However, in the vernacular used by recreational boaters, most fishermen, and small commercial, the rules of the nautical road are oft discussed in terms of driving on the land road, i.e., right-of-way.

Indeed, and I think we must fight with that.

Right of way is not just different words, it’s a totally different concept. If you’ve got right of way, you have a privilege. You can sail as you like, turn, stop, just carry on. Also, you can just give it up if you like. If you are stand-on, obviously, it’s not like that at all!

Confusing these things is a fundamental problem which confuses a great number of recreational sailors, and I bet not a few pros as well!

I just checked the current ASA basic keelboat curriculum online and see that they link to the CG Navigation Center and list the “USCG Navigation Rules and Regulations” handbook as study material.
Are students tested on it?
30 years ago we waived the handbook in the air, read a few rules and told them to get a copy. Not many did; the exams only covered boat and sail handling. I assure you the one rule we mentioned that stuck with most was “sail over power”.
From what I see on the water, things haven’t improved all that much. Maybe that’s because many, if not most, recreational sailors learn by sailing with friends. Based on their behavior, not much is passed on about colregs or collision avoidance.
Another issue with sail boaters is that even in traffic, most don’t monitor the VHF.

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That made me cry, not laugh. The RoW pyramid was frightening.

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Someone should write to the CG and ask them to talk to those folks. I would do it myself if I knew who to write to.

That’s the kind of behaviour that gave birth to the acronym WAFI ( Wind Assisted Fuckin Idiots)

Flashcards are a great way to learn lights and shapes etc but Rule 2, “the ordinary practice of seaman” or special circumstances can not be learned from flashcards.

As far recreational sailor, a few may have a firm sense of good seamanship but limited flashcard knowledge, these guys will stay out of the way or most likely make the right move in tight spot.

Than there’s the ones with some flashcard knowledge but no understanding of good seamanship, These are the dangerous ones , they’re the ones in the 30 foot sailboat waiting for 20+ kt containership in the TSS to give way.

Finally there are the ones that are unaware of the COLREGS and no seamanship. In this case their collision avoidance maneuvers will be similar to Brownian Motion, totally random.

I’m thinking that this pyramid may have been what that WSF captain was going by when he rammed that cabin cruiser… Can we verify that this isn’t in the wheelhouse on their boats? :wink:

Too many seamen just don’t understand colreg, if everybody comply with colreg and everybody report the vessels that don’t it would be less collision, but it is true that it must be updated in some way.ach radar navigation in a nautical school and I had to develop an app (now available as “cinematic radar simulator”) because its hard for the students to learn Rule 19.

This post, and the similar post in how one learns the rules for preventing collision at sea, might hold more weight if it was not posted by a new user created by a website advertising such services. And, tell us ‘how’ the app will improve knowledge retention and the ability to apply the rules to real life circumstances.

Perhaps make a real life advertisement and a post explaining this better in a way I don’t have to access a different website?

Hi murphy !
Thanks for the welcome !
Thanks for make a post about me and not about the topic (I’m serious about this i’m not ironic).
The IMO STCW encourage the use of simulator to adquire competence, there are a lot of cientific work about how you can improve knowledge retention “doing” more than “just studing”. On the other side you the app can help you to apply the rules to real life circumstances with a teacher explaing it to you the excersices.
I don’t make profit with the app, you don’t have to pay for visit my site, I did the app for my students for free.

We’re having a “spirited” discussion over on Cruisers Forum about collision avoidance – one of the most controversial topics. It’s here:

If any of you guys wants to see how WAFIs think about some of these things, or even better, if you want to weigh in, have a look (you can register in 2 minutes, and there are a lot of commercial mariners on the forum).

A big part of the discussion is about whether you can safely cross a line of ships moving at 20 knots, in a yacht making 5 knots, if the ships are 1.25nm apart. Obviously suicide – some people even did maneuvering board plots on it – but some on there insist that it’s ok as long as you set up to cross behind one ship with a 180 foot (!) CPA. Others are attempting to explain that a 180 foot CPA is the same as a 0 CPA. Your comments would be very welcome, either here or in the CF thread. The root issue is what is a safe CPA, and why – your opinions would be very welcome and helpful.