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Old 08-10-2013, 12:55   #1
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colreg unmanned vessel rules

i found myself in a situaution that was new to me. I was underway in a power driven vessel, although this would also affect sail and any other vessels, when an approximatly 14' unmanned, remote controled motor vessel came in close proximity with me, one or two boat lengths, in a small but busy harbor(Great Harbor, Woods Hole, Mass.) The drone boat, or whatever they're called, crossed my bow, port to starboard, then reversed course and crossed again from starboard to port. I came to stop and waited to see what it would do next. It then circled me once and headed off on a course directly ahead of me and away. Excellant visibility, calm conditions, the "UMV"? was bright yellow with a small flag on its antennae/mast and easy to see, although low in the water. At no time did I feel there was risk of collision.
My question was were does an unmanned power driven vessel stand in the COLREGS pecking order. There is no mention of them in the rule book. I'm assuming this particular vessel was remote controlled by someone on shore. There is however at least one unmanned solar powered vessel in route from Rhode Island to some where in Europe, following a plotter route via GPS and autopilot. How does the captain of another vessel in a meeting situation with one of these drones interpret the rules?

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Old 08-10-2013, 13:22   #2
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I imagine you could interpret the rules however you wanted to as there would only be one witness and one account of what happened ;-)

Seriously though, the only thing you can do is follow the rules. You probably couldn't even know for sure whether the vessel was manned or not, especially at night. Not only that but a regular manned vessel may not be maintaining a watch or the sole person on board may be incapacitated in which case you're effectively in the same situation as approaching an unmanned vessel. Because you wouldn't be aware of the situation on the other boat there is no choice but to follow the rules, which do include altering course or speed if you're the stand on vessel and it is apparent that the give way vessel is not making an attempt to avoid you.


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Old 08-10-2013, 13:24   #3
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

Skynet always has the right of way!
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Old 08-10-2013, 13:34   #4
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

Here's something about that from the Microtransat website (the Microtransat is a race for autonomous sailboats):
The International Rules for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLGREGs) define a vessel as carrying passengers or cargo, it is our understanding that this doesn't class an autonomous boat as a vessel and therefore exempts it from these rules. There is no current legal status for autonomous boats, from what we can tell in speaking to the IMO and both the UK and French coastguards it would be classed as a buoy not a vessel. By keeping the boats length at 4 metres most vessels wouldn't even realise a collision had taken place. Additionally we strongly recommend each competitor carry an all round white light visible from 2 nautical miles away, a radar reflector, make their boat highly visible and have clear warnings that it is unmanned. Competitors are free to implement collision avoidance if they wish (but are not required to by the rules) and to make use of technologies such as RADAR or AIS (Automatic Identification System)
Paul Elliott, S/V VALIS - Pacific Seacraft 44 #16 - Friday Harbor, WA
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Old 08-10-2013, 13:42   #5
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The Colregs actually defines a vessel as any type of watercraft which is used or is capable of being used for transportation. The "or capable" part is significant and would cover an unmanned vessel unless specifically designed to not be capable of carrying anything.

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Old 08-10-2013, 13:52   #6

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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

Unmanned Vehicles Detachment (UMV)

The Unmanned Vehicles Detachment (UMV) was initially organized in the mid 1970s from personnel in the various departments of Submarine Development Squadron 5 and Deep Submergence Unit. UMV was first assigned a Side Looking Sonar (SILOS) system and a precision navigation system. These systems allowed UMV to begin search and survey operations, mostly in shallow water and near land. "

From Unmanned Vehicles Detachment (UMV)

So that's the US Navy you met. I don't recall COLREGS making any requirement that the watch officer physically be on deck, so I would assume the drone was keeping a proper watch and following other normal USN conventions. It's a motorboat, you're a sailboat, ignore the man behind the curtain.
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Old 08-10-2013, 13:53   #7
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Talking Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

Originally Posted by Delancy View Post
Skynet always has the right of way!
That Terminator is out there. It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with. It doesn't feel pity of remorse or fear and it absolutely will not stop. Ever.
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
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Old 08-10-2013, 18:08   #8
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

There was talk in some maritime magazine or web site I was reading recently. They're working on fitting unmanned vessels into the rules, maybe a new class of vessel in addition to the usual NUC, RAM, CBD, Fishing, Sailing, Power, etc.

For now, it has to follow the regular rules if it's remotely controlled. If it's autonomous, it has to identify itself as a RAM (lights and/or day shapes) and has the associated place in the pecking order. So it would still give way to a NUC. Not quite sure how it would know. There was discussion about how AIS could be used to make this all easier, but it was recognized that not everyone has AIS yet so that's just hypothetical at this point.

Me? I'd just avoid the darned thing if at all possible. I worked with some Navy and Woods Hole folks who brought "UUVs" (underwater unmanned vessels), both remote and autonomous, to an event a few years ago. There were all kinds. Very interesting. Spooky to watch the things surface on their own. They hadn't got all the kinks out yet. Currents were a problem for most of them. Some kept breaking down. One got "lost" and went up on the rocks.
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Old 08-10-2013, 18:20   #9
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

An unmanned catamaran sailed from Germany to Azores in 2002. I saw it there, and thought:

Hypothetical situation...Survivors in a liferaft, no epirb, down to last flare, no water and at night a white all round light comes within 200 yards, they fire their last flare, shout scream blow whistles etc, and the light sails on by....What does the IMO say about this?
Tight sheets to ya.
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Old 08-10-2013, 18:27   #10
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

ram it and sink it!
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Old 08-10-2013, 18:33   #11
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

It's no worse than a vessel on autopilot with no one on watch. I had to dodge one of those in Narraganset bay two weeks ago I was clearly the stand on vessel, under sail and on the other boats starboard bow. I finnally decided the boat wasn't going to give way and turned on a reciprocal course. No one was on deck or in the wheel house. It was noon so the captain was probably below eating lunch.

I don't know about other people but I think I would notice a collision with a 4 meter boat. Maybe the morons that thought up these guidelines think the only boats on the ocean are supertankers and container ships, along with a giant cruise ship or two.
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Old 08-10-2013, 19:12   #12
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

They are defined as Salvage.

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Old 08-10-2013, 21:46   #13
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Re: colreg unmanned vessel rules

Where I work we run a couple of gliders and AUV (robot subs). THe Subs are powered and the gliders use changes in their buoyancy to glide forward as they go up and down in the water column.

They are a foot or so in diameter and 8' long or so. Painted bright yellow we hope that when they surface to report position and other data they are not run down. Spendy buggers, around $150,000 each.

We operate the gliders off the Washington and Oregon coast and the AUV in the estuary. They spend most of their time underwater so there is not much risk of collision. If you were to meet up with one treat it as a log and go around it. It has no standing in the navigational rules.

For AUV:

For Glider:

Unless they are obviously damaged please do not pick them up and bring them home.

Not quite like a 14' unmaned power boat.


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