May 2010 - Avoiding Collisions
I believe that the primary reason that we have right of way rules in sailing is to avoid collisions. Rule 14 is the rule that most directly addresses this topic.
14 AVOIDING CONTACT
A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However, a right-of-way boat or one entitled to room or mark-room
(a) need not act to avoid contact until it is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room or mark-room, and
(b) shall not be penalized under this rule unless there is contact that causes damage or injury.
RIGHT OF WAY
A boat has right of way when another boat is required to keep clear of her. However, some rules in Sections B, C and D limit the actions of a right-of-way boat.
This rule is really in two parts and actually addresses two audiences. The first talks to everybody “A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible.” All boats are supposed to avoid collisions. This is key to our sport. We aren’t supposed to be playing bumper boats.
The rest of this rule is addressed to right-of-way boats or boats entitled to room or mark-room. Who is a right-of-way boat? The preamble to “Section A Right of Way” describes this. It says that when one boat is required to keep clear of another boat then the other boat has right of way. The rules that require a boat to keep clear are rules 10-13 (Port-Starboard, Windward-Leeward, Clear Ahead-Clear Astern and Tacking) which are contained in Section A. Right of Way boats are therefore Starboard Tack boats, Leeward Boats, Clear Ahead Boats and boats not tacking (or when boats are tacking simultaneously, the boat on the right). Rule 21 also requires some boats to keep clear and therefore grants right-of-way. We are also talking about boats entitled to room or mark room (this is primarily rule 18-20).
So the rest of rule 14 talks to these boats. It says two things. First it says that these boats need not act to avoid contact until it clear that the other boat is not keeping clear or giving room. I am going to illustrate this with a simple diagram.
(click on the diagram to see a larger cleaner version)
The yellow and green boats are both on starboard tack. The red and blue boats are both on port tack. Both starboard tack boats initially have a right to believe that the port tack boats will keep clear. By position 2, yellow can tell that blue is not going to keep clear. Yellow now has an obligation to keep clear. Green on the other hand may still believe that red is going to duck. Even if he doesn’t believe it, there is almost nothing that green do. If there is subsequently a collision in both cases yellow has broken rule 14, green has not.
Rule 14(b) is a little unusual. It says that right-of-way boats will not be penalized for breaking rule 14 if the contact does not cause damage. If there is contact between yellow and blue that does not cause damage, yellow has still broken rule 14, but will not be penalized. If there is damage, yellow can be disqualified. Green has not broken rule 14, so the issue of whether she is penalized does not come up.
Finally I want to make a comment about the responsibility to keep a look out. Some people believe that if you are right-of-way you don’t need to keep a lookout. The appeal cases come to the opposite conclusion.
ISAF Case 26 says “An important purpose of the rules of Part 2 is to avoid contact between boats. All boats, whether or not holding right of way, should keep a lookout at all times.” ISAF Case 107 says “This requirement means a boat must do everything that can reasonably be expected of her in the prevailing conditions to avoid contact. This includes keeping a good lookout, particularly in a crowded starting
line situation.” A recent Canadian case comes to similar conclusions. Right-of-way boats have to keep a lookout.
© Copyright 2010 Andrew Alberti