Prevention of Collision At Sea

Published on June 30th, 2020

While competitive sailing focuses on the Racing Rules of Sailing, all boaters need to be familiar with the COLREGS. To assist in that mission, Vincent Pica of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary takes on the challenge in WindCheck Magazine …

We’re going to build on the last column with more detail on Rules 13, 14 and 15. Let’s start with Overtaking, where even a sailboat is the give-way vessel to a powered vessel.

There are only three conditions of vessels meeting on the waters – head-on, crossing or overtaking situations. The Rules govern how the skippers are to interact with each other through helm control and sound (or radio) signals. This is about overtaking another vessel – which puts you just about as low on the priority totem pole as there is.

Rule 13 – Overtaking
Bottom line, if you are overtaking another vessel, you are the give-way vessel. How do you know that you are overtaking the vessel and not crossing her path? Well, there are three ways – with the third always winning out:

At night, you can see a white light and no red or green side lights. The white light is either an anchor light or it is the stern light. There is an angle of arc (135 degrees) that sweeps like the wings of a jet plane from one side of the vessel around to the stern and back to the corresponding point on the opposite side of the boat within which, by regulation, you must only be able see the stern light. You are overtaking that vessel.

During the day, if at a distance you see an uninterrupted wake from one side of the boat to the other, you are overtaking her. If you see a break in the middle of the wake, you are not.

When in doubt, assume you are the overtaking vessel and act accordingly. Even a sailboat is the give-way boat to a power driven vessel – if it is overtaking you. (Ever drift fish at 1 or 2 knots and have a sailboat under sail go by you at 4 knots…?)

If you want to pass a boat in a “narrow channel,” you must get permission first. Imagine you took the boat into New York to give the family the rare treat of a circumnavigation of Manhattan. You’ve gone up the Hudson, down the Harlem River, passed the Hell Gate to port and are now running down the East River. You are almost under the United Nations with its post-9/11 security zone. You want to pass a slower moving tour boat – but the combination of Roosevelt Island to port, the security zone to starboard and the USCG Fast Boat with the 50-caliber on the bow is making a mighty river look very small… So, what do you do?  Full report.

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