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Safe at Sea: International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea

By Staff | Jun 18, 2019

Front-page headlines on June 8, 2019, read: “U.S., Russia Blame Each Other as Ships Nearly Collide.” The articles went on to explain how a U.S. guided missile cruiser and a Russian destroyer came within 165 feet – not yards – of each other in the Philippine Sea.

The actions of the Russian destroyer put the safety of the USS Chancellorville and its crew at risk, forcing it to reverse all engines at full throttle. A Navy spokesperson was cited as saying: We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional, and not in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) – ‘Rules of the Road’ – and internationally recognized maritime customs.”

If you read last week’s Safe at Sea column, then you’ll appreciate the irony of it appearing simultaneously with this maritime event. In the column, headlined “The Rules of the Road,” I wrote about the COLREGS and, specifically, about the General Rule of Responsibility, which states that the captain must comply with the Navigation Rules, and he/she “must take every precaution required by the ordinary practice of seamanship, including departing from the rules to avoid immediate danger.”

In the above case of the USS Chancellorville and a Russian destroyer, the admiral had to reverse all engines at full throttle. That is considered a requirement as this was his only option to avoid immediate danger. In short, the final rule is to depart from the rules to avoid imminent danger to passengers and vessel.

The Navigational Rules, obviously, are far more complete and complex than the General Rule of Responsibility. If you are a regular boater or if you travel in international waters – typically the line of demarcation runs three miles off shore – then you should own a copy of the COLREGS and become familiar with it.

You may purchase the booklet “Navigation Rules, International – Inland” from the Superintendent of Documents, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402 (Stock number 050-012-00407-2.) It is available at marine stores, where it is commonly called COLREGS or the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. Also, the materials can be downloaded from the U.S. Coast Guard at www.navcen.uscg.gov.

Next week’s column will return to the concept of Stand-On and Stand-Down Vessels. Importantly, boaters should take boating courses to be fully knowledgeable about the Rules of the Road.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org or visit online at sancapboating.club.