My Turn: Navigation rules: international and inland

I believe that we are over-regulated at all governmental levels as bureaucrats justify their existence by formulating new regulations. So I have a certain amount of tongue in cheek when I propose yet another regulatory requirement.

As one with over 60 years experience as a professional mariner on ships and boats, including over 30 years in the Coast Guard, it is periodically alarming to be involved in proximity of other boats who are oblivious as to the very basics of Navigation Rules. Weekends, not surprisingly, find the worst offenders out on the water, as during the week the bulk of boating traffic is commercial and licensed.

The most frequent violation is of Rule 14 (a): “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.”

The other most basic of rules is that of a crossing situation. Rule 15: “When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall. … void crossing ahead of the other vessel.”

Then Rule 16: “Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.”

Finally Rule 17 amplifies with: “Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way the other shall keep her course and speed.”

Pretty basic and clear-cut. This past weekend, as I was heading east at 24 knots (about a mile north of Lincoln Island) with 11 people on board on two decks, a small aluminum cabin boat on my port side that was heading south at about the same speed was holding a steady bearing, or what is known as “collision course.” I held my course and speed — as required by the rules, and just as I was about to make an emergency stop (risking injury to paying passengers on the lower deck whom I had no time to warn) and turn sharply to my right, the other boat stopped dead abeam to port — without even turning under my stern. Then I heard on Channel 16 the unidentified vessel chewing me out for not granting him the right-of-way! Obviously he had never taken any boating course, or even read the free “Alaska Boaters Handbook” available at DMV. He really thought that he had the right of way over a boat crossing from his right, which is really scary!

Canada (beginning September 2009) requires passing a written (on line) test and issues a “Pleasure Craft Operator Card.” There is a $250 fine if caught operating a motorized boat of any size or horsepower without such a license. In the U.S. I doubt this will ever happen, but our state Legislature should consider such a simple solution to insure that Alaskans driving boats at high speeds are not risking the lives of others as well as themselves because of gross lack of boating knowledge.

• Cadigan has held a Merchant Marine “Any Ocean” Master’s license for over 50 years, held six major sea-commands in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, has more than 25 years experience as a boater in Juneau and currently owns and operates a local whale-watching business.


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