Rule Of the Road – EXPLAINED

INTRODUCTION

Why do we have the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (The Rule of the Road, “colregs” or collision regulations – call them what you will)?

When the 19th Century dawned, there were surprisingly, no official guidelines for avoiding collisions at sea, despite the fact that ever since ships first took to the water, they have seemingly done their very best to collide with one another.

Why do ships collide?  Perhaps the best explanation I have found is as follows; whilst walking along a pavement at peace with world, have you ever had the experience of spying a fellow pedestrian ambling towards you?  The other fellow is some way off, but head on and trying in vain to take evasive action.  The closer you get, the more course changes you both make, but despite there being very few others around, you still contrive to clash bags or briefcases, or even grind to an embarrassing halt, face-to-face.

Put the above scenario in the context of two ships at sea.  Your closing speed is probably less than 6 knots and your legs answer to your brain far faster than any ship will answer to its’ helm.  Yet the incident still occurs, even though you were both in plain sight of each other for some time.  It is difficult to determine what the other party is going to do, as there are no “rules” governing the situation.  As you decide to turn left, they decide to turn right and so on, until the inevitable occurs.

On the roads, we get around the problem by separating lanes of traffic, which are moving in opposite directions.  In the air, controllers monitor all busy areas and define the courses, speeds and heights the pilots are to follow along officially designated air corridors.  At sea however, we do not have any white lines, nor artificial barriers and due to the curvature of the earth, only a few special areas that can be monitored by radar, thereby giving the monitors some measure of control.

Centuries before any legislation appeared governing the prevention of collisions at sea, there existed customary rules of good seamanship, which were evolved and observed by seafaring peoples in different parts of the world.  There was thus built up what might be called a common law of seamanship and this was given effect to, in this country, by the Courts of Admiralty, with the advice of the Master of Trinity House.  It was only in 1840, that the first attempt was made, to regularise the actions that ships should take when a risk of collision existed.  Trinity House promulgated a set of rules, which were given statutory force by a section of the Steam Navigation Act of 1846.

The Collision Regulations were made by an Order-in-Council in 1896.  All these were repealed and reproduced without alteration as regards British vessels, by the order of 1910.  This was a major breakthrough date, as this was the first time that the “rules” were given International Status, and were adopted by most seafaring nations.  The Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea made by that Order, remained in force until 1st Jan 1954, when they were replaced by the Regulations which were approved by the International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea held in London during 1948.  In 1960 another International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea was held in London, this time under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation (IMCO – later to become the International Maritime Organisation or IMO), to consider and approve, amongst other things, proposed changes in the International Collision Regulations.  The revised Regulations came into force on 1st Sep 1965 and were the first time that radar and radar assisted collisions were recognised.  By March 1965, some thirty-six countries had agreed to apply the new Regulations and it was expected that many others would do so, in due course.

However, it was soon realised that changes were needed, due to the development of faster, larger and different types of craft, such as hovercraft.  Upon the initiative of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, a conference was held in London in October 1972 for the purpose of revising the Collision Regulations of 1960.

As a result of its deliberations, the conference adopted and opened for signature the Convention on International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972, to which were attached the Rules and Annexes, which constitute the main regulations of today.  The Convention was to enter into force, only 12 months after the date on which at least 15 States had become parties to it.  However, the aggregate of the Merchant Fleets comprised with the 15 States, was not to be less than 65% by number or tonnage of the world fleet of 100 gross tons and over.  This necessary acceptance having been achieved by July 1976, the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 came into force on 15th July 1977.

Certain other changes have been made over the years.  For example in 1911, if two vessels collided, then the vessel that disobeyed a rule at the critical juncture would be held entirely to blame and the other vessel was exonerated.   The Maritime Conventions Act of 1911 however, abolished this practice in what was known as the Statutory Presumption of Fault.  An injured vessel then had to prove that the other’s breach of a regulation was at least a contributory cause, if not the sole cause of the collision.  Liability is nowadays more shared and no one vessel is ever 100% blameworthy, nor is it ever 100% free of blame either.

Further amendments were made in 1983 and 1995, which subtly changed some of the rules and that is how the main body of the rules stand today.  For example, fishing vessels may no longer display a basket if they are under 20 metres in length, but must display the shape consisting of two cones apex together, irrespective of their length.  The 2001 amendemnts introduce WIG (Wing in Ground) craft, giving a definition and their responsibilities with regard to other vessels.

These notes have been produced from data, that in the main has already been published in differing areas (such as on the web or in different books).  The intent of these notes is purely to amalgamate all the available information into one “book”.   Some of the areas are my own (or my colleagues) interpretation of the Rules, where an amplification of what the Rules are saying is attempted, as well as highlighting some of the subtleties contained therein, which are not always, readily apparent.

Enjoy – these Rules are going to be your bible for the rest of your sea-going career!

 

THE RULES

The rules are broken down into five parts, three sections and four annexes.  These are detailed below, as follows:

PART

TITLE

SECTION

SECTION TITLE

RULES COVERED

A General 1 to 3
B Steering & Sailing I Conduct In Any Condition of Visibility 4 to 10
II Conduct In Sight of one Another 11 to 18
III Conduct In Restricted Visibility 19
C Lights & Shapes 20 to 31
D Sound and Light Signals 32 to 37
E Exemptions 38

The annexes give technical details for lights and sound equipment for vessels as well as additional signals for fishing vessels and trawlers.  The exception is Annex IV, which details only those signals that should ever be used as a Distress Signal.  Of these Annexes, in practice it has been found that only Annex II and Annex IV need to be learnt for first certificates of competency, but the remaining two annexes should be read, so as an understanding of their content may be achieved at this level.  Future and higher certificates of competency will require a thorough knowledge of all the annexes.

For ease of presentation, the Rules have been quoted in italics with their explanatory notes in normal typescript.

 

PART A (General)

RULE 1

Application.

(a) These Rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.

(b) Nothing in these Rules shall interfere with the operations of special rules made by an appropriate authority for roadsteads, harbours, rivers, lakes or inland waterways connected with the high seas and navigable by seagoing vessels. Such special rules shall conform as closely as possible to these Rules.

(c) Nothing in these Rules shall interfere with the operation of any special rules made by the Government of any state with respect to additional station or signal lights, shapes or whistle signals for ships of war and vessels proceeding under convoy, or with respect to additional station or signal lights or shapes for fishing vessels engaged in fishing as a fleet. These additional station or signal lights, shapes or whistle signals, shall, so far as possible, be such that they cannot be mistaken for any light, shape or signal authorised elsewhere under these Rules.

(d) Traffic separation schemes may be adopted by the Organization for the purpose of these Rules.

(e) Whenever the Government concerned shall have determined that a vessel 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-signalling appliances, such 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-signalling appliances, as her Government shall have determined to be the closest possible compliance with these Rules in respect of that vessel.

Paragraph (e) above must be one of the longest sentences in history (106 words!) and, as a result, is one of the worst rules to read, with a series of let-out clauses for governments and other agencies in sections (b) to (e).  However, the important part for us, is that the Regulations apply to all vessels on the sea and also in their connected waters, which are capable of being navigated by seagoing vessels.

Note that, in addition to the Rules, extra regulations might also apply, when navigating in harbours, rivers and other inland waterways.  These might relate to the imposition of specific speed limits and steering directions in restricted waters, though other special conditions may also apply.

For instance, the current Environment Agency (Thames Region) byelaws require a full set of navigation lights for powered craft under 7m (23ft), even though the Regulations call for an all-round white light only, provided the boat cannot exceed 7 knots.  Another example can be found on the Rhine, where German authorities insist on, where practicable, the masthead lights being on the same level as the sidelights, rather than at least 1m (3ft 3in) above them.  This is to assist in avoiding confusion with bridge signals.

Clearly, when operating in areas under the jurisdiction of a specific navigation authority, one has to be sure of compliance with local rules.  But the basic principles of collision-avoidance remain the same in almost all situations.

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 one of the most important rules within the Regulations, which rightly says that no one should rely on compliance with the rules alone, to keep them out of trouble.  The priority is not to place your ship in any kind of perilous situation.  Furthermore, a departure from the rules is allowed, to avoid immediate danger, taking into account the limitations of the vessels involved.

A small boat may not be seen, visually or on radar, until relatively close to a larger ship.  A ship’s master is handicapped by the poor manoeuvrability and speed control of his vessel, and may be further constrained by restricted forward visibility; by the presence of other ships nearby, or by a navigation channel.

Ships, of course, have obligations to smaller craft under the steering rules, especially when not using narrow channels or official Traffic Separation Schemes, and might be obliged to give way when on a collision course with a vessel of any size.  But whether a small craft in a stand-on position should hold course and speed to force the issue, when safer options are available, becomes highly questionable under this Rule.

This rule is frequently referred to as the “Get Out Rule”.  This is because it says “you may make a departure from these rules, necessary to avoid immediate danger”.   In reality, this is a misnomer, as the final five words, which are the most important part, are overlooked.  Rule 2 could be more effectively described as the “Get You Rule”.  This is because, in paragraph (a) it says that you must obey the rules whilst paragraph (b) says that, if having obeyed the rules and you are still imminently about to collide with another vessel, then you may disobey the rules in order to minimise or avoid the collision.  Effectively, if you have a collision, or even a near miss, you will have at some stage disobeyed Rule 2.

 

RULE 3

General Definitions.

For the purpose of these rules, except where the content otherwise requires:

(a) The word “vessel” includes every description of water craft,   including non-displacement craft, WIG 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 manoeuvrability, but not a vessel fishing with trolling lines   or other fishing apparatus which does not restrict manoeuvrability.

(e) The word “Seaplane” includes any   aircraft designed to manoeuvre on the water.

(f) The term “Vessel not under command”   means a vessel, which through some exceptional circumstances is unable to   manoeuvre as required by the Rules, and is therefore unable to keep out of   the way of another vessel.

(g) The term “Vessel restricted in her   ability to manoeuvre” means a vessel which from the nature of her work is   restricted in her ability to manoeuvre as required by these Rules and is   therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.

The term “vessels restricted in their   ability to manoeuvre” shall 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;      (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 term “Vessel constrained by her   draught” means a power-driven vessel, which because of her draught in   relation to the available depth and width of navigable water is severely   restricted in her ability to deviate from the course she is following.

(i) The word “Underway” means that a   vessel is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground.

(j) The words “Length” and “Breadth” of   a vessel mean her Length overall and Greatest breadth.

(l) The term “Restricted visibility”   means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling   snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms or any other similar cause.

(m) The term “Wing-In-Ground (WIG)   craft” means a multimodal craft which, in its main operational mode, flies in   close proximity to the surface by utilizing surface-effect action. 

