I was involved in a near collision
this afternoon in a situation where I thought I knew the right-of-way rules pretty well. The skipper
of the other boat lectured me on the dock
later. He was adamant that sailboats in fairways do not have any special rights and I should not expect him to stay out of my way while I was sailing and he was passing me.
I did try to point out he was overtaking my boat that was sailing at the speed limit and the channel was 55 yards wide so his 38’ foot boat had plenty of room to pass without hitting me. I also said he did not signal his intention to pass in unusual circumstances and me being a sailboat had no bearing on the fact he was the overtaking vessel and had to stay clear.
I was sailing a 17-foot boat with no motor
West up a dead end channel that is 650 yards long and 55 yards wide. It is bounded by riprap on the North and side tie docks for big boats on the South and is 16’ deep side to side. The channel leads from San Diego
Bay and is the only entrance to our marina.
Our marina encourages sailboats with no motors and actively supports a public sailing program with six motorless dinghies. Many marina residents have and sail dinghies with no motors.
This afternoon the wind
was blowing directly down the channel so I was tacking up the channel. Each tack covered about 80 yards and took about 45 seconds to diagonally cross the channel from side to side. Three boats coming up the channel overtook me while passing astern of me as I crossed the channel and easily went by me with little change of course on their part and no change of course on my part.
On my last tack before turning into my slipway, a 38’ catamaran
under power and headed the same direction as I approached me from astern while I was on the tack toward the south (left) side of the channel. It appeared the boat, which was 25 yards north of me, would pass me while I tacked and before I regained speed.
I then tacked back toward the rocks on the north side. As I completed my tack I saw the 38’ boat was still to my starboard side and had slowed down. I yelled “do you see me” and they replied “yes” and maintained their course up the channel just to the right of the centerline. My course was crossing theirs at 45 degrees and aimed just ahead of their bow.
I assumed, knowing it was a professional captain
driving a charter
boat full of guests that he would make a minor deviation to port, allowing me to go ahead, and he would pass me astern. That is how, literally, hundreds of our marina boats have dealt with all the small sailing boats in the channel during the four years I have been here.
He held his course, I yelled, “Are you going to let me cross ahead?”, and he just looked at me, from a distance of 15 yards, and held his course. I was then aimed at his portside mid-ships. He kept slowing and I could not pass him astern so I had to quickly tack at a distance of less than three yards.
He later told me he slowed in front of me because he was going to turn to port to enter the next slipway. He also insisted that he was in a narrow fairway and constrained in his movements because he wanted to turn to port. As such, he had the right of way over a dinghy
sailing in the channel.
I suggested he was overtaking and it was his responsibility to stay clear. He responded by telling me that sailboats had no special rights in a fairway. I conceded that point but reminded him he was overtaking a vessel that was not impeding his passage
and therefore he had to stay clear of the vessel ahead, ME!
So what does the protest committee say?
Here is my analysis of the rules:
9b says any vessel under 20 meters and any sailing vessel must not impede the passage
of a vessel (more details are there but that is the basics). 9b does not define “impede” but I have always understood it to mean slow, delay, or obstruct the passage and I did nothing to impede his passage.
9b was not applicable in this situation because I was sailing at 4 to 5 knots and the speed limit for the entire area is 5 knots so I was not impeding his passage if he adhered to the speed limit.
If my passage at the speed limit was too slow then all he had to do was move 10 yards to port to allow me to sail across the channel and he could have passed astern.
Or, if he had maintained his speed after overtaking me; he would have passed clear ahead and I could have ducked under his stern.
My 2nd concern with the situation is that Rule 9e(i) says the overtaking vessel must signal their intent to pass if the overtaking will require the overtaken vessel to take action to allow safe passing.
I have always understood that to mean a sound signal. In this case a shout would have been sufficient telling me they wanted to pass and then letting me pick the better side for them to pass. The other captain
made no attempt to signal his intent to pass prior to my finding him in my path. Or, he could have told me he was going to overtake and then slow in front of me.
Rule 13a clearly states that the overtaking vessel must keep out of the way of the overtaken vessel. At the point where our paths crossed, he had seen me tack across the channel at least six times and could plainly understand my course. My intent was crystal clear to the overtaking vessel.
Most guides to interpreting the ColRegs contain a statement similar to that found in Handbook of Nautical Rules of the Road “Should there not be room to pass, the overtaking vessel always has the option to slow down.”
The Handbook also explains “13a requires that any vessel overtaking another keep out of the way, even if another rule requires otherwise. In overtaking situations, look to Rule 13 first.”
Rule 13d says that the overtaking vessel, once past the overtaken vessel must not alter course in such a way to make the overtaken vessel the ‘crossing vessel’, i.e. the burdened vessel. The overtaking vessel must be well clear so the overtaken vessel does not have to alter course to avoid collision
Additionally the Handbook says about the relationship of Rule 9 and Rule 13 “Rule 13 requires overtaking vessels to put aside the other “shall not impede” requirements and to keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.”
My understanding then is that
- Rule 13 supersedes Rule 9 in a passing situation
- The other boat overtook me and then slowed in front of me forcing me to alter course in violation of 13d
- The other vessel did not signal an attempt to pass as required by 9 and 13
- Rule 9 does not apply because I was proceeding up the channel at nearly the speed limit and therefore did not impede the other boat
- Rule 9 does not apply because the channel was 55 yards wide, the other boat is only 6 yards wide and very shallow draft
and my boat was only 1 yard wide. The other boat had 48 yards of clear channel available for safe passage.
So what is the opinion of the rules experts here – did I have an expectation of a clear path across the channel while sailing at the speed limit and being over taken?
There are six 15’ dinghies customized for taking persons with physical disabilities sailing on the dock
where I keep our 17’ dinghy
. Those six boats also have no motors. Those six boats make about 24 trips a week from our dock and I sail almost every day and we have been doing so for several years. None of us have ever had a problem with right of way issues in the channel leading to our dock.
Have we all misunderstood the rules that we are not impeding passage while sailing at the speed limit?