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Old 15-06-2014, 03:18   #1
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Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

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:

Rule 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.

Rule 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?
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Old 15-06-2014, 03:35   #2
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

A splendid problem!!!

This will get the COLREGS juices flowing around here

The way the rules apply in such a case are indeed not obvious, and I learned a hell of a lot in discussions on here with very knowledgeable people, like one guy who goes by Lodesman. I found out that a lot of my superficial convictions about how the rules apply were wrong.

So, my comments, to make them as short as possible, are the following:

1. Although you're "not to impede", this does not cancel the sailing and steering rules, so when the risk of collision appears, the normal rules are in effect. This contradicts what your captain said.

2. However, you must not sail in a way which forces other boats into dangerous maneuvers. You should never tack under the bows of other boats no matter what the circumstances -- you have no right to stand on into danger, or make sudden maneuvers which create danger.

3. Also, you should not be tacking up a narrow channel when there are vessels about which are constrained by draft and unable to navigate outside them. You are violating your duty to not impede. Even if the other vessel could theoretically get around you, by tacking up the channel you are creating, in my opinion, and unreasonable burden on such vessels.

4. Which does not, however, relieve the other skipper from the obligation to give way to you when the risk of collision appears. An overtaking vessel gives way to a vessel being overtaken -- period. This trumps all the other sailing & steering rules.

5. Nor does it relieve the other skipper from the obligation to altogether and by any means necessary avoid dangerous situations, notwithstanding any other obligations under the Colregs.


So, in my opinion, the situation is like this, in summary:

1. It is true that you should not have been tacking up that narrow channel. When you put the other skipper in the position of having to give way to you, you were interfering with him in violation of the Rules.

2. However, the other skipper was wrong on many counts, and in my opinion much more wrong than you were -- once the risk of collision arose, he was obligated to give way. Furthermore, in any case, he should not have sailed into a near-collision situation -- that is a horrible violation not only of the COLREGS but of basic seamanship.


That's my reading. I'm sure you'll get many more

P.S. I'm not commenting on the speed issue because I think it's not relevant in this case. If you're tacking, you're impeding, in my opinion, because you're forcing him to make maneuvers. I don't think you can assume that maybe he wouldn't have to maneuver if he were not exceeding the speed limit. If you're tacking, your speed of advance down the channel is at least 1.4x slower than your speed through the water, and no one can know when you're going to tack. This is always interference, IMHO.
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Old 15-06-2014, 05:04   #3
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
A splendid problem!!!

1. It is true that you should not have been tacking up that narrow channel. When you put the other skipper in the position of having to give way to you, you were interfering with him in violation of the Rules.


That's my reading. I'm sure you'll get many more
One problem with Your reading the rules:

Is the engineless sailing boat effectively prohibited by COLREGS to reach the destination of her voyage, when the destination is upwind, at the end of channel?

Cheers,

Tomasz
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Old 15-06-2014, 07:43   #4
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

Quote:
Originally Posted by TacomaSailor View Post
<snip>

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.

Based on your description of the channel he was not constrained or restricted and had plenty of water to maneuver.

<snip>

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.

You have a duty not to impede. If approached from the stern and you are tacking through 90 degrees up this channel I would interpret this to mean any tack you make should be "completed" well prior to any approaching passing vessel getting close. When your tack is complete could be debatable in court. However once established on a tack that is taking you at an approximate 45 degree angle across the channel, he is now a passing vessel and shall keep clear.

<snip>

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.


So what does the protest committee say?

Here is my analysis of the rules:

Rule 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.

For me the key is here is did you complete your tack well in time to not impede his progress. One could argue you did not and should have luffed momentarily and sucked his stern - but there is the complication of what he did after passing you.

<snip>


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.

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.

If he slowed or turned in front of you immediately after passing you I would say he did not meet the burden of the overtaking vessel. He caused you to maneuver by his action.

This is a big deal. He is not allowed to pass immediately in front of you and then either cross you "dangerously" until well clear or slow in front of you
<snip>

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

<snip>
The first rule for both of you is no collisions - When a collision is imminent you both are burdened to avoid.

I have deleted a loft of stuff in the quote above and think the pertinent facts remain. I inserted comments above.

Read that and then in summary here is my opinion. Remember I wasn't there so I don't know the distances between boats.

In summary:

- He approached from the stern. He didn't signal and gets a demerit but in court he'd argue you were talking to him so you knew he was there. Your conversation was an ipso facto signal.

- It sounds like you late tacked and put your boat on a collision course "after" the passing maneuver was initiated. He had no obligation to expect you to tack (although it seems obvious to you and anyone else that you must tack) - However, at the beginning of his maneuver to pass (STARTING 20-30 yards astern?) you were on one tack. Some point after that you tacked and were "pointed" at his amidships. This to me means the passing maneuver had begun and while he had the burden to stay clear, you had a burden to "stand on" - i.e. not change course or speed once his maneuver started - the debate is where did his maneuver start? - 5 demerits for you.

- After his stern passed your bow (or sometime during the passing maneuver) he altered speed. He's not allowed to do that. - 5 demerits for him. What makes this a big deal to me is that not only did he slow but he intended to turn to port in front of you and you are already on his port side.

All in all I think I come down on your side of this but in practical terms had I been on your boat, after completing the tack to port tack and seeing him slow I would have made a serious maneuver downwind, even heading back up the channel a bit, or I would have luffed in the tack and waited to see what he was going to do.

