In a very simple sense, the Rules can be viewed as those regulations that must be followed on any vessel, at any time, in any weather, and in any location. In addition, we must also follow specific rules when one vessel is in visual sight of another vessel or navigating in circumstances of restricted visibility where no vessel is in sight of another.
In classroom discussions, the International (COLREGS) rule is found on the even numbered pages of the Navigation Rules (book) while the corresponding (where applicable) US Inland waters rule is found on the respective odd numbered page. On the top of each page has the name of the part followed by the rule number and the topic of the rule beneath it. This presentation is intended as a study guide and not a replacement for a current copy of the Navigation Rules.
When a prudent mariner follows the navigation rules is very similar to an actor acting in a play. That is, you must follow the rules as you follow the lines in a play. Each actor sticking to each line as written, allowing other actors to act-out their scripted parts on cue. But when things don’t go as planned, always be prepared to ad lib. In other words, follow the rules of Good Seamanship…but when Special Circumstances dictate, deviate and improvise from the scripted rules at the last moment is required to avoid imminent collision with another vessel.
International Rules implies adequate searoom therefore Rules of Execution*
Inland Rules implies limited searoom therefore Rules of Intent*
When initially studying the rules and trying to understand its meaning and intent, it may be useful to categorize the collision regulations into Rules of Direction, Rules of Occupation, and Rules of Plight*. That is to say, many, if not all, of the steering and sailing rules could be viewed as Rules of Direction. These rules concern the manner in which vessels are to conduct themselves when in close quarters with another vessel, within narrow channels, in or near areas of restricted visibility, or operating in a traffic separation scheme. For example, how vessels are to behave when meeting head-on, crossing, and overtaking each other. Additionally, these conceptual categories of rules also deal with the nature of Responsibility between vessels (the pecking order). To be sure, when we must change course or give-way to a vessel privileged by her nature (sailing, fishing, restricted in her ability to maneuver, not under command, and so on).
Rules of Occupation concern the business or the nature of a vessel’s work. For example, this might include the conduct of fishing and towing vessels.
Rules of Plight deal with the vessel’s current condition. That is, the circumstances and actions of vessels constrained by draft, not under command, or restricted in ability to maneuver.
In addition, this scheme can be applied to lights, shapes, and signals. For example: lights of direction (so-called running lights), lights of occupation (fishing and towing vessels), and lights of plight (vessels not under command or at anchor).
Rules, lights, and sounds of occupation and or plight are prescribed for vessels which indicate that vessel is not her own mistress and cannot be expected to act in every respect as an ordinary power-driven vessel. Other vessels observing her condition by prescribed lights, sound signals or day shapes should make allowances, as prescribed by the Rules, for her limited maneuverability and take extra care on approaching.
Note: * The terms “rules or lights of execution, intent, direction, occupation, and plight” are not contained per-se within the text of the Rules, but however, are used exclusively herein for educational purposes only.
Need To Know:
1. The following words must be studied and understood. This is extremely important since all mariners must correctly interpret and implement the rules. With a good, working knowledge of the rules good implementation of the rules and good seamanship follows. The words below might be small words, but can and will pack a big difference between an option and a requirement when following the rules.
“May”, a vessel has an option.
“Must” or “Shall”, a vessel must comply.
“If Practicable”, if circumstance or situation allows.
“Any” or “All”, means everything imaginable.
“Except”, states some types of exclusion or waiver.
“Assume” or “Assumption”, it’s believed to be.
2. A vessel is considered to be underway when not at anchor, aground, or moored (made fast). Vessels using an anchor to turn or dragging their anchors have been held by the courts to be underway.
3. Every power-driven vessel which is under sail and not under power is to be considered a sailing vessel, and every vessel under power, whether under sail or not, is to be considered a power-driven vessel.
“Making way”, power-driven vessel underway with her power on, propeller turning.
“No way on”, power-driven vessel underway with her power either on or off, propeller not turning.