German schooners collision. What the hell were they thinking?

I think COLREGS are long overdue for a revision that says small fast highly maneuverable vessels keep the hell out of the way, period, and large slow unmaneuverable ones simply ignore them. By the time the little guy is in extremis it’s way too late for the big one to do anything about it, so relieve them of the responsibility.

And that updates the rules for sailing vessels in some way that acknowledges the profound differences in handling and abilities to weather of fore-and-aft vs square-rigged vessels; but that’s a can of worms I’m sure no-one is eager to open.

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Maybe it should be if the concept originated in the era of square riggers and steam ships.

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In the Deutschland, there are several level of operators licenses required to run a boat. It seemed quite onerous to me.

They are in most states, though anyone born before a certain year is exempt in many states (the year varies state by state). The problem is that that class teaches Maritime rules of the road just like highway rules of the road, black and white. Sail had right is way over power, starboard has right of way over port when crossing, no exceptions for size or maneuverability. Those classes are part of the problem.

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I heard a story about an even a number of years ago where the USCGC Eagle was underway under sail and a ~30 sloop called in the radio demanding that the Eagle give way because the sloop was on a starboard tack.

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that sailing under the bow of the Astrosprinter was a poor idea. Just look at the thing. This time, The Law of GT (as you put it) even agreed with the rules of the road, since the big guy was headed downstream.

On German rivers, it’s more like the rule of draft. Since everyone is always restricted by draft anyway, there is constant VHF chatter to figure out arrangements, where he who has the greatest draft (and is headed downstream) gets the last say. If the captain of the Elbe no. 5 was as experienced as he’s made out to be, it’s hard to understand why he wasn’t able to figure this out with the pilot of the Astrosprinter.

Indeed, they take it very seriously. You don’t just see this in all the driving school boats everywhere, but German yacht crews are different, especially the green ones. They may not have it in their fingers, but they know how it’s done, and they don’t mess around. Taking a German under tow is the one time you don’t have to explain how it’s done, because of course he remembers that from his classes and is standing by with 30m of 18mm nylon (kept on board for the purpose), made fast to a forward cleat and secured with a bowline around the foot of the mast.


The German license systen does seem onerous compared to our free-for-all but you can’t argue with the results. Maybe a simplifed OUPV class for anyone carrying passengers period would improve the situation. Boat manufacturers and sailing schools cover the mechanics. I’ve taught both OUPV classes and advanced sailing courses including ocean passage making. The latter only pay lip service to the COLREGS and the students aren’t tested on them. That ain’t right.

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It always agrees with the international colregs.
It’s Rule 2 (b)


Any attempt to add a step to recreational boat ownership requiring taking a course is likely to meet with resistance from some front. Introduce it in Congress and watch mass boat manufacturers’ lobbyists descend on Washington like swarm of locusts. Hell of a system.

Germans do like to follow rules. I recall a fairly new rule that requires all automobiles to have a reflective vest or two within easy access of the driver in case of break downs. But, Germany also forbids pepper spray that allows weak and helpless women some personal protection from bad people.

The “onerous” licensing I was referring to was that there are just so damn many levels and types of boat licenses in Germany, and many require a substantial amount of time/mileage. The country is not that large (geographically). Granted, Germans appear to pride themselves on credentials and “licenses”. However, it seems a bit over-the-top to me…and a bit ironic since a German schooner started this discussion.

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Having lived and worked in New York City in the past, I am always amazed at crossing a street in a German city. Everyone waits for the cross walk to signal them to cross. Like being on an alien planet if you’ve ever spent time in NYC.

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I was amazed at the orderly every other car merging on their roads. A huge contrast with my daily commute where there is a half-mile long back up to get on the beltway, and an endless succession of assholes who force their way into the merge line at the absolute last possible place to exit. And the moving to the extreme, right and left in traffic stand stills to allow a lane for emergency vehicles. Here, you know there will be a series of jerks driving down that space.

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Jerome K Jerome, around the turn of the 20th century in Three Men on the Bummel opined that this was an admirable trait if they were well-governed, which at the time he thought they were; but would lead to trouble if they were ill-governed.

He wasn’t wrong there.


Germans must have changed significantly since I was there in the mid-70’s. At that time, it was impossible to get Germans to line up (“queue up”, in brit-speak) at all, and their behavior on the road was a modified form of this. I remember seeing a Politzei helicopter herding a group of German cars that decided to take a detour around a road accident (and almost running over an officer doing it). I didn’t see them on the water, however, so that may have been different.

When the wall came down a whole lot of East Germans who had been driving trabants were suddenly unleashed on the roads driving second hand Mercedes and BMWs. The results were predictable.

My experience was that the Trabants on the Autobahn were just about as dangerous. 75 kmh when the Mercedes and BMWs were doing at least twice that.



A post was split to a new topic: Collision between the container vessel ‘Astrosprinter’ and the traditional sailing ship ‘Nr. 5 ELBE’ - Intern Report