Here we have the official explanations of terms used within the Regulations, which are in the main self-explanatory.  The word ‘vessel’ is used rather often, and it is important to understand that this means all types of boat, seaplane and ship, large or small.

It is important to carefully read each definition, with regard to how the words are used.  For example, any vessel can be Not Under Command (NUC) because the definition is that of “a vessel”.  However, a vessel Constrained by her Draught can only ever be a power driven vessel and no other type, due again, to the definition given within this Rule.

Two terms that are not included under this Rule but are important to remember, are ‘give-way vessel’ and ‘stand-on vessel’.  The meaning of the first is easiest to understand, being the craft which, in a potential collision situation, has to give way to the other; the second is the one which should, when the circumstances of the case admit, hold her course and speed.  These terms are visited at a later stage of these notes.

This rule also introduces a new craft type, namely WIG craft.

Above are some photographs of these, and as you can see, they appear to be basically aeroplanes that fly close to the water’s surface.  Then difference between these and seaplanes is that  a seaplane could eventually climb to altitude whereas WIG craft only ever remain in close proximity top the surface.

 

PART B – Section I (Conduct of Vessels in any condition of visibility)

Rules 4 to 8, covering the conduct of vessels in any condition of visibility, emphasise what should be done to avoid the risk of collision, rather than dictating action to be taken once the risk exists.  “Keep your eyes open” would be a fair summary, but the Regulations require rather more than simply glancing around the horizon from time to time, to see what is around you.

 

RULE 4

Application.

Rules in this section apply in any condition of visibility.

Or, to put it another way, the minute you go out on any water covered by the Regulations, Rules 5-10 apply regardless.


RULE 5

Look-out.

Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing, as well as 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.

This all seems straightforward enough, but there are several aspects to note, which apply particularly to modern ships.

For fast ships, the convenience of speed brings a need for greater alertness.  For instance, a ship travelling at 20 knots will cover around 2000ft (600m) in a minute, leaving just 6 seconds to avoid an object sighted 200 feet (30 metres) away.  The need for a wide-awake Officer of the Watch (OOW) is obvious, as is the advantage of a second pair of eyes.  Even a slower vessel travelling at 8 knots, has only 15 seconds or so, to avoid our theoretical obstruction 200 feet distant.

Good watchkeeping is an art, which needs practice.  Judging distance-off and accurately assessing the size and relative courses of other vessels is something, which no amount of instruction or studying of texts can ever teach.  It can only be gained from experience.

An autopilot can be a menace or a real help, depending on how it is used.  Left to its’ own devices, with no-one assigned to look-out duties, the result might be dramatic, as evidenced by the trawlers which regularly kiss the side of anchored supertankers in clear visibility in Lyme Bay; or by an infamous dredger, which neatly sliced Southend Pier in two, whilst the watch decided to take a coffee break.

But when used simply to keep a steady course, largely obviating the need for an eye on the compass, it enables more attention to be devoted to what is visible, as well as to other important instruments, such as the depth-sounder and engine gauges.

Most importantly, a ‘proper look-out’ means one, which takes in the whole 360-degree panorama.  Crew assisting the OOW should regularly report what they are observing.

On slow moving ships, the biggest danger often comes from behind, where other ships can steal up surprisingly quickly.  You may not have been sighted on the radar, you may not be easy to see if approaching a harbour with shore lights masking your own navigation lights and maybe the other ship’s lookouts are less than alert.  You may in addition, disappear altogether whilst still a long way off, if the other ship is a supertanker in ballast or large container ship with its’ bridge sited aft and its forward visibility is obstructed by the height of the bow, deck gear and/or cargo.

Fast craft travelling at upwards of 20 knots are much safer from any vessel aft of them, but must nevertheless, still keep a good lookout all-round.

Not all Bridges allow unrestricted visibility. Many are obscured to the rear and have significant blind spots.  If Rule 5 were to be obeyed to the letter, it would be prudent to have one person on watch on the bridge wing, to assist the OOW whose view is inhibited by the superstructure.  When navigating at night, it is vital to preserve night vision and not be dazzled by your own ship’s instrument or navigation lights, so these should be dimmed accordingly.  Any prescription spectacles should be worn and kept clean.  Sunglasses and/or a peaked cap may cut down glare, especially when looking towards the sun.

“All available means” also encompasses such things as radar (of which more later) and VHF radio, in order that warnings from other vessels and the Coastguard may be received and heeded.  Keeping a lookout “by all available means” could also be interpreted as having and using, a decent pair of binoculars.  However it should be noted that carrying a pair of binoculars on board, is not a requirement under any existing IMO legislation.

Also note that Rule 5 says a lookout should be kept by hearing.  On some older ships, this could be problematic, since your own Bridge Superstructure and possibly engine noise by way of the sounds coming from the funnel (exhaust noise) might drown out all but the loudest sounds.  It is therefore prudent to try and keep one of the bridge wing doors open (the leeward one is a good bet) if at all possible.  For those who sail on ships with a totally enclosed bridge, how do they obey Rule 5?

Remember that the intensity and direction of sound is particularly difficult to judge.  Noise travels further over water, and the deeper the pitch, the less easy it is to estimate where it is coming from.

 

RULE 6

Safe Speed.

Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

In determining a safe speed the following factors shall be among those taken into account:

(a) By all vessels:

(i) the state of visibility;

(ii) the traffic density including concentrations of fishing vessels or any other vessels;

(iii) the manoeuvrability of the vessel with special reference to stopping distance and turning ability in the prevailing conditions;

(iv) at night the presence of background light such as from shore lights or from back-scatter of her own lights;

(v) the state of wind, sea and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards;

(vi) the draught in relation to the available depth of water.

(b) Additionally, by vessels with operational radar:

(i) the characteristics, efficiency and limitations of the radar equipment;

(ii) any constraints imposed by the radar range scale in use;

(iii) the effect on radar detection of the sea state, weather and other sources of interference;

(iv) the possibility that small vessels, ice and other floating objects may not be detected by radar at an adequate range;

(v) the number, location and movement of vessels detected by radar;

(vi) the more exact assessment of the visibility that may be possible when radar is used to determine the range of vessels or other objects in the vicinity.

This Rule is another one of the important Rules.  Paragraphs (a) and (b) and their sub-paragraphs are self-explanatory.  However, the main body of the rule may need some further explanation. 

Every vessel: This point may have special significance with respect to vessels constrained by their draught (CBD) or restricted in their ability to manoeuvre (RAM), which may not be justified in maintaining a high speed when other vessels are in close proximity, because of their limited manoeuvrability.

Safe Speed: This is intended to be a used in a relative sense.  If a ship is involved in a collision, it does not necessarily follow that she was going too fast.  In clear visibility, collisions can generally be attributed to a bad lookout or to wrong decisions and actions subsequent to detection, rather than to a high speed.

At all times: A relatively high speed might be accepted as being initially safe for a vessel using radar in Restricted Visibility in open waters, provided prompt action is taken to bring the speed down, when radar information shows this to be necessary.  Remember, as OOW, the engines are at your disposal and you do not necessarily need to call the Master first.  However, timely warning to the ER should be given whenever possible.  In order to maintain a safe speed “at all times”, a continuous appraisal of changes in circumstances and conditions should be made and any necessary alteration of speed must be instantly put into effect.

Proper and Effective Action: A vessel may be unable to take proper and effective action due to the speed being too high, or in some circumstances, too low.

There are some acronyms, which may help you to remember the order and important words of both paragraphs (a) and (b) of this Rule.  These are better discussed in class or on board ship, rather than printed!

 

RULE 7

Risk of Collision.

(a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt, such risk shall be deemed to exist.

(b) Proper use shall be made of radar equipment if fitted and operational, including long-range scanning to obtain early warning of risk of collision and radar plotting or equivalent systematic observation of detected objects.

(c) Assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information, especially scanty radar information.

(d) In determining if risk of collision exists, the following considerations shall be among those taken into account:

(i) such risk shall be deemed to exist if the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appreciably change;

(ii) such risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow or when approaching a vessel at close range.

It is easy to get much closer to other vessels than you intend, if care is not exercised.  If you were stationary and all others were moving around you, it would be relatively easy to grasp what was happening, without the need for measurement of some kind.  But because you are also moving, the process becomes more difficult.

Rule 7 stresses the need to check continually that no risk of collision exists, to eliminate any doubt that it does and to guard against taking action based on less than adequate information.  As a result, it is implied under Rule 7 that an OOW’s responsibility is that as soon as he/she sights another vessel, the OOW must determine whether a risk of collision exists.  The OOW must not dismiss the other vessel as being a Give-Way because of its position relative to his/her own vessel without determining whether a risk of collision exists.

The textbook method of assessing collision-risk on any vessel, is to take a bearing of any approaching vessel using a compass.  If the bearing remains constant, there is a risk of collision and action must therefore be taken.

A less precise technique (and one that has its critics) is to sight the approaching vessel against part of your own vessel’s structure.  If it remains anywhere near the same position (providing your vessel’s heading is constant and you have not moved), take action.  Where accurate use of a compass is difficult, this technique is surprisingly effective, whatever its detractors say.

It can be seen that Rule 7 makes compulsory, the carrying of equipment suitable for taking compass bearings. Radar is not a requirement under the collision regulations, but all vessels fitted with a set, which is operational, should use it at long range to obtain early warning of other vessels in the area.  The operator is also required to assess on screen, whether a collision risk exists.  This means that you should always radar plot any detected contacts in order to determine their true course and speed as well as determining any risk of collision.

 

RULE 8

Action to Avoid Collision.

(a) Any action taken to avoid collision shall be taken in accordance with the Rules of this Part and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.

(b) Any alteration of course and/or speed to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, 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.

(c) If there is sufficient sea room, alteration of course alone may be the most effective action to avoid a close-quarters situation provided that it is made in good time, is substantial and does not result in another close-quarters situation.

(d) Action taken to avoid collision with another vessel shall be such as to result in passing at a safe distance. The effectiveness of the action shall be carefully checked until the other vessel is finally passed and clear.

(e) If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.

(f)(i) A vessel which, by any of these Rules, is required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel shall, when required by the circumstances of the case, take early action to allow sufficient sea room for the safe passage of the other vessel.

(ii) A vessel required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel is not relieved of this obligation if approaching the other vessel so as to involve risk of collision and shall, when taking action, have full regard to the action which may be required by the Rules of this part.

(iii) A vessel the passage of which is not to be impeded remains fully obliged to comply with the Rules of this part when the two vessels are approaching one another so as to involve risk of collision.

