We've had this discussion before, and I'm not sure that there is much to be gained from rehashing it. But since these threads are read by thousands of people, I think it's important that true information is injected in them somewhere.
First of all, a lot of nonsense can be avoided by simply reading the Colregs -- they are fairly clear and you don't have to be a lawyer to understand them. Here is just one place to find them: COLREGS - Boating Safety
A couple of further comments:
1. There is no such thing as "right of way" in the Colregs. The concept
of "standing on" and "giving way" are somewhat different, and the difference is important. It is misleading to talk about "right of way", as if we were driving cars. The rules at sea are different from the rules on the road.
2. There is no such concept as a "more manueverable" and "less maneuverable" vessel in the Colregs. There are specifically defined situations where other vessels are supposed to keep clear of a vessel which is impaired in its ability to manuever
and is giving the proper signals to indicate this. There are other rules that require us to keep out of the way of a vessel which is constrained by draft
and navigating in a narrow channel, if we are not similarly constrained. But there is no rule
that "a less manueverable vessel has the right of way" -- this is patently false. On the contrary, under the Colregs, less manueverable vessels are obligated to give way to more maneuverable vessels in a lot of different situations.
3. What is true, however, is that there is certainly a general principle of good seamanship and common sense, and doing whatever is required under the circumstances to avoid a collision
, even if it means violating one of the other rules after a reasonable attempt has been made to follow it. And this certainly does require small pleasure boats to take early action to avoid getting into close quarters situations with large commercial
vessels, where this is reasonably possible. It also means keeping in mind and taking account for the fact that a large commercial vessel might not see you. But this principle does not mean that the proper way to deal with encounters with large commercial vessels is to willy-nilly steer any which way in whatever direction seems away from them, throwing the Colregs overboard
. This is, on the contrary, poor seamanship, contrary to all of the principles of the Colregs, and dangerous.
So to sum all this up -- yes, of course, small pleasure vessels should do everything reasonable to avoid encounters with large commercial vessels. In many places and circumstances, you can navigate in water
too shallow for them and entirely avoid the problem in the first place, or heave to and wait for them to get by, or simply change course before there is any encounter. It is good seamanship and simple common sense to use the fact of your greater manueverability and shallower draft
to stay out of their way.
However, sometimes it does happen that you cannot avoid a close quarters situation with a large commercial vessel. In such cases, you had damned well better understand what you are supposed to do -- are you the stand on vessel? Or the give way vessel? Are you supposed to turn to starboard? Are you supposed to hold your course and speed? Is he navigating in a narrow channel? Are you under sail? Does he see you? Is he showing signals of being impaired in manueverability? Do you know those signals? Is he towing something? You must know all of these things in order to deal safely with an encounter with a large commercial vessel.