Island, Robert Louis Stevenson's lively tale of secret maps and
stolen doubloons, a conscience-plagued pirate throws himself on his
knees and seeks forgiveness through solemn, if belated, prayer.
Stevenson explains how Dick found himself in his predicament: "He
had been well brought up, had Dick, before he came to sea and fell among
the typical sailor, the bad companions on the water are not shipmates,
but other skippers who get in the way. Many of these intruders seem to
be at the helm of the noisy, often too speedy vessels that sailors
smugly call "stinkpots." Some of the most annoying and
frightening of these are whiny, little personal watercraft (like the Jet
Ski) and roaring pseudo raceboats (like the Cigarette). Their
operators often appear to be oblivious to everything in the neighborhood,
including each other. Marine police report that when a PWC collides with
another boat, the odds are that the victim is another PWC.
We all have our
stories about rude powerboats. The best comment I've heard was shouted
at a speedboat blasting through a race fleet on Long Island Sound.
"It's our Sound, too, you know!" my friend yelled. She was
correct, but we sailors have no right to be sanctimonious. We can be
pretty rude companions, too. We misread situations, ignore the rules of
the road, blunder into the path of other vessels, and, in general,
forget that it's also their Sound, too.
From the point of view of the leeward
boat here, if bearings taken on the other boat move aft, you
will cross ahead of her. If they move forward, she will cross
ahead of you. But if the bearing doesn't change, the two boats
sailor tunes out the situation. When underway it's important, for
instance, to know if your boat's relationship to another boat's position
is changing . A good habit is to take regular bearings on a nearby boat
to see if you're pulling ahead or behind. If the bearing doesn't change,
you'll probably collide.
Sailors may not
know the Navigation Rules. (Widely known as "the rules of the road"
and available in a Coast Guard booklet and in good boating manuals, they
specify how all vessels—boats and ships—must maneuver and what
signals they must make in order to avoid collisions.) Skippers of
auxiliary sailboats, for example, may think they always have right of
way over powerboats, even when their engines are on. Not so: sailboats
under sail are required by law to give way to (avoid) some powerboats,
and when their engines are on and in gear, under the rules, sailboats
Sailors may also
be ignorant of how powerboats handle. For every powerboater unaware that
a sailboat makes leeway and turns slowly, there's a sailor who doesn't
know how easily a powerboat at low speed can be pushed around by the
wind. "We always expect other boats to be as maneuverable as ours,"
says Sheila McCurdy Brown "and sometimes they're not." That's
why the Navigation Rules lay out specific priorities when different
types of vessels are near each other. The logic is simple and can be
summarized this way:
Sailboats normally have the right of
way over powerboats, but must give way to large vessels in
maneuverable boats give way to less maneuverable ones.In
wide open, deep water a powerboat gives way to a sailboat, and any
moving boat gives way to a stopped boat (for instance, one that has
fishing lines out). But in a narrow channel or traffic separation zone,
smaller boats (under sail or power) give way to ships, ferry boats, and
other large vessels that have little room to maneuver.
The challenge is
to recognize the scenario.
rule with its own sound logic:
overtaking another boat must give way to the leader.If
you can easily see the other boat's stern, it means that you're
overtaking and also that her crew can't easily see you. You may pass,
but you must keep your distance. This rule applies even to sailboats
overtaking a powerboat.
When similar boats
are near each other, the rules assign priorities according to arbitrary
under sail are near each other, a boat on port tack must give way to one on starboard, and a windward
boat must give way to a leeward one.
Those rules sound
simple, but in the heat of the action even the best of us can
momentarily misread a situation. I've known good racing boats that have
the following reminder written in large, red letters on the port side of
the boom: "You're now on port tack! STAY
When boats under power cross, the one
on the right IS right. The other boat must cross her wake, not
her bow. Sound one horn blast under the "intent-agreement"
rule of the Inland Rules.
Another example of
an established rule governing similar boats is the crossing rule for
powerboats (which, again, include sailboats under power). We are
frequently tempted to cut across another boat's bow in channels and
harbors, for example, to reach the slip. The rule that helps makes that
action seamanlike can be summarized this way:
The boat on the
right IS right.When
boats under power are crossing, the stand-on vessel (the one that does
not alter course) is the one on the other vessel's starboard side and
the give-way vessel is the one on the other boat's port side. The give-way
vessel must cross astern of the other, not ahead.
must be clear. You cannot assume that the skipper of the other boat can
read your mind. One way to communicate is with clear action. The give-way
vessel must make an early and substantial course alteration—say, 20
degrees. An old rule of thumb is "show her your side." A small
course change may be easily interpreted as a steering error. "Intent-agreement"
horn or whistle signals specified by the Inland Rules (which govern US
coastal and inland waters) also communicate intentions: one short blast
indicates that the boat intends to turn to starboard; two blasts, a turn
to port. (Other signals apply to other situations.) The second vessel
indicates agreement by sounding the same signal, at which point the turn
is made, or the second vessel warns of a risk of collision by sounding
the five-blast danger signal. A third way to communicate between boats
is over a VHF radio, which in crowded waters should be kept on, tuned to
channel 16, and carefully monitored.
Finally, there are
two informal, but helpful rules of thumb (not rules of the road)
that have saved many skippers from embarrassment or worse:
If you don't think the crew of the other vessel is able to see you, give
way regardless of who is technically correct.
The gross tonnage rule:
Give way to vessels much larger than yours, for the same reason.
guidelines reflect a cautious, realistic, and determined effort to be
the good companion that you'd like that guy in the stinkpot to be.