Having established that there is a risk of collision, hopefully while you are still a good way from the other vessel, you will determine what action is required if you are the give-way vessel.

Course and speed changes must be such that they are obvious, both visually and on radar.  Most of the well-documented collisions between commercial ships have come about because corrective action was only slight and could not be detected, until it was too late.

During daylight, a course change, which brings the sun from one side of your vessel to the other, is very helpful in clearly showing the other vessel what you are doing.  To stop or slow right down with minimal bow wave is more obvious than just to drop the revolutions off the engine(s).  However, you must remember that on a large vessel, there is a lot of momentum and slowing down will not be readily apparent in the early stages and could, additionally, take an inordinately long time.  For instance, a fully laden supertanker, travelling at 15 Knots and ringing Dead Slow on her engine(s), may not show any appreciable difference in speed for at least two to three miles.  At night, the best change of heading to make, is one, which shows the watchkeeper on the other vessel, a different configuration of your own navigation lights.

What is a safe distance?  Ferries crossing the busy DoverStrait aim to miss other ships by at least 1nm, although they often pass much closer to small craft.  The Moving Prohibited Zone in Southampton Water bans small craft from an area 1000m (0.6nm) ahead of large ships and 100m (330ft) on either side. A ship moving at 20 knots covers 1nm every three minutes.  As you can see, the further away you stay from other shipping, the better.  Not only will all concerned be safer, but also your attendant wake will have much less effect, which is a courtesy if nothing else.

Paragraph (f) usually causes concern in its interpretation.  Very basically it may be explained as follows:-

  • Paragraph (i) says that a vessel shall take early action to avoid impeding the passage of another vessel if it is one of the vessels required so to do.
  • Paragraph (ii) says that even if a risk of collision exists, if you are required not to impede the safe passage of another vessel you shall take action and at the same time ensure that whatever action you do take is in accordance with the Rules.
  • Paragraph (iii) says that even if you are on a vessel whose passage should not be impeded, and another vessel gets in your way, at the end of the day, normal steering and sailing rules apply.

There is very little excuse for an OOW in the open sea, ever to find himself in a close-quarters, collision-risk situation.

 

RULE 9

Narrow Channels.

 (a) A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable.

(b) A vessel of less than 20m in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of any other vessel navigating within a narrow channel or fairway.

(d) A vessel shall not cross a narrow channel or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within such channel or fairway.  The latter vessel may use the sound signal prescribed in Rule 34(d) if in doubt as to the intention of the crossing vessel.

(e) (i) In a narrow channel or fairway, when overtaking can take place only if the vessel to be overtaken has to take action to permit safe passing, the vessel intending to overtake shall indicate her intention by sounding the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(c) (i). The vessel to be overtaken shall, if in agreement, sound the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(c) (ii), and take steps to permit safe passing. If in doubt she may sound the signals prescribed in Rule 34(d).

(ii) This Rule does not relieve the overtaking vessel of her obligation under Rule 13.

(f) A vessel nearing a bend or an area of a narrow channel or fairway where other vessels may be obscured by an intervening obstruction shall navigate with particular alertness and caution and shall sound the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(e).

(g) Any vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid anchoring in a narrow channel.

Rules 9 and 10 deal with the busiest waters you will find: narrow channels and the special Traffic Separation Schemes laid down, to bring order to congested and often constrained shipping lanes, their junctions and port approaches.

OOW’s would do well to take heed of their responsibilities in these areas, not only for safety’s sake but because such places are closely monitored and penalties are sometimes, quite rightly, levied on those who break the rules.

To put it simply, stay as far as possible to the starboard side of the channel.  Small craft may and frequently do, obstruct the passage of larger vessels.  You must remember that a very narrow channel for you may seem like a broad unobstructed expanse of water, for a small vessel or yacht.

When deciding where to cross a narrow channel, or even when entering it, remember that you not only have Rule 9(d) to consider, but also any local recommendations or bylaws which may be in place, governing where and when such manoeuvres should occur.  This will normally be indicated in your nautical almanac, on a large-scale chart and, most usefully, on the harbour guides produced by port authorities.

One example in Britain is the ‘recommended yacht track’ laid down for the approaches to Ramsgate, which shows a crossing point for small craft and a safe route which keeps them close to, but out of, the narrow and busy deepwater shipping channel.  Another, worthy of note, is the small craft channel on the western side of PortsmouthHarbour entrance.

Looking at Rule 9(b), what constitutes ‘impeding’?   Let’s take a pragmatic view.  If a small vessel gets close under the bows of a vessel of 150m (490ft) or more, it is likely to run it down and not even notice.  Many harbourmasters with a mixed jurisdiction of commercial and leisure users, are worried that a pilot or master will, sooner or later, try to take drastic action to avoid hitting careless small boats, which will cause a major shipping catastrophe.  Given the limited manoeuvrability of large vessels, their equally limited view from the bridge and the time it takes for them to stop, this is open to debate.  Certainly, professional seamen are often given anxious moments by smaller craft and that anxiety ultimately brings pressure to bear on the freedom of the water for us all.  So, again, small craft should stay well clear, which is what this rule is emphasising.

As if to qualify how close you need to get before a vessel is impeded, Associated British Ports introduced their new ‘Area of Concern’ for Southampton Water and its approaches during 1993.  Any vessel of 150m (490ft) or more entering the notified area immediately has what is known as a ‘Moving Prohibited Zone’ (MPZ) stretching 1000m (0.6nm) ahead of it and 100m (330ft) on each side.  All small craft are banned from this zone.  When you think about it, 0.6nm is not very far from the bows of a ship moving at 10 knots, which will take only 3 min to cover this distance through the water.

 

RULE 10

Traffic Separation Schemes.

(a) This Rule applies to traffic-separation schemes adopted by the Organization, and does not relieve any vessel of her obligation under any other rule.

(b) A vessel using a traffic-separation scheme shall:

(i) proceed in the appropriate traffic lane in the general direction of traffic flow for that lane;

(ii) so far as practicable keep clear of a traffic-separation line or separation zone;

(iii) normally join or leave a traffic lane at the termination of the lane, but when joining or leaving from either side shall do so at as small an angle to the general direction of traffic flow as practicable.

(c) A vessel shall, so far as practicable, avoid crossing traffic lanes, but if obliged to do so shall cross on a heading as nearly as practicable at right angles to the general direction of traffic flow.

(d) (i) A vessel shall not use an inshore traffic zone when she can safely use the appropriate traffic lane within the adjacent traffic-separation scheme. However vessels of less than 20m (66ft) in length, sailing vessels and vessels engaged in fishing may use the inshore traffic zone.

(ii) Notwithstanding subparagraph (d) (i), a vessel may use an inshore traffic zone when en-route to or from a port, offshore installation or structure, pilot station or any other place situated within the inshore traffic zone, or to avoid immediate danger.

(e) A vessel other than a crossing vessel or a vessel joining or leaving a lane shall not normally enter a separation zone or cross a separation line except:

(i) in cases of emergency to avoid immediate danger;

(ii) to engage in fishing within a separation zone.

(f) A vessel navigating in areas near the terminations of traffic-separation schemes shall do so with particular caution.

(g) A vessel shall so far as practicable avoid anchoring in a traffic-separation scheme or in areas near its terminations.

(h) A vessel not using a traffic-separation scheme shall avoid it by as wide a margin as is practicable.

(i) A vessel engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of any vessel following a traffic lane.

(j) A vessel of less than 20m (66ft) in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the safe passage of a power-driven vessel following a traffic lane.

(k) A vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre when engaged in an operation for the maintenance of safety of navigation in a traffic-separation scheme is exempted from complying with this Rule to the extent necessary to carry out the operation.

(l) A vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre when engaged in an operation for the laying, servicing or picking-up of a submarine cable within a traffic-separation scheme, is exempted from complying with this Rule to the extent necessary to carry out the operation.

A Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) is not easy to miss, being marked very clearly on all relevant charts.  Several exist in north European waters, primarily to introduce motorway-style traffic control, for areas heavily populated by commercial shipping.

There are three very important parts of Rule 10.

The first is found in paragraph (a), which confirms that vessels using a TSS are not absolved of their responsibilities under the other Rules.  This means, that at the end of the day, the Steering and Sailing Rules still apply, when navigating within a TSS.  If there is another vessel crossing the TSS and it is on a steady bearing with the attendant risk of collision associated with this, then you still have to do something.  Just because you are in a TSS does not give you any rights, whatsoever.  There are some, who think that because they are in a TSS and have another vessel on their own Starboard side, they do not have to give way.  This is a totally false understanding of the regulations, as they are still obliged to give way, even if it means leaving the TSS for a short period of time.  Remember also, most TSS’s around the world are monitored by radar and you could subsequently receive a heavy fine or even be imprisoned with your livelihood taken away, should you infringe any of the rules in a TSS.

The second important point is found in paragraph (j), which clearly states that all craft under 20 metres (or 66 feet in length) must not impede power driven vessels following a traffic lane.  In practice, given the relative manoeuvrability of small craft, there is no reason why they should do so.  A vessel forced to make a course correction for a small vessel might in turn, come into conflict with another vessel in the same lane.

The third important point is paragraph (d).  Vessels of less than 20m in length, sailing vessels and vessels engaged in fishing are able to make coastal passages along inshore traffic zones and should encounter a TSS, only when crossing one.

The rule for crossing a TSS paragraph (c) is very simple: set a course, which is at 90 degrees to the flow of the traffic within the lanes.  You must NOT make any allowance for the tide in a TSS.  The aim is to provide an aspect, which is at right angles to the ships you are likely to encounter, not to achieve a track over the ground, which is 90 degrees to the charted lane.  Simply following the track to a waypoint on an electronic navigator could in fact bring about an infringement of the rules, especially if on a slow vessel when there is a strong cross-tide.

When approaching a TSS and indeed, when navigating in any area likely to be populated by other ships, it is safest to take a highly jaundiced view of whether other vessels will take any notice of you at all.  Collisions still occur between commercial ships, which in many instances can only have come about because of poor watchkeeping and/or poor visibility from the bridge.  Some of them even manage to hit large stationary objects, on a regular basis.

Even for well-manned vessels, there are sometimes locally agreed moratoriums, which can affect a ship’s behaviour in a TSS.  For instance, it might be assumed that ferries, when crossing the Dover Strait TSS, will do so at anything up to 10-15 degrees off the required course, pinching up against the tide to stay within published timetables, which is only understandable.

 

PART B – Section II (Conduct of vessels in sight of one another)

 

RULE 11 

Application.

Rules in this section apply to vessels in sight of one another.

