Who's Right In A Right Of Way?

Do you hold your course when faced with a fellow boater coming at you, even if you're in the right?

Here's a moment far too many boaters have experienced: Ahead you see another boat that clearly must change its heading because you have the right of way, but it maintains its course. You give the skipper a little more time to realize what's about to happen but the boat continues on the same course and at the same speed. BoatUS Marine Insurance Claim files are filled with situations like this one that have unhappy endings.

Most cases occur like this: A boater who knew he had the right of way didn't change course until the very last moment and then it was too late. The boats collided. The give-way boat (some years ago this was called the "burdened" boat) was operated by someone who'd never heard of navigation rules, wasn't paying attention and, after the collision, stated he figured because he had the larger of the two vessels, the other guy would steer clear. So here's how to avoid moments like this: Always keep a lookout while underway; assign someone else this task and let everyone know if your attention is going to be elsewhere.

When it becomes obvious that a potential collision exists, don't wait for the other skipper to give way. Chances are, he or she is clueless about "right of way" rules or isn't paying attention, so they aren't going to react as one would hope. Bottom line: You make the move, you change your course, and nobody will be involved in a collision. Remember International Navigation Inland Rule 17b:

"When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision."

If you are the give-way vessel, any course change should be made early and it should be obvious to the other skipper. If two boats are approaching, each should steer to starboard and pass on port. Five short blasts of your horn will alert the oncoming boat that a dangerous navigation situation exists.

Read the navigation rules at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent 

This article was published in the September 2010 issue of Trailering Magazine.


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