New Rules in Effect

From Ocean Navigator #135
January/February 2004
The so-called Nautical Rules of the Road, a set of exhaustive, and at times confusing, rules set forth by the U.S. Coast Guard in an attempt to maintain moderate order for maneuvering vessels on U.S. waters and the high seas, is updated now and again in hopes that certain kinds of collisions may be avoided by a new rule.

Three changes went into effect in November 2003, one that essentially announces the existence of flying boats – or WIGs, for wing-in-ground effect vessels – vessels that can cruise above the surface of the water at speeds of 200 knots, and demands that their operators rig the vessels with an all-around red flashing light and, while underway, stay the heck out of the way of everyone else traveling at more reasonable speeds.

A second rule eliminates the requirement that vessels between 12 and 20 meters be equipped with a bell for sound signaling. Other forms of noisemaking in restricted visibility, like whistles or air horns for example, are now permitted.

The other rule, perhaps most important, attempts to further define the parameters of in extremis maneuvers, those maneuvers made in a last-ditch effort to avoid collision. Rule 8(a) now reads: “Any action to avoid collision shall be taken in accordance with the Rules of this Part and shall, (emphasis added) if the circumstances of the case admit, be proactive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.”

The addition of the italicized phrase appears to further encourage vessel operators from turning to port when attempting to avoid collision. Perhaps as a response to so-called radar-assisted collisions – one vessel might turn to port to attempt to open up the closest point of approach as plotted on radar, while the other vessel turns to starboard to avoid collision, a combined effort that results in collision – the rule suggests that a turn to port to avoid another vessel is a violation of an earlier rule to avoid such a maneuver.

The Coast Guard is apparently not yet printing a new set of Rules to announce this change; rather, they are releasing a printed addendum to be used in existing Rules books. And although the new rules have yet to take effect for inland waters, the change is expected to be made shortly.

Meanwhile, when encountering a vessel traveling at 200 knots, a flashing red light announcing its approach, don’t use your bell to signal the operator, and whatever you do, don’t turn to port.

By Ocean Navigator