So far, we have looked at general rules laying down common-sense collision-avoidance practices.  Now we move on to specific conventions on which way to steer, if conflict with other vessels is likely.

Rules 11-18 comprise Section II of the Steering & Sailing Rules. These lay down specific instructions for vessels in sight of one another and introduce the terms ‘stand-on vessel’ and ‘give-way vessel’.  It pays to remember that both parties have equal responsibility to avoid collisions – nowhere in this section will you see any theories or regulations concerning absolute ‘right of way’.

 

RULE 12

Sailing Vessels.

(a) When two sailing vessels are approaching one another, so as to involve risk of collision, one of them shall keep out of the way of the other as follows:

(i) when each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other;

(ii) when both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward;

(iii) if a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or on the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other.

(b) For the purpose of this Rule, the windward side shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried or, in the case of a square-rigged vessel, the side opposite to that on which the largest fore and aft sail is carried.

Rule 12 applies only between two sailing vessels, although an appreciation of the principles outlined, enables you to understand better the close-quarters manoeuvring antics of yachts and dinghies, especially when they are racing one another.  However, it would be foolish to get so close as to rely on their accurate compliance for your own vessel’s safety.  Remember that the crew of a dinghy or yacht may well have their view obscured by the sails; and that although their method of propulsion is quieter than your own, they will not necessarily hear you either.

This rule is perhaps the most complicated instruction within the Steering & Sailing Rules and it is often asked why commercial seamen have to learn and/or understand this rule at all.  The answer is simple.  Are you always going to be an OOW on a large power-driven vessel?  Remember, that there are quite a few large cruise ships operating around the world that have sails and are therefore sailing ships in the truest sense of the word.  In addition, you may get the opportunity to serve on other sailing ships, such as with the Sail Training Association’s ships.

Fortunately, the directions which apply to power-driven vessels are much easier, both to understand and to remember.

 

RULE 13

Overtaking.

(a) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules of Part B, Sections I and II any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

(b) A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam, that is in such a position, with reference to the vessel she is overtaking, that at night she would be able to see only the sternlight of that vessel but neither of her sidelights.

(c) When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether she is overtaking another, she shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly.

(d) Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear.

This rule is unusual in that it firmly puts the onus on one vessel to take all necessary action, in order that a collision might be avoided.

When approaching another vessel from astern, you are deemed to be responsible for keeping clear of it, if your approach is within the 135 degrees arc of her sternlight.  If any doubt exists as to whether you are actually overtaking another vessel, you must assume that you are, and take appropriate action.  This is important, as it is obviously not possible to gauge this overtaking sector accurately during daylight hours.  To all intents and purposes, if you can see the port and/or starboard quarters at the stern of the vessel you are approaching, it would be safest to assume you are overtaking it and keep well clear.

Although the vessel you are approaching should be keeping a good watch all round, bad practices and/or physical obstructions may mean she is not doing so.  Always assume the worst and give plenty of sea room, allowing for sudden course or speed changes from the other vessel that can occur without any warning.

If you are approaching towards the forward extremes of the 135 degrees arc, especially on the starboard side, note that a subsequent alteration of course by the vessel being overtaken does not relieve you of the responsibility to stay well clear.

Whilst Rule 13 does not place specific responsibilities on the vessel being overtaken, other parts of the Regulations are still in force.  For instance, failure to notice another vessel’s approach would contravene Rules 5 and 7 and a sudden change of course across the bows of an overtaking vessel certainly takes no account of Rule 2.

Another factor to remember with regard to this particular Rule, is that it does not matter, what type of vessel the overtaking vessel actually is – Any vessel overtaking any other vessel shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken”.  If you are on a large slow moving power-driven vessel and a yacht or windsurfer is going faster than you, then they are the overtaking vessel and should keep clear of you, irrespective of what Rule 18 says about power-driven vessels keeping clear of sailing vessels.  Needless to say, the windsurfer probably does not know the rules and a careful eye should be kept on him/her, anyway.  However, a vessel Restricted in its Ability to Manoeuvre (RAM) and/or a vessel Not Under Command (NUC) overtaking you, by their very definitions, are unable to manoeuvre and therefore keep out of the way.  This is an example of when Rule 2 would apply with regards to the ordinary practice of seamen or by the special circumstances of the case and you would therefore, keep clear of them.

 

RULE 14

Head-on Situation.

(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.

(b) Such a situation shall be deemed to exist when a vessel sees the other ahead or nearly ahead, and by night she could see the masthead lights of the other in a line or nearly in a line and or both sidelights, and by day she observes the corresponding aspect of the other vessel.

(c) When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether such a situation exists, she shall assume that it does exist and act accordingly.

This should be not so much a rule as an instinct: when approaching another vessel anywhere near head-on, always turn to starboard.

Remembering Rule 8, this course change must be made without delay and must be positive enough, that the other vessel can see and recognise your actions.  Subtle corrections will not be noticed and could cause confusion.

An important factor to note, is the wording of paragraph (b).  This emphasises paragraph (a) and indicates that this rule applies not only when you are exactly head on to each other, but also when you are nearly head on.  Experience will dictate when a head on situation no longer exists but has become a crossing situation (or vice versa).   A good rule of thumb however, would be that a head on situation exists if you have a relative aspect of within approximately 5 degrees of the other vessel.  This would be when the masthead lights are nearly in line and only one of the sidelights would be visible.

All the above, should be regarded as being “head on” situations because the masthead lights are very nearly in line and by day, the situation would appear to be “head-on”.  Additionally, there is an element of doubt so the watchkeeper would obey Paragraph C and assume that the situation exists and act accordingly.

 

RULE 15

Crossing Situation.

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, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.

You may have noticed, that many OOW’s like to stay on the Starboard side of the bridge with their lookout (if they have one) positioned on the Port side.   This enables a good watch to be kept in the sector represented by the arc of the starboard navigation light.  Another vessel approaching within this area is deemed to be a ‘stand-on vessel’ and your own vessel is the ‘give-way vessel’.  The precise definitions of these terms follow in the next two rules, but the general idea is portrayed by the names.

If you have difficulty sorting out your ‘stand on’ from your ‘give way’, an aide memoire would be your view of the approaching vessel’s sidelights to be the red and green of road traffic lights (red, take appropriate action; green go ahead). Alternatively, remember the rhyme “If to starboard a red does appear, ’tis your duty to keep clear”.  Although the lights will not actually be seen in daylight, it is relatively easy to remember Rule 15 in this way.

The requirement to avoid crossing ahead, only applies in a crossing situations where there is a risk of collision.  It does not apply to any action you may take at long distance, before a risk of collision can be deemed to exist.

 

RULE 16

Action by Give-way Vessel.

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.

In any potential collision situation, however remote the possibility of an actual accident, the remedial action required must be a partnership between the vessels involved.  In the case of the ‘give-way’ vessel, the emphasis is on early and substantial action being taken: a repeat of Rule 8.

If you find yourself to be the ‘give-way’ vessel under Rule 15, approaching the port sector of another vessel, early and substantial action (again, as in Rule 8) is required, which would normally comprise of a bold turn to starboard and/or a reduction in speed. However, remember there are other situations in which you are directed to keep out of the way of another vessel, of which more anon.

This raises the question of what substantial action, or a bold alteration of course actually is, when taking action to avoid a collision.  There are many interpretations, but these in turn depend upon varying factors such as: the speed of the two vessels involved; their size and how close to each other they are.  However, a good rule of thumb is to make an alteration of course to starboard, so as you are aiming for a point astern of the other vessel.  This has the added advantage of clearly showing to the other vessel, that you have altered course by displaying a very different aspect to her and at night, she would see a change in your sidelights from green to red.  Remember, that whatever action you take, it MUST be readily apparent to the other vessel observing either visually, or by radar alone.

The result of the action you take, must be that you pass the other vessel at a safe distance.  So what is a safe distance?  This will depend on varying factors such as: company standing orders; the size of the vessel you are on; the wishes of the Master and your own experience.  A good rule of thumb however, is that you really don’t want to be any closer than 1½ to 2 miles to another vessel in open water, if you can possibly help it.

Finally, you should remember that it is much easier being the Give Way vessel than the Stand On vessel.  This is because you know (or should know) what you are going to do and when.  A small and/or highly manoeuvrable vessel such as a Ferry, Offshore Supply vessel or a Warship might be happy to get quite close to the Stand On vessel before taking action.  If the Stand On vessel was a large and/or not very manoeuvrable vessel, this might be causing the OOW to start becoming very concerned as to what (if any) action the Give Way is going to take.  A large supertanker for example, may start to become ‘twitched’ at about 5 to 6 miles and would certainly be taking action by 4 to 5 miles.

 

RULE 17

Action by Stand-on Vessel.

(a) (i) Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way the other shall keep her course and speed.

(ii) The latter vessel may however take action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these rules.

(b) When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.

(c) A power-driven vessel which takes action in a crossing situation in accordance with subparagraph (a) (ii) of this Rule to avoid collision with another power-driven vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, not alter course to port for a vessel on her own port side.

(d) This Rule does not relieve the give-way vessel of her obligation to keep out of the way.

Rule 17 lays down the principle that the ‘stand-on’ vessel’s part in collision avoidance, is to hold her course and speed so that the ‘give-way’ vessel can most easily gauge what degree of action is required.

Unfortunately, rather too many seamen have interpreted this rule to mean that they have absolute right of way, if approaching a vessel within the arc of its starboard navigation light.  This is a major mistake, not least because ‘right of way’ is a purely fictitious notion anyway.

When reading this Rule, you should read it in the following manner:

Paragraph A (i) and (ii) followed by paragraph C then paragraph B and finally paragraph D.

This is because even if it is clear that collision is likely without immediate action and you are the ‘stand-on’ vessel, Rule 17 allows you to change course and/or speed if the other vessel is not taking action or can be seen not to be able to do all that is necessary. This also connects with Rule 2, which charges the vessel, owner, master and crew with taking every precaution necessary to stay safe.

No hard and fast guidelines can be given, but the same turn-to-starboard principle is best adhered to, if a course change is necessary.  Remember, as far as the circumstances of the case admit, you should avoid an alteration to port for a vessel on your own port side, however tempting it might be to do so, as the result could be not only very embarrassing, but also potentially catastrophic.

However, when you are so close that action by the give way vessel alone will not result in an avoidance of the collision (i.e. you have hesitated for too long) Paragraph C says that you MUST now do something and that something could be an alteration to Port.  If you ever find yourself in this situation, the circumstances of the case must be taken into account and this Rule is NOT saying that in this situation you should go to Port.

