Rules of the Road for RAM

So, earlier today my vessel was restricted in ability to maneuver while running survey lines. We were approached on the port aide by two ships making way and engaged in lightering operations that requested we change course and give them a 2 mile CPA. The captain had the watch and complied with their request which resulted in our breaking station with some free floating science equipment which was subsequently lost when another vessel, also diverting around the lightering operation, didn’t spot it and ran over it resulting in no damage to the vessel but a total loss to the equipment. I asked the captain why he altered course when he had the right of way as both of our vessels appeared to be RAM. His reply was that they were “more restricted.” Of course this isn’t really fleshed out in the COLREGS and had I been on watch I would have requested that the lightering ships alter their course to gain their required CPA as we had what I consider the right of way. Would I have been in the wrong here? How would the courts interprit this case if I had refused to alter course and some trouble came of it? I understand the captains point, but was it purely a courtesy on his part or would failure to do so carry legal ramifications?

Analyzing this through the COLREGS probably will not shed much light and likely a waste of time.

From the point of view of risk; there was risk of collision with the lightening vessels which can be mitigated by moving. However moving puts the gear at risk.

Likely the captain’s thinking was the risk of collision was unacceptably high as are the consequences but losing the gear was both unlikely and of relatively low consequence.

What the courts would say is irrelevant unless there is any chance of recovering the cost of the gear.

Understood. For the record my interest here is only in informing my future decisions. I think the captain was certainly in the right, but I’m more interested in whether or not I would have been hypothetically in the wrong by insisting on our right of way (obviously not to the point of extremis).

Also, in the expirience of unlimited tonnage officers, is it really so much trouble to adjust course by a few degrees during lightering to respect another working vessel’s right of way?

In my view it’s better to tell the other vessel you can’t leave your gear and ask them to avoid rather then argue COLREGS.

IF the lightening vessels can’t or won’t maneuver then stay at the gear as long as possible and then get back to it ASAP. It’s seem more like a maneuving problem.

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Lightening vessels are on the port side, maybe a tight round turn to stbd would put them close but astern when they passed?

Im not sure how far away the ships were when the request was made but they wanted a 2 mile CPA so I assume there was still some distance involved. They also had an armed patrol boat escorting them (vessels were not military or MSC to my knowledge) so I’m sure that helped to inform the captain’s decision.

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I also understand that often times the Rules have to take a backseat approach to common sense, but it really does seem that some people equate tonnage to right of way in more circumstances than they really should.

It seems like an inherent part of the Rules is that they lend an aspect of predictability in the way vessels are to behave in relation to one another.

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I agree with this 100%. It’s just that after the fact using COLREGS as a lens to understand an incident is not likely to shed much light.

If both vessels were displaying RAM dayshapes/lights, it would qualify as a “Special Circumstance”, my understanding is at that point neither vessel would have the right of way.

It looks like this case would meet the definition of a special circumstance in that extenuating circumstances exist that are not covered by the rules. However, apparently, courts have ruled that that is only one half of the definition of a special circumstance scenario. The other half of the rule requires that a collision must be imminent in order to deviate from the COLREG’s.

I suppose next time, I’ll just have to phone my lawyer and get his input on how to maneuver. :joy:

Requesting a 2 mile CPA in what sounds like congested waters doesn’t sound reasonable.

Sounds like my canned answer to the Navy or MSC on the approach to Norfolk. Maybe choose a better place a little farther offshore to conduct live fire exercises next time.


A ULCV came through Hampton Roads a couple of weeks ago and the CG told everyone to stay the hell far away. I thought it was a bit overdone, like the kind of reception we used to get on an 750’ ammo ship when the authorities would literally shut the port down.

Did risk of collision exist? If all the vessels involved claimed RAM and then collided that would be an interesting court case.

RAM means that due to the nature of her work, a vessel cannot maneuver to avoid collision. She cannot follow the steering and sailing rules. If, as in this case, a vessel claiming RAM maneuvers at the request of another to open up a CPA, she’s arguably able to maneuver to avoid collision and thus would be hard-pressed to claim RAM.

I’ve seen tugs with barges claiming RAM when they were fully able to maneuver to avoid collision. It’s silly but all those lights do look pretty cool.

Also, the use of the term “right of way” is meaningless. No one has “right-of-way” in International Rules. The term does not appear in the International Rules and only in Rules 9 and 14 in the Inland Rules.

See Farwell’s pages 511 paragraph 4 through 513.

Everyone is obligated to avoid collision. See Rule 2.

If both vessels are in fact RAM than in a risk of collision situation they would both be required to take action to stay clear.

Since there was a armed patrol boat in the vicinity I would guess they were lightering LNG?