Safe operation of vessels depends on the skipper’s compliance with International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (72 COLREGS) or the Inland Navigation Rules (33 CFR 83). These “rules of the road” for vessels determine what course a master must take in certain situations. Key provisions that must be analyzed in any vessel collision case include Rule 7, Risk of Collision, Rule 8, Action to avoid collision, and Rule 14, Head On Situation. Unfortunately, unlike professional mariners, we see many operators of pleasure craft disobeying these rules here in Florida, especially Rule 14 which says that: “unless otherwise agreed, when two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other. Similarly, we also see frequently that operators violate Rule 8’s requirement that any alteration of course and/or speed to avoid collision shall be large enough to be readily apparent to another vessel observing visually or by radar; a succession of small alterations of course and/or speed should be avoided.
When two vessels collide the fault for the accident will be determined using these maritime rules of the road. A person who fails to keep a proper lookout, or does not uses proper port to port passing in head on situations, or fails to make his alterations to course large enough and obvious enough to other vessels can easily find himself in a collision situation and be responsible for any personal injuries or property damages that result from his negligence.
Texting while Operating (Distracted Piloting)
Safely piloting a vessel is difficult enough without the added distractions which come with our modern ‘always connected’ lifestyles. Texting, talking on the mobile phone, emailing, or playing music on the boats radio through the handheld devices are some of the activities that boaters now try to do at the same time they are operating the boat. Rule 5 of the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) provide that every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision. The same rule applies to inland waters as well.
The Law Office of Todd C. Passman handles maritime accident and other cases involving marine insurance in Florida.