I've sailed the left coast a bit - Long Beach, Marina Del Ray and even that San Diego channel you are talking about. It's crowded on the weekends, almost everyone has auxiliary power and frankly unpowered boats tacking back and forth are often impeding people.

I followed an unpowered guy in one day after a charter - he was like an 80 year old lady driving in the fast lane on the freeway. His tacks were so short I could not start and execute a pass while he was on one or the other tack. I slowed to a crawl and it felt like fingernails on a chalkboard. Frankly it was very rude of him.

It was truly a pain in the ass. He could have momentarily luffed and waved me though but chose to "assert" his rights.
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Old 15-06-2014, 08:34   #5
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

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Originally Posted by DoubleWhisky View Post
One problem with Your reading the rules:

Is the engineless sailing boat effectively prohibited by COLREGS to reach the destination of her voyage, when the destination is upwind, at the end of channel?

Cheers,

Tomasz
No, of course not. The 17 foot sailboat should be outside the channel if possible. It surely does not draw more than 50cm of water.

If it can't navigate outside the channel, then it should wait, if possible, until traffic constrained by draft and unable to navigate outside the channel gets by.

If for whatever reason, legitimate or not, the small boat is nevertheless tacking up the channel, other vessels have no right to rush up and create a collision danger. When a risk of collision exists, they have to follow the other steering and sailing rules.
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Old 15-06-2014, 08:58   #6
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

Any local bylaws re: said fairway?

If not then I would think the cat had priority due to restricted manoeuvrability with regard to his slip.
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Old 15-06-2014, 09:09   #7
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

It is not a case of justifying rights, it is more a case of acting correctly and in a predictable way. The other skipper will be basing his actions on you doing what you should be doing. If he is constrained due to a narrow slipway then it isn't in anybodies mind that they have to tack away.

If he is expecting you to pass behind him to tack could be disastrous and inconvenience him more. He slowed considerably you said twice basically trying to figure out how to make way.
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Old 15-06-2014, 09:20   #8
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

We all know the sailboat and the powerboat are trying to go in the same direction - but- when the sailboat is tacking, can an overtaking situation change into a crossing situation when the sailboat is pointed at the side of the powerboat?
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Old 15-06-2014, 09:22   #9
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
No, of course not. The 17 foot sailboat should be outside the channel if possible. It surely does not draw more than 50cm of water.

If it can't navigate outside the channel, then it should wait, if possible, until traffic constrained by draft and unable to navigate outside the channel gets by.

If for whatever reason, legitimate or not, the small boat is nevertheless tacking up the channel, other vessels have no right to rush up and create a collision danger. When a risk of collision exists, they have to follow the other steering and sailing rules.

Understood now
By the way, may be I misread the OP, but my understanding was the channel in question is not buoyed channel in the broader stretch of water, but real, narrow channel between two banks. May be I was wrong
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Old 15-06-2014, 09:27   #10
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

Always allow for the possibility that the other guy interprets the rules differently than you or is even not aware of you or the rules.

Don't tack/maneuver to pass close in front of a boat passing you.

I hate when the stand-on vessel makes unexpected maneuvers.
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Old 15-06-2014, 10:00   #11
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

I see this routinely at Marina del Rey. The fairways off the main channel that lead to the fingers and slips are also pretty narrow.

Student boats (22 feet) usually with an instructor on board, tack back and forth in and out of these fairways on a regular basis (I have done this myself many times).

When I'm at the helm of another boat and under power I always give right of way to these little boats under sail. (I am afterall under power and can speed up or slow down much easier than they can). Similarly if/when under sail in one of these small boats in the fairway I have always assumed I had the right of way over power boats moving up or down the fairway but I am always prepared to do what is necessary to avoid a collision, which isn't particularly difficult because those little Capris are pretty nimble.

I think the catamaran skipper is wrong. He is not a fishing boat or commercial boat encumbered by a narrow channel or draft with no room to manuever. He was probably PO'd because you made it inconvenient for him when he was trying to turn out of the fairway and into the finger of his slip/dock. It also sounds like he misjudged the situation by going too fast or too slow and hence created the problem where you had to throw in an extra tack to avoid a collision at the last minute. If it's like Marina del Rey he had options - stop dead in the water until you got out of the way or power up to the end of the fairway and make a U-turn back to his finger. Personally I think that is the crux of debates like this. Since he was under power he had options the sail boat did not.

Maybe I'm way off base here but if I were under power and put my boat in a position where a small sail boat under sail had to avoid me at the last minute like that I'd be screaming, "sorry...my bad".
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Old 15-06-2014, 10:06   #12
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

I would be really interested in hearing his view of what happened. I suspect, a few of the "facts" would change. Not suggesting the OP is lying just that view points are different.

The issue with short tacking up a channel is it's hard to determine when they will tack next, so there is a burden on the dingy sail boat to take the initiative and make sure it is exceptionally clear what you are doing (law of tonnage not the legal definition).

If it's truly as you describe, both of you were in the wrong to varying degrees, though he was probably slightly more in the wrong.
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Old 15-06-2014, 10:17   #13
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

For those who haven't heard this -

Here lies the body of Jonathan Ray
who died defending his right of way
he was right, dead right, as he sped along
but he's just as dead
as if he'd been wrong.
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Old 15-06-2014, 10:47   #14
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

How were YOU suppoosed to know HE wanted to turn? He was a jerk.
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Old 15-06-2014, 11:06   #15
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Re: Narrow Channel Overtaking and Sailing

Honestly both skippers were wrong and in that case tonnage always wins......
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