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Inland Navigation Rules

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Introduction

Part A - General Rules
Rule 1 Application
Rule 2 Responsibility
Rule 3 General Definitions

Part B - Steering and Sailing Rules
Section I - Conduct of Vessels in Any Condition of Visibility
Rule 4 Application
Rule 5 Lookout
Rule 6 Safe Speed
Rule 7 Risk of Collision
Rule 8 Action to Avoid a Collision
Rule 9 Narrow Channels
Rule 10 Traffic Separation Schemes
Section II - Conduct of Vessels in Sight of One Another
Rule 11 Application
Rule 12 Sailing Vessels
Rule 13 Overtaking
Rule 14 Head-on Situation
Rule 15 Crossing Situation
Rule 16 Action by Give-way Vessel
Rule 17 Action by Stand-on Vessel
Rule 18 Responsibilities Between Vessels
Section III - Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility
Rule 19 Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility

Part C - Lights and Shapes
Rule 20 Application
Rule 21 Definitions
Rule 22 Visibility of Lights
Rule 23 Power-driven Vessels Underway
Rule 24 Towing and Pushing
Rule 25 Sailing Vessels Underway and Vessels Under Oars
Rule 26 Fishing Vessels
Rule 27 Vessels Not Under Command or Restricted in Their Ability To Maneuver
Rule 28 Vessels Constrained by Their Draft
Rule 29 Pilot Vessels
Rule 30 Anchored Vessels and Vessels Aground

Part D - Sound and Light Signals
Rule 31 Seaplanes
Rule 32 Definitions
Rule 33 Equipment for Sound Signals
Rule 34 Maneuvering and Warning Signals
Rule 35 Sound Signals in Restricted Visibility
Rule 36 Signals to Attract Attention
Rule 37 Distress Signals

Part E - Exemptions
Rule 38 Exemptions
Annex I - Positioning and Technical Details of Lights and Shapes
Annex II - Additional Signals for Fishing Vessels Fishing in Close Proximity
Annex III - Technical Details of Sound Signal Appliances
Annex IV - Distress Signals
Annex V - Pilot Rules

Interpretive Rules
COLREGS Demarcation Lines
Atlantic Coast
Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
Gulf Coast
Pacific Coast
Alaska
Canadian Rules that differ from COLREGS
Metric Conversion Table

Just as there are "Rules of the Road" for vehicles on the streets, there are "Nautical Rules of the Road" for vessels on the water. The proper name for these are "Navigation Rules," and for most of the users of this book there are two sets of rules, much alike, but not identical.

For the high seas - the open oceans - there are the International Rules, the full name of which is the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea, 1972. The Coast Guard often abbreviates these as the "COLREGS" - sometimes "72 COLREGS" - to distinguish them from earlier versions. With the ratification of the treaty including these regulations, they became U.S. laws. There are 38 numbered Rules, organized in five Parts: A - General, B - Steering and Sailing Rules, C - Lights and Shapes, D - Sound and Light Signals, and E - Exemptions. There are also four Annexes (I through IV) with technical specifications and requirements.

For inland waters, most nations use the International Rules, perhaps supplemented by a few local regulations to cover domestic situations. (Canada's modifications are printed at the end of this chapter). The United States, however, takes advantage of the authorization in International Rule 1(b) to establish the Inland Navigation Rules. These are applicable on most, but not all, "inland waters." The U.S. Inland Rules are numbered 1 through 38 with wording that closely, in some cases exactly, matches the International Rules (there is no Inland Rule 28, but the number is included as a blank so that the following Rules will match the International Rules numbers). There are the corresponding four Annexes, slightly different from the International Rules in requirements, plus a U.S. only Annex V, the U.S. Pilot Rules.

Both sets of Rules are written in terms of "vessels," and this means all watercraft regardless of size, from personal watercraft (jet-skis and the like) to supertankers. Of course, common sense and good judgement must be applied in situations such as right of way, but no small boat is excused in any manner from compliance with the Rules.

The International and Inland Rules both use metric measurements for size, dimensions, and short distances (such as the spacing of lights); longer distances (such as for the visibility of lights) remain measured in nautical miles. A conversion table for metric values used in the Rules can be found on page 100.

For all skippers, thorough knowledge of the Navigation Rules is absolutely essential. This knowledge should be in their heads - when a dangerous situation develops, it's too late to look "in the book" for the applicable Rule and the appropriate action.

Chapter Organization

This chapter is organized so that you can easily compare the International and Inland versions. They are printed in parallel - International on the left, Inland on the right. Usually it is quite obvious where they differ; the most important differences are noted in the commentary text.