The whole concept of maintaining course and speed applies only if a definite risk of collision occurs; and even then, only if no other factors apply. Taking the most controversial situation of one vessel approaching another vessel: if the OOW of the former vessel is keeping an effective watch, has a sense of self-preservation (Rule 2 again) and no incorrect conceptions about rights of way, he will alter course or change speed, whatever his position in relation to the ship long before an actual risk of collision can be deemed to exist.  In other words, as soon as the OOW is not happy with what the other vessel is doing, he will himself start to do something about it.

 

RULE 18

Responsibilities Between Vessels.

Except where Rules 9, 10, and 13 otherwise require:

(a) A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of:

(i) a vessel not under command;

(ii) a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre;

(iii) a vessel engaged in fishing;

(iv) a sailing vessel.

(b) A sailing vessel underway shall keep out of the way of:

(i) a vessel not under command;

(ii) a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre;

(iii) a vessel engaged in fishing.

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing when underway shall, so far as possible, keep out of the way of:

(i) a vessel not under command;

(ii) a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre.

(d) (i) Any vessel other than a vessel not under command or a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid impeding the safe passage of a vessel constrained by her draught, exhibiting the signals in Rule 28.

(ii) A vessel constrained by her draught shall navigate with particular caution having full regard to her special condition.

(e) A seaplane on the water shall, in general, keep well clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation. In circumstances, however, where risk of collision exists, she shall comply with the Rules of this part.

(f)  (i) A WIG craft, when taking off, landing and in flight near the surface, shall keep well clear of all other vessels and avoid impeding their navigation.

     (ii) A WIG craft operating on the water surface shall comply with the Rules of this part as a power driven vessel.

No great complications for OOW’s exist under this Rule. ‘Power gives way to sail’ is well enough known, and there are obvious advantages in staying clear of fishing vessels of all types.

It is also worth noting that at no stage do the rules state that a vessel constrained by her draught (CBD) should be “kept clear of”.  A vessel CBD still technically, has to give way to other vessels, should a risk of collision exist and she is the “give way” vessel.  However, applying Rule 2 again, taking into account the special circumstances of the case, it would be the practice of good seamanship to keep clear of a vessel CBD, due to her special condition and limited manoeuvring room.

It is also worth noting that this Rule does not instruct vessels to ‘Give Way’ to vessels at anchor.  Rule 2, the practice of good seamanship etc., takes care of this, but because vessels are not instructed to give way to vessels at anchor is why you can be Restricted in your Ability to Manoeuvre (RAM) at anchor.


PART B – Section III (Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility)

 

RULE 19

Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility.

a) This rule applies to vessels not in sight of one another when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility.

(b) Every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and condition of restricted visibility. A power driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate manoeuvre.

(c) Every vessel shall have due regard to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility when complying with the Rules of Section I of this Part.

(d) A vessel which detects by radar alone the presence of another vessel shall determine if a close-quarters situation is developing and/or risk of collision exists. If so, she shall take avoiding action in ample time, provided that when such action consists of an alteration in course, so far as possible the following shall be avoided:

(i) An alteration of course to port for a vessel forward of the beam, other than for a vessel being overtaken;

(ii) An alteration of course toward a vessel abeam or abaft the beam.

(e) Except where it has been determined that a risk of collision does not exist, every vessel which hears apparently forward of her beam the fog signal of another vessel, or which cannot avoid a close-quarters situation with another vessel forward of her beam, shall reduce her speed to be the minimum at which she can be kept on her course. She shall if necessary take all her way off and in any event navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over.

The important point to consider with this rule is that it applies when “navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility”.  This means that you could for example, be steaming in beautifully clear visibility on one side of the ship, but have a fog bank fairly close by, on the other.  In this situation, this rule will apply.  Logically, the other rules cannot apply in cases of bad visibility, as the ships are not in sight of one another.  Thus the priorities defined in Rule 18 in Section II are no longer valid, as it is impossible to determine if another vessel is fishing, NUC or RAM etc.

With regard to paragraph (b), the use of engines as a means of collision avoidance has already been discussed, but nevertheless, they should be ready for manoeuvre, as their use may be the only course of action that the OOW has, to avoid a collision.

Paragraph (c) includes an assessment of safe speed that must be made, that takes into account your radar characteristics and efficiency which is a reference back to Rule 6 paragraph (b) and Rule 7 (b) and (c).

Paragraph (d) is rather efficient and very easy to follow, provided only two ships are involved.  Unfortunately, in many circumstances, a risk of collision exists with several vessels at once and manoeuvring for one of them can bring others onto a collision course.  An OOW must always be aware of the “big” picture within a range of say 6 miles.  This takes real skill and can only be achieved through experience.

Paragraph (e) is self-explanatory BUT it must be remembered that this is not always the best course of action to take.  MV BRITISH TRENT was stopped off the BelgianCoast as required by the rules and was hit by the Korean Bulk Carrier MV WESTERN WINNER, still sailing at some speed in dense fog and close to the pilot station.  Several crewmembers died on the BRITISH TRENT, which caught fire after the collision.  With 20:20 hindsight, it is possible to theorise that, had the tanker kept some headway, it might have been possible to have attempted an escape manoeuvre, or at least made an alteration of course, in order to lessen the force of the impact.

Also, it is worth noting that Rule 13 does not apply in restricted visibility.  Remember what the first paragraph of Rule 13 says “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules of Part B, Sections I and II any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.”   Rule 19 is in Part B, Section III of the regulations and Rule 13 only applies to Part B, sections I and II.  However, again with the practice of good seamanship, an overtaking vessel would be expected to keep clear.  So, when are you overtaking in fog?  You cannot see the other vessel and so cannot determine if you are approaching from more than 22½ ° abaft her beam.  You must therefore plot the other vessel on radar, in order to determine her course and speed.  Having therefore gained knowledge of the other vessel’s course etc., it would seem to be a fairly pointless exercise, to then try and determine when you are exactly 22½ degrees, or more, abaft her beam.  Having plotted the other vessel, it would be good practice to assume that you are overtaking her, if you are approaching the other vessel from aft of her beam.  Although this is not laid down in the Rules, the practice of good seamanship would determine that this would be a prudent course of action to take.

 

PART C – Lights and Shapes

 

RULE 20

Application.

(a) Rules in this part shall be complied with in all weathers.

(b) The Rules concerning lights shall be complied with from sunset to sunrise, and during such times no other lights shall be exhibited, except such lights which cannot be mistaken for the lights specified in these Rules or do not impair their visibility or distinctive character, or interfere with the keeping of a proper look-out.

(c) The lights prescribed by these rules shall, if carried, also be exhibited from sunrise to sunset in restricted visibility and may be exhibited in all other circumstances when it is deemed necessary.

(d) The Rules concerning shapes shall be complied with by day.

(e) The lights and shapes specified in these Rules shall comply with the provisions of Annex I to these Regulations.

This rule details specifically when navigation lights should be exhibited on any vessel.  However, most commercial ships never switch their navigation lights off once they are underway, which could be argued that they are complying with paragraph (c), as they deem it to be necessary to show them at all times.  This could be likened to driving a car.  Car headlights are turned on when it’s dark, during the day when it’s foggy or raining (restricted visibility) and if you drive a Volvo, they’re on all the time!

 

RULE 21 

Definitions.

(a) “Masthead light” means a white light placed over the fore and aft centerline of the vessel showing an unbroken light over an arc of horizon of 225 degrees and so fixed as to show the light from right ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on either side of the vessel.

(b) “Sidelights” means a green light on the starboard side and a red light on the port side each showing an unbroken light over an arc of horizon of 112.5 degrees and so fixed as to show the light from right ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on the respective side. In a vessel of less than 20 meters in length the sidelights may be combined in one lantern carried on the fore and aft centerline of the vessel.

(c) “Sternlight”, means a white light placed as nearly as practicable at the stern showing an unbroken light over an arc of horizon of 135 degrees and so fixed as to show the light 67.5 degrees from right aft on each side of the vessel.

(d) “Towing light” means a yellow light having the same characteristics as the “sternlight” defined in paragraph (c) of this Rule.

(e) “All round light” means a light showing an unbroken light over an arc of horizon of 360 degrees.

(f) “Flashing light” means a light flashing at regular intervals at a frequency of 120 flashes or more per minute.

The magic number with this rule is 22½ degrees.  With the exception of all round lights, all other navigation lights will show their lights over an arc of the horizon, to a point that is 22½ degrees abaft the beam, irrespective of whether it is a sidelight, stern or masthead light.  It is recommended that you draw the arcs of visibility of lights out on a piece of paper, in order that you can determine clearly in your own mind, what is where.

 

RULE 22

Visibility of Lights.

The lights prescribed in these Rules shall have an intensity as specified in Section 8 of Annex I to these Regulations so as to be visible at the following minimum ranges:

(a) In vessels of 50 metres or more in length:

a masthead light, 6 miles;
a sidelight, 3 miles;
a towing light, 3 miles;
a white red, green or yellow all-around light, 3 miles.

(b) In vessels of 12 metres or more in length but less than 50 meters in length;

a masthead light, 5 miles; except that where the length of the vessel is less than 20 metres, 3 miles;
a sidelight, 2 miles;
a sternlight, 2 miles, A towing light, 2 miles;
a white, red, green or yellow all-round light, 2 miles.

(c) In vessels of less than 12 metres in length:

a masthead light, 2 miles;
a sidelight, 1 miles;
a towing light, 2 miles;
a white red, green or yellow all-around light, 2 miles.

(d) In inconspicuous, partly submerged vessels or objects being towed;

            a white all-round light; 3 miles.

The above rule is self-explanatory and needs little further amplification.  However, it must be asked why a minimum range has been specified for navigation lights.  Apart from the most obvious reason that, if they were not, most shipping companies would probably still be issuing candles for navigation lights, the minimum ranges also help determine when a risk of collision can be deemed to exist.  In the Oral examination, the MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) take the view that a risk of collision cannot be deemed to exist outside the minimum range of a vessel’s navigation lights.  However, this would depend on what type of vessels are involved and their respective manoeuvring and handling characteristics.

 

RULE 23

Power-driven Vessels Underway.

(a) A power-driven vessel underway shall exhibit:

(i) a masthead light forward;

(ii) a second masthead light abaft of and higher than the forward one; except that a vessel of less than 50 metres in length shall not be obliged to exhibit such a light but may do so;

(iii) sidelights;

(iv) a sternlight.

(b) An air-cushion vessel when operating in non-displacement mode shall, in addition to the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule, exhibit an all-round flashing yellow light.

(c) A WIG craft only when taking off, landing and in flight near the surface shall, in addition to the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule, exhibit a high intensity all-round flashing red light.

