The two boats were operating in the same general area. Who was responsible for avoiding a collision? The question of who is liable when two boats are operating in the same vicinity is not as easy to answer as you might think. Generally, the operator of a boat should always be aware of what other vessels are around them and take appropriate action to avoid collisions with those vessels.
The United States Coast Guard has a set of “rules to the road” for waterway users.
Rule 13 says that all vessels must operate at a safe speed so as not to create excessive wake or wash, and should be operated with due care and caution. Rule 12 states that boats must conduct themselves in such a manner that they will not impede other boat traffic on their course or jeopardize safety by sudden maneuvers without giving an appropriate signal first; this includes when two vessels are crossing paths or moving parallel but different courses.
The USCS also goes on to say how much responsibility falls upon the operator of each vessel depending on what type those vessels are (e.g., power vs sailboat). For instance, if two powerboats are operating in the same general area, then Rule #12 would say that both vessels must conduct themselves with due care and caution to avoid a collision.
I don’t want you thinking this blog is all about boats; it’s not!
But if two boats are operating in the same general area, who has responsibility for avoiding a collision? That question led me into research on navigation rules of the road for waterways users. The USCS says Rule 12 applies depending on what type those vessels are (e.g., one powered vessel vs one sailboat). If two powerboats come into contact with each other or cause an accident, then we can assume they’re equally at fault because their wake/wash could have been avoided by the other boat.
But if two sailboats come into contact with each other or cause an accident, then we can assume that one vessel violated rule 12 and caused a collision because they were in violation of Rule 13 which says vessels must not interfere with another’s course when both are sailing close-hauled.
The USCS defines “close-hauled” as “sailing so near to the direction from which wind is blowing that waves strike only on one side.” So basically, it means you’re intentionally trying to turn your sails perpendicular against the wave action by turning them away from where the waves are coming from (e.g., headwind). A powerboat cannot do this because their wake/wash would push the sails back in the other direction.
In a collision, if it’s clear that one boat violated Rule 12 and caused an accident by not obeying rule 13 (which is “never interfere with another vessel”), then the ship violating rules 12-13 would be responsible for avoiding all consequences of a collision, which includes paying for damages to any ships involved or injured people on board either boat, but this also can include criminal charges depending on severity.
This means two boats operating close together must take care to avoid each other as they pass through smaller channels so they do not risk running into each other – even when one has no intention of passing through the channel being used by the other. This is because vessels are obligated under International Law to “give way” to other vessels.
The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (or COLREGS) are the maritime rules that govern how two boats or ships should operate together when they have a risk of collision and what is required if there actually is a collision – which can happen even in channels with large navigational clearances, such as those found in some rivers. These rules are international law because every country has agreed to abide by them under an agreement called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Rule 12: Keep your course and speed; do not alter course unless you cannot avoid another ship – Rule 13: Never interfere with another vessel. When two power driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side shall keep out of the way and pass down on that side – Rule 18: A ship must be able to stop in half the distance it can see.
The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (or COLREGS) are a set of rules governing how two boats or ships should operate together when they have a risk of collision. The most important aspect is keeping your course and speed; do not alter course unless you cannot avoid another boat because this increases both danger and likelihood for an accident.