COLREGS: I Can’t See — Now What?!

Published on September 27th, 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 …


If anybody has noticed how thick the fog can be, it bears deep understanding of what to do – and not do – when so enveloped. Within our series on the COLREGs, this column is more scholarly. In short, if there isn’t a Rule for it, it doesn’t exist!

Rule 19 – Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility
First, does “restricted visibility” mean fog? No. It means “restricted visibility” – rain, darkness, fog, snow, smoke, heavy seas (like when you are down in troughs and can’t see anything but the sea).

What does Rule 19 cover? Specifically, this governs how vessels that can’t see each other act. If you can see each other, even in the fog, all the prior rules we have discussed rise to the top… Further, it states that (like a car), “Every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility.” It goes on to add that “a power-driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate maneuver.” Remember, with respect to the language of the Rules – “shall” means “must.”

Be aware that this injunction about having your engines ever at the ready has more than a bit of “having your cake and eating it too” with respect to an Admiralty or Maritime Board. For example…

1. If you are traveling at speeds consistent with “normal” visibility within sight of an area of restricted visibility, i.e., a fog bank, you can be judged to have been speeding as if you were in the fog bank! Why? Because you can’t see a boat coming out of it and she can’t see you – until it is too late.

2. A vessel which detects “by radar alone” the presence of another vessel shall determine if a close quarters condition is developing and/or a risk of collision exists. (Remember, if you have radar and you don’t turn it on, you are already breaking the Rules since you are obligated to use “all available means” for navigation and safety.) If a risk of collision exits, “she shall take avoiding-action in ample time.” But don’t:

a. turn to port if you believe a vessel is ahead of your beam (midships), unless you are overtaking that vessel;
b. turn towards the vessel on your beam or abaft
(behind) you…
c. unless you can’t avoid it!

Full report… click here.

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