(d) (i) A power-driven vessel of less than 12 metres in length may in lieu of the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule exhibit an  all-round white light and sidelights.

(ii) a power-driven vessel of less than 7 metres in length whose maximum speed does not exceed 7 knots may in lieu of the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule exhibit an all-round white light and shall, if practicable, also exhibit sidelights.

(iii) the masthead light or all-round white light on a power driven vessel of less than 12 metres in length may be displaced from the fore and aft centerline of the vessel if centerline fitting is not practicable, provided the sidelights are combined in one lantern which shall be carried on the fore and aft centerline of the vessel or located as nearly as practicable in the same fore and aft line as the masthead light or all-round white light.

On all power-driven vessels, the masthead light is in fact the light that is on the foremast.  If the vessel is over 50m in length (or under in some circumstances) then the second masthead light is the one, on top of the accommodation (if all aft superstructure).  At the risk of pedantically pushing this point, the history of why this is so only goes back a couple of decades, when most vessels had a centre-castle midships where the bridge was located, on top of which was the “masthead” light.  The second masthead light would have been on top of the accommodation that was at the aft end of the vessel.  The important part however, is that you cannot say with certainty whether a vessel is greater than 50m in length, as vessel’s less than 50m in length may show the second masthead light, if they so wish.  Therefore, when you see two mastheads lights and a sidelight, you can only determine that the vessel is PROBABLY greater than 50m.

The remainder of the Rule is self explanatory, detailing the lights that vessels of shorter lengths than 50m should display in lieu of, or in addition to the standard navigation lights, that are detailed in paragraph (a).

Also note that these lights are what a power-driven vessel UNDERWAY shall exhibit.  The vessel could very well be stopped and not making way through the water, but she is still underway.  Therefore, assumptions cannot be made when you see masthead lights and sidelights of another vessel that she is underway and making way.  She could be, for example, be stopped and picking up a pilot.  The only way that you can accurately determine whether the other vessel is moving through the water is to take a series of compass bearings and/or radar plot her.

Rule 23 (a) (i) Rule 23 (a) (ii) Rule 23 (b) Rule 23 (c) (i)
 

 

 

 

Power Driven Vessel, Underway, probably   making way, less than 50m in length, as seen from the port side. Power Driven Vessel, Underway, probably   making way, probably more than 50m in length, as seen from the port side. An air cushion vessel, operating in the   non-displacement mode, underway, probably making way, less than 50m in length   as seen from the starboard side. Power driven vessel,  underway, probably making way, less than   12m in length, as seen from ahead.

 

RULE 24

Towing and Pushing.

(a) A power driven vessel when towing shall exhibit:

(i) instead of the light prescribed in Rule 23(a)(i) or (a)(ii), two masthead lights in a vertical line.  When the length of the tow measuring from the stern of the towing vessel to the after end of the tow exceeds 200 metres, three such lights in a vertical line;

(ii) sidelights;

(iii) a sternlight;

(iv) a towing light in a vertical line above the sternlight;

(v) when the length of the tow exceeds 200 metres, a diamond shape where it can best be seen.

(b) When a pushing vessel and a vessel being pushed ahead are rigidly connected in a composite unit they shall be regarded as a power driven vessel and exhibit the lights prescribed in Rule 23.

(c) A power driven vessel when pushing ahead or towing alongside, except in the case of a composite unit, shall exhibit:

(i)                 instead of the light prescribed in Rule 23(a)(i) or (a)(ii), two masthead lights in a vertical line.

(ii)  sidelights;

(iii  a sternlight.

(d) A power driven vessel to which paragraph (a) or (c) of this Rule apply shall also comply with rule 23(a)(ii).

(e) A vessel or object being towed, other than those mentioned in paragraph (g) of this Rule, shall exhibit:

 (i) sidelights;

(ii) a sternlight;

(iii) when the length of the tow exceeds 200 metres, a diamond shape where it can best be seen.

(f) Provided that any number of vessels being towed alongside or pushed in a group shall be lighted as one vessel,

(i) a vessel being pushed ahead, not being part of a composite unit, shall exhibit at the forward end, sidelights;

(ii) a vessel being towed alongside shall exhibit a sternlight and at the forward end, sidelights.

(g) An inconspicuous, partly submerged vessel or object, or combination of such vessels or objects being towed, shall exhibit:

(i) if it is less than 25 metres in breadth, one all-round white light at or near the front end and one at or near the after end except that dracones need not exhibit a light at or near the forward end;

(ii) if it is 25 metres or more in breadth, two or more additional all-round white lights at or near the extremities of its breadth;

(iii) if it exceeds 100 metres in length, additional all-round white lights between the lights prescribed in sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) so that the distance between the lights shall not exceed 100 metres;

(iv) a diamond shape at or near the aftermost extremity of the last vessel or object being towed and if the length of the tow exceeds 200 metres an additional diamond shape where it can best be seen and located as far forward as is practicable.

(h) When from any sufficient cause it is impracticable for a vessel or object being towed to exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in paragraph (e) or (g) of this Rule, all possible measures shall be taken to light the vessel or object being towed or at least indicate the presence of such vessel or object.

(i) Where from any sufficient cause it is impracticable for a vessel not normally engaged in towing operations to display the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) or (c) of this Rule, such vessel shall not be required to exhibit those lights when engaged in towing another vessel in distress or otherwise in need of assistance. All possible measures shall be taken to indicate the nature of the relationship between the towing vessel and the vessel being towed as authorized by Rule 36, in particular by illuminating the towline.

This is an incredibly complicated rule to read and understand, due to the continuous references to Rule 23 and also referencing back within Rule 24.  Again, the only way that it becomes easier to determine what this Rule is saying, is to draw the different characteristics for all the types of towing/towed vessel mentioned.  Remarkably, provided that the drawing is done correctly, then this Rule becomes simplicity itself – honestly!  For example, a vessel towing may have two or three masthead lights in a vertical line, but a vessel pushing will only ever have two.

Some types of vessel mentioned within this Rule have been found to require amplification.  The most frequently asked questions are “What is a composite unit, and what is a dracone?”

A composite unit (paragraph (b)) is a composition of one or more units that are capable of being mechanically locked together with a tug.  When they are so connected, to all intents and purposes, they become a single power driven vessel.

A dracone (paragraph (g (i)) is a large a rubber bag, usually filled with oil.  It therefore floats just on the surface and is extremely hard to see.  Dracones were used a lot post WWII (50’s and 60’s) but with the advent of MARPOL regulations, are more of a liability now and so are rarely, if ever used.

Rule 24 (a) Rule 24 (a) Rule 24 (a) Rule 24 (c)

Sidelight on vessel being towed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in towing   where length of tow is less than 200m, length of towing vessel, is less than   50m Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in towing   where length of tow is more than 200m, length of towing vessel, is less than   50m Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in towing   where length of tow is more than 200m, length of towing vessel, is more than   50m Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in   pushing ahead where  length of towing   vessel, is less than 50m.
Rule 24 (a) (shapes) Rule 24 (a) & (e) Rule 24 (g) Rule 24 (g)
 

 

 

 

Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in towing, where length of tow is less than   200m Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in towing, where length of tow is more than   200m Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in   towing, where length of tow is less than 200m in length and object being   towed is probably a dracone. Power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, engaged in   towing, where length of tow is less than 200m in length and object being towed   is less than 25m in breadth.


 

Rule 24 (g) (iv)
 

 

 

 

 

 

A power-driven vessel, underway, probably making   way, enaged in towing a incinspicuous or partly submerged object exceeding   200m in length.

 

RULE 25

Sailing Vessels Underway and Vessels under Oars.

(a) A sailing vessel underway shall exhibit:

(i) sidelights;

(ii) a sternlight.

(b) In a sailing vessel of less than 20 metres in length the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule may be combined in one lantern carried at or near the top of the mast where it can best be seen.

(c) A sailing vessel underway may, in addition to the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule, exhibit at or near the top of the mast, where they can best be seen, two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being red and the lower Green, but these lights shall not be exhibited in conjunction with the combined lantern permitted by paragraph (b) of this Rule.

(d) (i) A sailing vessel of less than 7 metres in length shall, if practicable, exhibit the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) or (b) of this Rule, but if she does not, she shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

(ii) A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed in this rule for sailing vessels, but if she does not, she shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

(e) A vessel proceeding under sail when also being propelled by machinery shall exhibit forward where it can best be seen a conical shape, apex downwards.

This rule is self-explanatory, but again, it is helpful to draw the characteristics described in this rule in order to obtain a full understanding. 

Rule 25 (a) Rule 25 (b) Rule 25 (c) Rule ???????
 

 

 

Sailing vessel,   underway, probably making way, as seen from ahead. Sailing vessel,   underway, probably making way, less than 20m in length showing the combined   lantern, as seen from ahead Sailing vessel,   underway, probably making way, showing the optional additional lights at the   masthead, as seen from the port side. Could be a:

  1.   Sternlight
  2.   Vessel under oars
  3.   Sailing vessel less than 7m   in length
  4.   Vessel at anchor less than   50m in length
Rule 25 (e)
 

 

 

 

 


Sailing vessel, under power.

 

RULE 26

Fishing Vessels.

(a)   A vessel engaged in fishing, whether underway or at anchor, shall exhibit only the lights and shapes prescribed by this rule.

(b)   A vessel when engaged in trawling, by which is meant the dragging through the water of a dredge net or other apparatus used as a fishing appliance, shall exhibit;

(i) two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being green and the lower white, or a shape consisting of two cones with their apexes together in a vertical line one above the other;

(ii) a masthead light abaft of and higher than the all-round green light; a vessel of less than 50 metres in length shall not be obliged to exhibit such a light but may do so;

(iii) when making way through the water, in addition to the lights prescribed in this paragraph, sidelights and a sternlight.

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing, other than trawling, shall exhibit:

(i) two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being red and the lower white, or a shape consisting of two cones with their apexes together in a vertical line one above the other;

 (ii) when there is outlying gear extending more than 150 metres horizontally from the vessel, an all-round white light or a cone apex upwards in the direction of the gear;

(iii) when making way through the water, in addition to the lights prescribed in this paragraph, sidelights and a sternlight.

(d) The additional signals described in Annex II to these Regulations apply to a vessel engaged in fishing in close proximity to other vessels engaged in fishing.

(e) A vessel when not engaged in fishing shall not exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in this Rule, but only those prescribed for a vessel of her length.

