THE COLLISION REGULATIONS
Collision regulations between ships at sea have been in existence for several hundred years but it wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that these rules had statutory status. Great Britain enacted collision regulations in 1846 which included the requirement for a steam vessel to pass port to port with another vessel in a narrow channel. Within a few years, other sea faring nations, including the United States adopted similar collision rules. In 1889, a new set of regulations were discussed at the International Marine Conference held in Washington DC and brought into effect in 1897. Another major revision of the rules came about in 1948 and were superceded in 1960, 1965, and finally in 1972 with the 72 COLREGS. All seafaring nations, including the United States have adopted these International collision rules. On US waters, the 72 COLREGS have statutory force and are in effect seaward (and in several cases, shoreward), of what is referred to as the COLREGS Demarcation Line. In these waters, all mariners must comply with International Rules. On the majority of US waters shoreward of COLREGS line, all mariners must comply with the US Inland Rules which also have statutory force.
The US Inland Rules evolved during the 1960’s and 1970’s, from the old and separate Inland, Great Lakes, Western Rivers and Motorboat Act of 1940 collision rules. These rules were revised and rewritten to more closely pattern the 1972 International Collision Rules. The Inland Rules became effective on all US waters, including the Great Lakes and Western Rivers in 1983.
For the most part, the US Inland Rules reflect the International Regulations although there are slight and significant differences in language, intent, and meaning between the two. Initially, the most striking difference between both sets of rules is the manner in which the Steering and Sailing Rules are executed. With only one exception found in Rule 9 (Narrow Channels), International Regulations are rules of action while US Inland regulations are rules of intent where consent is required before a maneuver is executed.
The question is frequently asked, “Must I learn the Rules word for word?” Although the precise wording of the Rules is definitely fixed, and any alterations of misplacement of the wording may entirely alter its meaning, therefore it’s important to be exact. Not “learned” in the sense that they must be repeated. But with the precise wording of the Rules comes the exact meaning of each rule and its relation to each other.