Tag Archive: Navigation


 

Maritime Rules Of The Road: A Primer For Boaters

 

 

” A professional mariner and U.S. Coast Guard masters license instructor explains the view from the bridge, and lays out the basics of watch-keeping and the marine pecking order for pleasure-boaters.

To be fair, I’ll state at the beginning of this story that I spend a great deal more time than the average boater thinking about the Rules of the Road. In addition to teaching students how to pass the USCG Master’s exams from OUPV (Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels)  to 100-Ton in the winter, I spend summers driving fast ferries on regularly scheduled runs in New England, and portions of my spring and fall seasons are devoted to delivering boats. What I see in the classroom and on the water has led me to an inescapable conclusion: Very few boaters have a good, working knowledge of the rules, or how to deal with other vessels in crossing, overtaking, or meeting situations.

 

 

 

The people who know the rules best are, for the most part, professional mariners. Granted, it’s their job, and they’re paid to know the rules. Their livelihood depends upon a firm command of the rules, and if they screw up, they face large fines and possible jail time. The mantle of responsibility that comes with a USCG license is a heavy one, and nobody knows that better than the men and women who drive commercial vessels.

On the recreational side, all bets are off. You pony up enough cash and you’re on the water. You’re required to know absolutely nothing before you get behind the helm and frankly, it shows. Tugboat operators, Coast Guardsmen, and other professional mariners dread the start of the “Silly Season” in New England: Spring, when the covers come off the boats and those boats and their owners swarm the bays and sounds. They (usually) follow the one basic rule that’s jokingly referred to as the “Tonnage Rule,” where the larger vessel has the right of way, no matter the circumstance.

Not all boat owners fall into that category, of course. Some may have taken courses and gotten licensing, or have come from the commercial side. Some may have spent some time looking at the book that most vessels are required to carry on board — the Rules of the Road. Some may have taken Coast Guard Auxiliary classes, or watched videos or computer simulations in a wise attempt to know the rules better and be more responsible. Some may have simply spent enough years on the water to understand the importance of the rules and assimilate them.

Sadly, all those people combined are in the minority. “

 

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