Any vessel engaged in fishing must display the lights prescribed in the Rule.  There is no relaxation for small fishing vessels.  Vessels engaged in fishing cannot be regarded as NUC or RAM, even if their engines or steering gear become defective.  They must only show the lights and shapes prescribed in Rule 26, as they are given a high degree of privilege over other vessels as per Rule 18, only “so far as possible” having to keep clear of other hampered vessels.

All vessels engaged in fishing, are required to show their sidelights and sternlight when making way through the water.  These are one of the few types of vessel, for which it is possible to say with some confidence, whether they are underway and making way, or just underway.

Note that Rule 26 paragraph (b) gives a definition of a vessel engaged in trawling that is not found in Rule 3.  Trawlers and fishing vessels, to all intents and purposes, are just Fishing Vessels under these Rules, but they show different light characteristics.

Also note, that a single masthead light is only compulsory for fishing vessels engaged in trawling, when they are over 50m in length and is optional if they are under this length. As soon as they stop trawling, they revert to being an ordinary power driven vessel and hence, must show the lights for a vessel of that length.   A fishing vessel engaged in fishing is NOT permitted to display the additional masthead light, irrespective of her length.

Rule 26 (b) Rule 26 (b) Rule 26 (b) Rule 26 (c)
 

 

 

 

Vessel engaged in trawling, underway but   NOT making way, less than 50m in length. Vessel engaged in trawling, underway AND   making way, probably more than 50m in length. Vessel engaged in either trawling or   fishing, probably underway. Vessel engaged in fishing, underway AND   making way, with outlying gear extending more than 150m in the direction of   the single white light.
Rule 26 (c)
 

 

 

 

Vessel engaged   in trawling, NOTmaking way, probably greater than 50m in length.

 

RULE 27

Vessels Not Under Command or Restricted in Their Ability to Manoeuvre.

(a) A vessel not under command shall exhibit:

(i) two all-round red lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen;

(ii) two balls or similar shapes in a vertical line where they can best be seen;

(iii)when making way through the water, in addition to the lights prescribed in this paragraph, sidelights and a sternlight.

(b) A vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre, except a vessel engaged in mineclearance operations, shall exhibit:

(i) three all-round lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen. The highest and lowest of these lights shall be red and the middle light shall be white;

(ii) three shapes in a vertical line where they can best be seen. The highest and lowest of these shapes shall be balls and the middle one a diamond.

(iii)when making way through the water, a masthead light, sidelights and a sternlight in addition to the lights prescribed in subparagraph (i);

(iv) when at anchor, in addition to the lights or shapes prescribed in subparagraphs(i) and (ii), the light, lights, or shape prescribed in Rule 30.

(c) A power driven vessel engaged in a towing operation such as severely restricts the towing vessel and her tow in their ability to deviate from their course shall, in addition to the lights or shapes prescribed in Rule 24(a), exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in subparagraph (b)(i) and (ii) of this Rule.

(d) A vessel engaged in dredging or underwater operations, when restricted in her ability to manoeuvre, shall exhibit the lights and shapes prescribed in subparagraphs (b)(i),(ii) and (iii) of this Rule and shall in addition when an obstruction exists, exhibit:

(i) two all-round red lights or two balls in a vertical line to indicate the side on which the obstruction exists;

(ii) two all-round green lights or two diamonds in a vertical line to indicate the side on which another vessel may pass;

(iii) when at anchor, the lights or shapes prescribed in this paragraph instead of the lights or shapes prescribed in Rule 30.

(e) Whenever the size of a vessel engaged in diving operations makes it impracticable to exhibit all lights and shapes prescribed in paragraph (d) of this Rule, the following shall be exhibited:

(i) Three all-round lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen. The highest and lowest of these lights shall be red and the middle light shall be white;

(ii) a rigid replica of the code flag “A” not less than 1 metre in height. Measures shall be taken to ensure its all-round visibility.

(f) A vessel engaged in mineclearance operations shall in addition to the lights prescribed for a power driven vessel in Rule 23 or to the light or shape prescribed for a vessel at anchor in Rule 30 as appropriate, exhibit three all-round green lights or three balls. One of these lights or shapes shall be exhibited near the foremast head and one at each end of the fore yard. These lights or shapes indicate that it is dangerous for another vessel to approach within 1000 metres of the mineclearance vessel.

(g) Vessels of less than 12 metres in length, except those engaged in diving operations, shall not be required to exhibit the lights prescribed in this Rule.

(h) The signals prescribed in this Rule are not signals of vessels in distress and requiring assistance. Such signals are contained in Annex IV to these Regulations.

A power driven vessel or a sailing vessel can be NUC.  Note that sidelights are to be shown whilst this type of vessel is still making way, but are to be switched off when stopped and no longer making way.

For a vessel RAM, its’ masthead lights, sidelights and sternlight are to be exhibited only when making way.  Hence, with both NUC and RAM vessels, you can say with certainty whether they are making way or not.

Note paragraph (g), where vessels of less than 12m in length are not required to show the lights prescribed in the Rule, unless they are engaged in Diving Operations.

 

Rule 27 (a) (iii)

Rule 27 (a) (ii)

Rule 27 (a) (i)

Rule 27 (b) (i) & (iii)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A vessel Not Under Command, underway AND making way.

A vessel Not Under Command, underway, but NOT making way.

A vessel Not Under Command.

A power-driven vessel Restricted in her Ability to Manoeuvre, underway   but NOT making way.

Rule 27 (b) (ii)

Rule 27 (b) (iii) & (iv)

Rule 27 (b) (iv)

Rule 27 (c)

 

 

 

 

 

A vessel Restricted in her Ability to Manoeuvre.

A power-driven vessel Restricted in her Ability to Manoeuvre either:

(a)       Underway and  making way, as seen from astern or;

(b)       At anchor, being less than   50m in length.

A power-driven vessel Restricted in her Ability to Manoeuvre, at anchor   and probably more than 50m in length.

A power-driven vessel Restricted in her Ability to Manoeuvre, underway   AND making way engaged in towing, where the length of tow is greater than   200m and the length of the towing vessel is less than 50m in length.

Rule 27 (d) (i) & (ii)

Rule 27 (d) (i) & (ii)

Rule 27 (f)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A vessel Restricted in her Ability to Manoeuvre, underway but NOT   making way, engaged in dredging or underwater operations, indicating that it   is safe to pass on the side of the two vertical green lights.

A vessel Restricted in her Ability to Manoeuvre, engaged in dredging or   underwater operations, indicating that it is safe to pass on the side of the   two vertical vertical diamonds.

A vessel engaged in Mineclarance operations, underway and making way,   less than 50m in length as seen from the port side.

RULE 28

Vessels Constrained by their Draft.

A vessel constrained by her draft may, in addition to the lights prescribed for power driven vessels in Rule 23, exhibit where they can best be seen three all-round red lights in a vertical line, or a cylinder.

This rule is simplicity itself, but has been found to frequently cause confusion.  The lights prescribed are usually confused with a vessel aground, which shows a completely separate set of lights and shapes, of which more later, in Rule 30.

Additionally, it is always assumed that a vessel that is CBD is a large vessel.  This is not always the case and relatively small vessels may be CBD, as the rule governing the definition relates directly to the available depth and width of navigable water.  Therefore a vessel less than 50 metres in length could be CBD.

 

Rule 28

Rule 28

Rule 28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, probably greater   than 50m in length, Constrained by her Draught, as seen from the port side.

A power-driven vessel, underway, probably making way, less than 50m in   length, Constrained by her Draught, as seen from the starboard side.

A power-driven vessel, Constrained by her Draught.

 

RULE 29

Pilot Vessels.

(a) A vessel engaged on pilotage duty shall exhibit:

(i) at or near the masthead, two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being white and the lower red;

(ii) when underway, in addition, sidelights and a sternlight;

(iii) when at anchor, in addition to the lights prescribed in subparagraph (i), the light, lights, or shape prescribed in Rule 30 for vessels at anchor.

(b) A pilot vessel when not engaged on pilotage duty shall exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed for a similar vessel of her length.

The easiest way to remember these lights and not confuse them with vessels engaged in fishing, is that when a Pilot comes up the ladder, you see first his white hat (the white all round light) followed by his red nose (the red all round light).

These lights are identification lights only and are thus, not informing about a priority status, but a Pilot Vessel is the only class of vessel that displays its identification lights, whilst alongside.

 

RULE 30

Anchored Vessels and Vessels Aground.

(a) A vessel at anchor shall exhibit where it can best be seen:

(i) in the fore part, an all-round white light or one ball;

(ii) at or near the stern and at a lower level than the light prescribed in subparagraph (i), an all-round white light.

(b) A vessel of less than 50 metres in length may exhibit an all-round white light where it can best be seen instead of the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule.

(c) A vessel at anchor may, and a vessel of 100 metres and more in length shall, also use the available working or equivalent lights to illuminate her decks.

(d) A vessel aground shall exhibit the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) or (b) of this Rule and in addition, where they can best be seen;

(i) two all-round red lights in a vertical line;

(ii) three balls in a vertical line.

(e) A vessel of less than 7 metres in length, when at anchor, not in or near a narrow channel, fairway or anchorage where other vessels normally navigate, shall not be required to exhibit the shape prescribed in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this Rule.

(f) A vessel of less than 12 metres in length, when aground, shall not be required to exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in subparagraphs (d)(i) and (ii) of this Rule.

Usually the anchor chain is more often than not seen before the black ball on vessels at anchor.  However, note particularly paragraphs (e) and (f) when length limitations apply to vessels required to show these signals.  In short, a vessel less than 7m in length does not need to show anchor lights or shapes, provided it is not in or near a narrow channel or fairway and a vessel less than 12m in length is not obliged to show signals indicating that it is aground.   Therefore, a vessel of between 7m and 12m in length must show anchor lights and/or shapes irrespective of where it anchors.


 

Rule 30 (a)
Rule 30 (a) (i) & (ii) Rule ???? Rule 30 (d) (i)
 

 

 

A vessel at anchor. A vessel at anchor, probably more than   50m, but less than 100m in length. This could be:(a)       A Sternlight(b)       A vessel under oars(c)       A Sailing vessel less than 7m   in length

(d)       A Vessel at anchor less than   50m in length

A vessel aground,   probably greater than 50m in length.
Rule 30 (d) (ii)
 

 

 

 

A vessel aground.

 

RULE 31

Seaplanes and WIG Craft.

Where it is impracticable for a seaplane or a WIG craft to exhibit lights or shapes of the characteristics or in the positions prescribed in the Rules of this Part she shall exhibit lights and shapes as closely similar in characteristics and position as is possible.

Seaplanes normally have a “masthead light” in the forepart and sidelights on the wingtips, when underway on the water.  A large seaplane at anchor may have white lights on the wingtips, in addition to white lights fore and aft.

