Know and understand the steering rules

The International Collision Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea, commonly known as “Rules of the Road at Sea” or steering rules are internationally recognised rules which were developed to prevent collisions between vessels. These rules have been established by an international treaty to secure a consistency of navigation standards worldwide.

They specify uniform patterns of safe operating behavior and they help prevent accidents. The purpose of these regulations is to provide guidelines for action in any situation where two vessels encounter one another. These rules apply on all navigatible waterways including open waters, rivers and lakes. It is the responsibility of every vessel owner and operator to know and follow these navigation rules.

The Collision Regulations apply to all vessels


Skippers Responsibility

Your primary role as a Skipper is to maintain a lookout for the possibility of a collision at all times and to use all available methods and equipment you have aboard, using eyes, ears, radio and radar, if installed. If you’re the only person on board then you have to be Skipper, crew and lookout at the same time. If there is more than one person aboard as Skipper you should appoint someone else as lookout.

Under the rules one vessel is designated the stand on vessel, the other the give way vessel. These designations carry obligations for each vessel to act in a specific way to avoid collision and they apply to all vessels, from kayaks to ocean liners.

Rule 8 Action to Avoid a Collision
When two power-driven vessels are crossing, the vessel with the other on its starboard side must keep clear and avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.

Give-way vessels obligations

To take early, large and clear action to assure the stand on vessel of your intentions. Given room to manoeuvre changing course is better than changing speed because this is immediately obvious to the other vessel. Ensure the course change is large enough to be obvious. A large enough speed change would be throttling down to a no-wake speed or stopping.

Stand on vessel obligations

To maintain course and speed and be prepared to take immediate collision avoidance action if required.

Rules decision guide

It’s important to understand the rules so that you can take the right action to avoid a collision.  Use the College  Rules Decision Guide to refresh your knowledge and understanding of these rules.

Safety and Courtesy

Common courtesy, respect of others and safety awareness underlie most of these navigation rules. Weaving in and out of congested areas at speed, operating too close to shorelines near residential areas, following water skiers too closely, running too close to swimmers or kayakers, making sharp unpredictable turns, cutting behind other vessels when vision is obstructed and not being mindful of the wake your vessel maybe creating and other such actions constitute reckless operation. These actions violate common courtesy and respect of the marine environment and threaten to give rise to further restrictive legislation.

Points to remember

  1. Whilst underway maintain a proper lookout, monitoring all vessels which may be on a collision course with your vessel.
  2. If you have a vessel crossing your bow on a collision course you must act making clear and bold indications of your course and your intentions to the other vessel.
  3. If boating on a lake with other boats towing skiers or biscuits travel in an anti-clockwise movements and keeping to starboard.
  4. In open bays and tidal areas with sandbars keep to the starboard side within the designated channels.
  5. Never alter course to port to avoid a collision.
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