Rules when in narrow channels

Collision avoidance is a serious risk in narrow channels. Abiding by the rules is of vital importance.

Back in the days when I had my knees under a Practical Boat Owner desk, I had an email from a sailing acquaintance. Its tone was very indignant and concerned what he interpreted as being the thoughtlessness of other vessels navigating the narrow channel that leads from Poole Harbour (on which shores PBO is based) to the open sea. I don’t recall the exact words but the gist went like this.

“Weekend boaters are extremely inconsiderate. When we are racing, it is sometimes necessary to tack up the channel. But other vessels – including ships, ferries, fishing boats, and yachts under power – just plough up and down it regardless. We would be very grateful if you could write something condemning their thoughtless behaviour.”

I was sorry to have to disillusion our outraged skipper but I had no option but to refer him to Rule 9 of The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (usually referred to as the Colregs which states:

(1) A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable.

The phrase ‘a vessel’ is important and I recall studying for my Second Mate’s ticket many years ago, when the Welsh instructor emphasised “And that means any vessel – even your uncle Taffy’s bloody coracle!”

So, there is no special indulgence for racing crews hungry for victory. They have no right to tack the width of a channel and expect other vessels who are navigating in accordance with Rule 9 to give way. Indeed, they are acting both dangerously and illegally.

Time to tame the testosterone perhaps? Or can anybody think of another curative strategy?

Sea Books