The comments printed in shaded boxes alongside the rules were written for Reed's by Elbert "Mack" Maloney. He manages to point out essential aspects of the rules in a way that is useful for both beginning and experienced mariners. In addition to the complete rules with Annexes, this chapter contains the U.S. COLREGS demarcation lines, which define the border between U.S. Inland Rules and the International Rules.

At the end of the chapter we have published the Canadian Rules, which are modifications or additions to the International Rules.

Note: This publication fulfills the requirement that a vessel over 12 M (39.4 ft.) in length in U.S. Inland waters must carry a copy of the Rules on board.

Notice
In October, 1996, President Clinton signed Public Law 104-324. Section 701 of that Act made seven changes to the Inland Navigation Rules. As this book goes to press in February of 1998, the U.S. Coast Guard has not yet "promulgated" these changes; that is, they have not yet printed or started to enforce them. Reed's has printed the up-to-date text of the rules with the new changes, which, according to our sources, are legally in effect and actually have been since Oct., 1996. The changes are each noted in the remarks.

On February 4, 1998, the USCG issued a number of changes (effective March 6, 1998) to Annex I, the Pilot Rules, and the Interpretive Rules; we managed to get all of them into this chapter just before publication.

Aside from the above, the text of these Rules is exactly the same as the most recent USCG publication, COMDTINST M16672.2C. We expect that the next printing of the USCG Rules will reflect all these changes. Any further changes to the Rules will be published in our annual supplement and on our web site, www.treed.com.

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Part A - General Rules

Rule 1 Application

(a) These Rules apply to all vessels upon the inland waters of the United States and to vessels of the United States on the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes to the extent that there is no conflict with Canadian law.
(b) (i) These Rules constitute special rules made by an appropriate authority within the meaning of Rule 1(b) of the International Regulations.
(ii) All vessels complying with the construction and equipment requirements of the International Regulations are considered to be in compliance with these Rules.
(c) Nothing in these Rules shall interfere with the operation of any special rules made by the Secretary of the Navy with respect to additional station or signal lights and shapes or whistle signals for ships of war and vessels proceeding under convoy, or by the Secretary with respect to additional station or signal lights and shapes for fishing vessels engaged in fishing as a fleet. These additional station or signal lights and shapes or whistle signals shall, so far as possible, be such that they can ot be mistaken for any light, shape, or signal authorized elsewhere under these Rules. Notice of such special rules shall be published in the Federal Register and, after the effective date specified in such notice, they shall have effect as if they were a part of these Rules.
(d) Vessel traffic service regulations may be in effect in certain areas.
(e) Whenever the Secretary determines that a vessel or class of vessels of special construction or purpose cannot comply fully with the provisions of any of these Rules with respect to the number, position, range, or arc of visibility of lights or shapes, as well as to the disposition and characteristics of sound-signaling appliances, the vessel shall comply with such other provisions in regard to the number, position, range, or arc of visibility of lights or shapes, as well as to the disposition and characteristics of sound-signaling appliances, as the Secretary shall have determined to be the closest possible compliance with these Rules. The Secretary may issue a certificate of alternative compliance for a vessel or class of vessels specifying the closest possible compliance with these Rules The Secretary of the Navy shall make these determinations and issue certificates of alternative compliance for vessels of the Navy.
(f) The Secretary may accept a certificate of alternative compliance issued by a contracting party to the International Regulations if he determines that the alternative compliance standards of the contracting party are sub-stantially same as those of the United States.

Rule 1 The U.S. Inland Rules and the International Rules are mutually exclusive; waters are subject to one or the other, but not both, although in many cases the Rules are the same. The boundary between them is termed a "COLREGS Demarcation Line." These lines are described in Federal Regulations (published later in this chapter), and are shown on all applicable charts. The Demarcation Lines must be studied carefully and clearly understood; there are areas of U.S. waters that would logically be thought of as "inland" - along the northeast Maine coast, in the lower Florida Keys, all of Puget Sound, and others - but which are subject to the International Rules.

Both the International and Inland Rules provide for exceptions and special provisions for naval vessels. This covers the unusual shape of some vessels such as aircraft carriers. The Inland Rules also prescribe a special light for submarines due to their large bulk that is underwater and out of sight; this is an amber (yellow) all-round light flashing three times at one-second intervals, followed by a dark interval of three seconds.

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Rule 2 Responsibility

(a) Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.
(b) In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.

This is often referred to unofficially as the "Rule of Good Seamanship" or the "General Prudential Rule." This Rule first states that all the Rules must be complied with, and the customary practices of good seamanship must be followed. But it then goes on to recognize that there may be "special circumstances." Its intention is to apply common sense to the interpretation and application of the Rules, and to prevent any perversion of the Rules to avoid the consequences of their misconstruction or misapplication. It recognizes that a departure from the strict language of the Rules may be required to avoid immediate danger - no vessel has the right of way through another vessel! There may be special situations where a departure from the Rules is not only desirable, but is required. Should a collision result, strict literal compliance with the Rules may not be a defense.

