Navigation Safety Regulations – Safety and Rules at the Sea

Safety on the Sea – Navigation Safety Regulations and Rules at the Sea

New York (USA), October 28, 2012

Navigation Safety and Rules at the Sea

Boat collisions occur often and cause immense loss. The best way to stay safe on waters is to follow all navigation rules diligently and sail at moderate speed. This helps maneuver and change course when necessary.

Rules of the sea differ for inland and international waters. Nautical charts clearly depict demarcation lines for change of inland and international rules. International rules apply from seaward side of demarcation lines. Proper adherence to all rules ensures perfect safety for ships and boats on the waters. Sailors and mariners should complete and follow an appropriate boating skills and seamanship course (such as U.S. Power Squadron or U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Boating Skills and Seamanship Course).

International Maritime Organization (IMO) has published a set of rules for ships and vessels at sea. This is the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGS). This also specifies rules for coastal waterways and inland waterways. Racing yachts follow the same rules except in cases of overtaking or right-of-way close to turning marks.

Navigation Safety Rules

Anybody venturing out at sea should know and adhere to all these safe navigation rules compiled for inland and international waters. However, mariners can deviate from these rules to avoid imminent chances of collision.

(I) All sailing vessels should adopt proper and designated means to see in daytime and nighttime through use of proper visual aids and hear sounds of other vessels through Marine VHF radio or sound signals to avoid any collision.

(II) You should adhere to safe speed limits. This speed limit depends on factors like traffic density, visibility, turning ability, maneuverability with reference to stopping distance, state of the wind, sea, current, or navigational hazards, presence of shore lights, and similar more. Speed limits should be strictly followed such that you can take necessary action in case of any emergency. Speed should remain restricted specifically in inclement weather.

(III) Collision chances are pronounced and evident if compass bearing from your vessel to an approaching vessel does not change. This is expressed as CBDR or Constant bearing decreasing range. Sometimes collision chances remain high even if there is sufficient bearing change. This is true in case of approaching a vessel at very close range or if vessel is very large or a towing one. All vessels should adopt proper equipments and devices like radar, AIS, and others to assess chances of collision and avert them. Radar use often encounters limitations due to weather, range of scale, target movement, density, and its overall strength.

(IV) Not all boats and vessels can maneuver exactly in the same way and speed. Any power-driven vessel must navigate out-of-the-way of:

(a) Sailing vessels
(b) Commercial fishing vessel as these carry fishing-equipment that restrict easy maneuverability or similar RAM vessels (restricted in ability to maneuver)
(c) Dredge/towboat or vessel constrained by draft (CBD)
(d) Broken down boat/vessel or boats not in command (NUC)

Similarly, sailing boats should give way to fishing vessels, which in turn should give way to towboats, and all vessels should give way to boats not in command.

(V) If two power vessels have to maneuver their way, stand-on vessel should follow its speed and course. Give-way vessel should take suitable action to avoid collision. If give-way vessel does not or remains incompetent to do so, stand-on vessel should undertake all steps to avoid any collision. If two sailing boats or ships are moving in the same direction, one has to overtake the other to avoid collision. The boat or ship that overtakes is the give-way vessel and the boat or ship being overtaken is the stand-on vessel. The give-way remains so until it has steered away completely of stand-on vessel.

(VI) If two boats or ships are approaching each other, any one boat has to indicate her intent and the other should answer promptly. Here neither boat is stand-on boat. Normal rules indicate you should alter course to starboard and pass port-to-port. The respective signal is one short blast and other vessel should respond similarly. If you cannot pass port-to-port due to any obstruction, sound two short blasts. This indicates your intention to pass starboard-to-starboard. The other vessel should respond similarly.

(VII) If two boats are approaching each other perpendicularly, right-side vessel is stand-on vessel. Rules indicate left-side vessel is give-way vessel. It should adjust and steer across stand-on vessel by its stern. Give-way vessel can reverse, stop, or slow down to proceed safely.

(VIII) If sailing boat approaches power vessel, sailing boat is stand-on vessel and power vessel should change course to pass sailing boat from behind.

(IX) If sailing on rivers or Great Lakes, boat or vessel going with the current is stand-on vessel. The boat going against the current or upstream is give-way vessel as it is in a better position to maneuver.

(X) If you are sailing along a bend and cannot view vessels or boats on the other side, sound a prolonged blast. This alerts boats or ships on the other side of bend. If there is any boat on the other side, it answers similarly with a prolonged blast.

(XI) If you are sailing in a narrow channel, you should sail on starboard side keeping a safe margin. Small sailing boats or ships should not disrupt other vessels that can navigate only through specific narrow channel.

(XII) Normally, boats approaching each other give way to another if:

(a) Wind is on different sides for both vessels, vessel-having wind on port side must give way
(b) Wind is on same side for both vessels, windward vessel must give way to leeward vessel
(c) If vessel has wind on port side but is unable to determine whether other vessel has wind on leeward or starboard side, it should give way.

(XIII) A vessel at anchor must display an all-round white light. There should be a light at the stern at a lower level than the first light.

(XIIV) Boats and vessels with length of forty to fifty feet should carry a whistle and a bell. Often, horn also serves the purpose of a whistle.

(XV) If a vessel is unable to maneuver, she should display either:

(a) Three lights in the best visible place. The top and bottom lights should be red and the middle one should be white or
(b) Three shapes in the best visible place. The top and bottom shape should be balls while the middle one should be diamond.

(XVI) If a vessel is not under command, she should exhibit:

(a) Two round red lights in a vertical line in the best visible place
(b) Two round balls or two of similar shape in a vertical line in the best visible place
(c) Stern light and sidelights in addition to all other lights

Guide to Sailing and Ocean Cruising in a Medium Sized Yacht
The Complete Reference Guide to Sailing and Ocean Cruising in a Medium Sized Yacht

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