powering or sailing happily along with just a few boats in your vicinity, to
which you pay little attention. As one vessel draws closer, it appears to remain
in about the same position relative to a stanchion, edge of the doghouse or
whatever, and about that time your mind starts to drift towards “wonder what
she’s going to do” or “let’s see, am I supposed to do something”, or more likely
– both. The first thing to consider is the nature of the other vessel.
Affectionately referred to “The Pecking Order”, Rule 18 seeks to establish order
out of potential chaos by designating a hierarchy of “privilege”. This privilege
(for want of a better term) is determined by the work or function of the vessel
at the time (as opposed to relative position as in meeting, crossing or
overtaking) and applies only when in sight (as in eyeballs) of each other.
Detection of the presence of another vessel by radar or fog whistle therefore
does not meet the criteria.
the above phrase “work or function at the time concerned” refer to? An example
would be a trawler not fishing – perhaps proceeding to or from her area.
Although she is a fishing vessel, she is not considered a “vessel fishing” for
purposes of priority status. She would be simply a power driven vessel.
that, the order as generally listed (in decreasing rank) is:
1a) Not Under Command (NUC)
1b) Restricted in Ability
to Maneuver (RAM)
2) Constrained by Draft (ColRegs
5) Power Driven Vessel
6) Seaplane / WiG**
* The ColRegs are the
“International Rules for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea”, as distinguished
from the Inland Rules.
** “WiG” stands for
“Wing-in-Ground”, a craft added to the Rules last September. The abbreviation
refers to the aerodynamic effect enabling it to employ a cushion of air to
facilitate flight, thus giving it the same priority status as a seaplane).
To start with, any
applicable requirements of Rules 9 (Narrow Channels), 10 (Traffic Separation
Schemes) and 13 (Overtaking) take precedence over Rule 18. An example is the
requirement of Rule 13 that “any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of
the way of the vessel being overtaking.” Thus, a sailboat overtaking power does
not have the right of way.
life were that simple! In reality, there are several nuances:
As noted above, one vessel that outranks all of the above is ANY VESSEL
BEING OVERTAKEN. Thus in that one situation, relative position supercedes
NUC does not have priority over RAM – even though they are often listed
in the above relative position – implying a priority. Some time ago, NAVSAC (The
Navigation Safety Advisory Council) was asked to clarify – they declined,
stating only that if those two vessels find themselves in risk of collision,
Rule 2(b), the General Prudential Rule, should be employed. A question on the
USCG exam relating to those two has been repeatedly challenged, the
misinterpretation being a consequence of the way they are listed in (i), (ii)
fashion – implying an order. Clarification is still refused for reasons know
only to God and the USCG. So – both are obligated to stay clear of each other.
In listing “Constrained by Draft”, the complete phrase given in the
definition (Rule 3) clarifies the intent of the Rule – indicating that it’s the
“draft in relation to the available depth AND WIDTH of navigable water...”.
Thus, courts have declined to look with favor upon a vessel claiming such
constraint because of depth limitation when more than adequate water of the same
depth was available laterally. Note that this category exists under ColRegs
“Fishing” priority continues to be claimed by some small pleasure boats
out on a Sunday afternoon trolling. The test applied is “fishing with nets,
lines, trawls or other fishing apparatus which restricts maneuverability”,
otherwise that craft with a line dangling over the side is just another power
driven vessel according to the rules. As small craft go and their relationship
to the rules, this is perhaps the least understood and the most often violated
causing a maritime version of “road-rage.”
A sailboat, sails up and drawing but under power is a power driven vessel
for purposes of the rules (thus affecting signals, lights and priority).
For those taking the Rules portion of the Coast Guard exam, look for
certain trigger phrases. For Not Under Command it’s “due to some unusual
circumstance”, for Restricted in Ability to Maneuver it’s “due to the nature of
her work”, and for a Vessel Engaged in Fishing it’s “with nets lines, trawls or
other fishing apparatus which restricts maneuverability”.
And to be complete, one vessel that falls within the Restricted in
Ability to Maneuver category but has her own specific lights and shapes is the
Minesweeper (while sweeping). Definitely not a vessel to approach!
M.D. is a graduate of the US Naval Academy, later serving the Navy as a
navigator and OOD on destroyers. He earned a medical degree from the University
of Vermont, holds a 100-ton master's license with a radar observer endorsement,
and for many years has taught sailing and navigation in Massachussets and