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The 49-Year-Old COLREGS

Published on October 21st, 2021

by John K. Fulweiler, WindCheck magazine
While the Racing Rules of Sailing assign rights during competition, the COLREGS are the overriding rules of the road to prevent all collisions at sea.

As much as I like all of sailing’s possibilities, clutching-in twin diesels with overly pitched props is a feeling that’s hard to beat. To pirouette a sportfisherman outside a crowded marina so the tower cants to one side, to bury the throttles in reverse building a crest of white water and then to lay sixty-feet of hull neatly against the dock’s edge is a thrill I rank very high. Twin screws coupled to naturally aspirated diesels will always be my foiling.

The thing is, I know what I’m doing with twin screws. From tug to picnic-boat, I can put a twin-screw craft in any location in basically any wind or sea condition. Such cannot be said of what I’ve seen of some in the high-performance sailing community. From the foiled to the multi-hulled, a lot of what I see is sort of a ship-show out there.

Aboard our trusty 13’ Whaler, I was in Newport a few Saturdays past spying on my daughter’s school sailing team when a hoot and holler caught my attention. To my aft, a sleek catamaran thing was firing past the gunnel of a center-console, its wide-eyed skipper shrieking about room.

It was a prime example of an encroaching entitlement I see in the arena of high-end dinghy sailing – that is, foiling craft in the twenty-foot range crewed by the middle-aged. Like the bikes that crowd the roadways pedaled by the clipped-in middle-ager adorned in Lycra, there’s a sense of possessory something that grates the soul and rips at the rended edge of our shared commons.

A sailboat overtaking a powerboat doesn’t get to claim “room”. Rule 13 of the COLREGS isn’t written with equivocating language and makes clear that an overtaking vessel must keep clear of the vessel being overtaken.

For the challenged or ornery, the Rule even contains language to the effect that if you’re in doubt as to whether you’re overtaking “assume that is the case and act accordingly.” Sadly, my money says our wide-eyed skipper couldn’t tell us what the Rules of the Road are, much less where to buy a copy, and that’s the problem. – Full report

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