collision regulations are something that I can actually sit down and write some sense into. Unlike plotting, vectors, and distance over time, rules I can get my head around and memorise. Well, apart from the lights which are still driving me nuts and make me question why the hell I'm doing this. Remind me, why?!
Some skippers talk of having a ‘right of way’ in a potential collision situation. However the rules do not use this wording but in most cases one craft is the give way craft and the other should stand on. All skippers are required to avoid collisions and cannot claim they had right of way.
According to rule 5, Skippers and crew are required to keep a good look out at all times and by all available means. Eyes and ears are excellent tools by which to do this; and four principles include ensuring a sufficient number of people are keeping a look out especially when crew are working on deck. Keep a good look out behind the vessel and moored boats for anything approaching but also you can listen for any engine sounds or sound signals too. Electronic ears are also good, so radar and AIS if you have them can be used, but also listening to the local VHS channel for shipping movements which may affect you. Having an awareness of what is going on will allow you to plan how to potentially give way.
The assessment of whether a risk of collision exists is covered in rule 7. If an approaching vessel is on a reasonably constant bearing, then there is a risk. You can check the bearing using a compass, or lining the approaching vessel up with a stanchion. Always check the full length of the ship, if it is bigger than you, it might get you with the bow, if not the stern.
Rule 9 governs what you do if you meet a large vessel in a small channel. In general terms, the skipper of a small vessel should not impede the passage of a large vessel which can safely navigate only within such a narrow channel. Keep right over to the starboard and avoid crossing it if necessary. Listen out for approaching vessels and take care when approaching bends – do not anchor in narrow channels. Plan your passage carefully to take into account wind, tide, flow or other vessels in the area.
Vessels under 20m should stay away from the Traffic Lanes, and they should steer clear and use Inshore Traffic Zones. If you need to cross the lanes, then do so with your heading at right angles to the traffic flow; ensure they can see as much of your and your lights as possible at all times.
The most complicated rules involve who should give way in crossing situations. But that’s maybe because I don’t understand roundabouts. Head on is easier as vessels under power alter course to starboard. An over taking vessel must steer clear of the slower one. Crossing situations and Rule 15 says that the vessel which has the other on her starboard side is the give way vessel. They should avoid going in front and instead alter course and pass behind. If you see the red port light, stop, the green starboard light, go. As mentioned above, the stand-on vessel does have responsibilities – keep course and speed but get ready to take avoiding action if necessary.
The pecking order of vessels is covered in rule 18. As small powered leisure vessels, we are at the bottom of the pile – we keep out of the way of everyone, especially those who are restricted in their ability to manoeuvre, engaged in fishing, or not under command. There are also flags and lights which tell us why we should give way to other vessels. And now I'm off to learn how to flash...