Rule 2 This is often referred to unofficially as the "Rule of Good Seamanship" or the "General Prudential Rule." This Rule first states that all the Rules must be complied with, and the customary practices of good seamanship must be followed. But it then goes on to recognize that there may be "special circumstances." Its intention is to apply common sense to the interpretation and application of the Rules, and to prevent any perversion of the Rules to avoid the consequences of their misconstruction or misapplication. It recognizes that a departure from the strict language of the Rules may be required to avoid immediate danger - no vessel has the right of way through another vessel! There may be special situations where a departure from the Rules is not only desirable, but is required. Should a collision result, strict literal compliance with the Rules may not be a defense.

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Rule 3 General Definitions

For the purpose of these Rules and this Act, except where the context otherwise it requires:

(a) The word "vessel" includes every description of watercraft, including
nondisplacement craft and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water;
(b) The term ''power-driven vessel'' means any vessel propelled by machinery;
(c) The term "sailing vessel'' means any vessel under sail provided that propelling machinery, if fitted, is not being used;
(d) The term "vessel engaged in fishing" means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing apparatus which restricts maneuverability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus which does not restrict maneuverability;
(e) The word "seaplane" includes any aircraft designed to maneuver on the water;
(f) The term "vessel not under command" means a vessel which, through some exceptional circumstance, is unable to maneuver as required by these Rules, and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel;
(g) The term "vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver" means a vessel which, from the nature of her work, is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by these Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel; vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver include, but are not limited to:

(i) a vessel engaged in laying, servicing, or picking up a navigation mark, submarine cable, or pipeline;
(ii) a vessel engaged in dredging, surveying, or underwater operations;
(iii) a vessel engaged in replenishment or transferring persons,
provisions, or cargo while underway;
(iv) a vessel engaged in the launching or recovery of aircraft;
(v) a vessel engaged in mine clearance operations; and
(vi) a vessel engaged in a towing operation such as severely restricts the towing vessel and her tow in their ability to deviate from their course.

(h) The word "underway" means that a vessel is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground;
(i) The words "length'' and "breadth'' of a vessel mean her length overall and greatest breadth;
(j) vessels shall be deemed to be in sight of one another only when one can be observed visually from the other;
(k) The term restricted visibility" means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms, or any other similar causes;
(l) "Western Rivers" means the Mississippi River, its tributaries, South Pass, and Southwest Pass, to the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States, and the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route, and that part of the Atchafalaya River above its junction with the Port Allen-Morgan City Alternate Route including the Old River and the Red River;
(m) "Great Lakes" means the Great Lakes and their connecting and tributary waters including the Calumet River as far as the Thomas J. O'Brien Lock and Controlling Works (between mile 326 and 327), the Chicago River as far as the east side of the Ashland Avenue Bridge (between mile 321 and 322), and the Saint Lawrence River as far east as the lower exit of Saint Lambert Lock;
(n) "Secretary" means the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating;
(o) "Inland Waters" means the navigable waters of the United States shoreward of the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers and other inland waters of the United States and the waters of the Great Lakes on the United States side of the International Boundary;
(p) "Inland Rules," or "Rules," mean the Inland Navigational Rules and the annexes thereto, which govern the conduct of vessels and specify the lights, shapes, and sound signals that apply on inland waters; and
(q) "International Regulations" means the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972, including annexes currently in force for the United States.

Rule 3 There are four of these definitions of particular importance to skippers of small craft. The Rules are written in terms of "vessels," and this means all watercraft regardless of size or description - a rowboat or dinghy, a personal watercraft (PWC), a recreational craft or fishing boat, a cruise ship, freighter, or tanker - these are all "vessels" as far as the Navigation Rules are concerned. Of course, common sense and good judgement must be applied in situations such as right of way, but no small boat is excused in any manner from compliance with the Rules.

A "sailing vessel" has that status only if it is not using mechanical propulsion. Even if the sails are up and being used, if the engines are running it is a "power-driven" vessel and does not have the special privileged status of a sailboat.

A sport-fishing boat with trolling lines out is not considered a "vessel engaged in fishing" with a special status and privileges. Such lines are not considered a restriction in her ability to maneuver.

Note: carefully the definition of "underway." Remember that even when you are "just drifting" you are still underway as regards the Navigation Rules; a vessel that is drifting is sometimes informally described as "underway with no way on." This is particularly relevant in foggy situations or other conditions of restricted visibility.

Note: also that the Inland Rules contain definitions not in the International Rules, such as "Western Rivers."



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