 

Part D – Sound and Light Signals

 

RULE 32

Definitions.

(a) The word “whistle” means any sound signalling appliance capable of producing the prescribed blasts and which complies with the specifications in Annex III to these Regulations.

(b) The term “short blast” means a blast of about one second’s duration.

(c) The term “prolonged blast” means a blast from four to six seconds’ duration.

All whistle signals prescribed in the Rules, are specified in terms of short and prolonged blasts, so it useful to learn their respective definitions.

 

RULE 33 

Equipment for Sound Signals.

(a) A vessel of 12 metres or more in length shall be provided with a whistle, a vessel of 20 metres or more in length shall be provided with a bell in addition to a whistle and a vessel of 100 metres or more in length shall, in addition, be provided with a gong, the tone and sound of which cannot be confused with that of the bell. The whistle, bell and gong shall comply with the specifications in Annex III to these Regulations. The bell or gong or both may be replaced by other equipment having the same respective sound characteristics, provided that manual sounding of the required signals shall always be possible.

(b) A vessel of less than 12 metres in length shall not be obliged to carry the sound signalling appliances prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule but if she does not, she shall be provided with some other means of making an efficient signal.

The specifications for a whistle are given in Annex III, but in short, a vessel 200m or more in length produces a deep tone and vessels less than 75m in length produce a relatively shrill tone.  An intermediate tone is produced for vessel between these sizes.

Paragraph (a) allows for the bell and gong to be replaced by other equipment having the same characteristics.  However, it should be born in mind, that a bell and gong are still required to be carried.

 

RULE 34 

Manoeuvring and Warning Signals.

(a) When vessels are in sight of one another, a power driven vessel under way, when manoeuvring as authorized or required by these Rules, shall indicate that manoeuvre by the following signals on her whistle:

one short blast to mean “I am altering my course to starboard”;

two short blasts to mean “I am altering my course to port”;

three short blasts to mean “I am operating astern propulsion”.

(b) Any vessel may supplement the whistle signals prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule by light signals, repeated as appropriate, whilst the manoeuvre is being carried out:

(i) these signals shall have the following significance:

one flash to mean “I am altering my course to starboard”;

two flashes to mean “I am altering my course to port”;

three flashes to mean “I am operating astern propulsion”.

(ii) the duration of each flash shall be about one second, the interval between flashes shall be about one second, and the interval between successive signals shall not be less than ten seconds.

(iii) the light used for this signal shall, if fitted, be an all-round white light, visible at a minimum range of 5 miles, and shall comply with the provisions of Annex I to these Regulations.

(c) When in sight of one another in a narrow channel or fairway:

(i)                 a vessel intending to overtake another shall in compliance with Rule 9(e) (i) indicate her intention by the following signals on her whistle.

-two prolonged blasts followed by one short blast to mean “I intend to overtake you on your starboard side”;

-two prolonged blasts followed by two short blasts to mean “I intend to overtake you on your port side”.

(ii) the vessel about to be overtaken when acting in accordance with 9(e)(i) shall indicate her agreement by the following signal on her whistle:

-one prolonged, one short, one prolonged and one short blast, in that order.

(d) When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other and from any cause either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt shall immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle. Such signal may be supplemented by at least five short and rapid flashes.

(e) A vessel nearing a bend or an area of a channel or fairway where other vessels may be obscured by an intervening obstruction shall sound one prolonged blast. Such signal shall be answered with a prolonged blast by any approaching vessel that may be within hearing around the bend or behind the intervening obstruction.

(f) If whistles are fitted on a vessel at a distance apart of more than 100 meters, one whistle only shall be used for giving manoeuvring and warning signals.

The signals described in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) are only to be given by vessels in visual sight of one another.  Paragraph (e) is obviously intended to apply in clear visibility.  Manoeuvring signals should not be given when taking avoiding action for a vessel detected by radar and CAN NOT be seen visually, due to restricted visibility.  This does not mean that just because a poor visual lookout is being kept, sounding of these signals is excused.

Note also that paragraph (a) applies only to a power driven vessel and not to sailing vessels.  Sailing vessels are not permitted to give manoeuvring signals when taking action to avoid collision.   However, the remaining paragraphs of this rule apply to ALL vessels.  Even a small alteration of course, if it is authorised or required under these Rules, must generally be indicated by the appropriate whistle signal.

Note also, that the sound signal is the one required to be given by the Rules and not the light signal.  The light is signal purely supplementary to the sound signal and logically, would be shown at night, to visually indicate which vessel had just given the whistle signal.  It must be emphasised that the light signal is not the “night” signal with the whistle signal being the “day” one.

These signals are only to be used when taking action that is authorised or required by these Rules and not for indicating alterations of course to counter the effect of tide, or to check the swing of a vessel.

Sound signals need not be given if action is taken for a vessel in sight, but at long range, before a risk of collision exists.  But if the Rules do apply, the signals must be sounded even if it is thought that they will not be heard.

 

 

RULE 35

Sound Signals in Restricted Visibility.

(a) A power driven vessel making way through the water shall sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes one prolonged blast.

(b) A power driven vessel underway but stopped and making no way through the water shall sound at intervals of no more than 2 minutes two prolonged blasts in succession with an interval of about 2 seconds between them.

(c) A vessel not under command, a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre, a vessel constrained by her draft, a sailing vessel, a vessel engaged in fishing and a vessel engaged in towing or pushing another vessel shall, instead of the signals prescribed in paragraph (a) or (b) of this Rule, sound at intervals of not more than 2 minutes three blasts in succession, namely one prolonged followed by two short blasts.

(d) A vessel engaged in fishing, when at anchor, and a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre when carrying out her work at anchor, shall instead of the signals prescribed in paragraph (g) of this Rule sound the signal prescribed in paragraph (c) of this Rule.

(e) A vessel towed or if more than one vessel is being towed the last vessel of the tow, if manned, shall at intervals of not more than 2 minutes sound four blasts in succession, namely one prolonged followed by three short blasts. When practicable, this signal shall be made immediately after the signal made by the towing vessel.

(f) When a pushing vessel and a vessel being pushed ahead are rigidly connected in a composite unit they shall be regarded as a power driven vessel and shall give the signals prescribed in paragraphs (a) or (b) of this Rule.

(g) A vessel at anchor shall at intervals of not more than 1-minute ring the bell rapidly for five seconds. In a vessel 100 meters or more in length the bell shall be sounded in the forepart of the vessel and immediately after the ringing of the bell the gong shall be sounded rapidly for about 5 seconds in the after part of the vessel. A vessel at anchor may in addition sound three blasts in succession, namely one short, one long and one short blast, to give warning of her position and of the possibility of collision to an approaching vessel.

(h) A vessel aground shall give the bell signal and if required the gong signal prescribed in paragraph (g) of this Rule and shall, in addition, give three separate and distinct strokes on the bell immediately before and after the rapid ringing of the bell. A vessel aground may in addition sound an appropriate whistle signal.

(i)   A vessel of 12 meters or more but less than 20 metres in length shall not be obliged to give the bell signals prescribed in paragraphs (g) and (h) of this Rule.  However, if she does not, shall make some other efficient sound signal at intervals of not more than 2 minutes.

(j) A vessel of less than 12 metres in length shall not be obliged to give the above-mentioned signals but, if she does not, shall make some other efficient sound signal at intervals of not more than 2 minutes.

(k) A pilotage vessel when engaged on pilotage duty may in addition to the signals prescribed in paragraph (a), (b) or (g) of this Rule sound an identity signal consisting of four short blasts.

Fog signals must be made, when operating in or near, an area of restricted visibility and especially when approaching such an area.  However, the density of fog, which necessitates the use of fog signals, has not been defined.  It is argued that there is little point in generating sound signals, when the actual visibility is equal to, or greater, than the audible range of the sound signals being used.  But if the visibility is reduced, then it would be prudent to operate the sound signals in accordance with the practice of good seamanship (i.e. are you in the open ocean or in coastal/pilotage waters) as it gives small vessels, ample warning of your approach.

Some students have found it easier to equate the sound signals to their morse code counterparts.  This only works for some of the signals, such as “Delta” and “Charlie” and to avoid confusion, it is always recommended to remember the signals as being entirely separate from their morse meanings.

Paragraph (c) and (d) can be summed up as

“Vessels that are:-

  1. RAM
  2. NUC
  3. Constrained by their Draught
  4. Towing Vessels
  5. Fishing Vessels
  6. Sailing Vessels

Shall sound one prolonged blast followed by two short blasts, at intervals not exceeding 2 minutes.”

Note here, that the towing vessel does not have to be Restricted in its Ability to Manoeuvre as defined in Rule 3 (g), as the above whistle signal is to be given by any vessel engaged in towing any other vessel.

Paragraph (h) (vessels aground) has also been found to give great trouble with students remembering the correct sequence.  In short, it is 3 distinct strokes on the bell, rapid ringing of the bell for 5 seconds, 3 distinct strokes on the bell, rapid ringing of the gong in the afterpart (if the length of vessel requires it – i.e. greater than 100m in length) for 5 seconds.  This signal is to be given at intervals not exceeding 1 minute.  The appropriate whistle signal is not defined, but it is suggested that Uniform – you are running into danger i.e. two short blasts followed by one prolonged blast, would appropriately warn other vessels in the vicinity of your predicament and the inherent danger of them also running aground.

 

RULE 36

 

Signals to Attract Attention.

If necessary to attract the attention of another vessel, any vessel may make light or sound signals that cannot be mistaken for any signal authorized elsewhere in these Rules, or may direct the beam of her searchlight in the direction of the danger, in such a way as not to embarrass any vessel Any light to attract the attention of another vessel shall be such that it cannot be mistaken for any aid to navigation. For the purpose of this Rule the use of high intensity intermittent or revolving lights, such as strobe lights, shall be avoided.

Light or sound signals, which could be mistaken for signals authorised elsewhere in the Rules, must not be used to attract the attention of another vessel.  In particular, signals, which could be confused with those authorised under Rule 37 and Annex IV, are not to be used, unless the vessel is in distress.  A very long blast on the whistle could, for instance, be taken to be “a continuous sounding with any fog signalling apparatus” (Annex IV paragraph 1 (b)).

 

RULE 37

Distress Signals.

When a vessel is in distress and requires assistance she shall use or exhibit the signals described in Annex IV to these Regulations.

The above rule is self-explanatory.  Only those signals listed in Annex IV to these Rules may be used as distress signals.  An amendment is pending with regard to Distress Signals, that will remove reference to Rt and WT Distress Signals such as the Radio telephone alarm etc.  However, until this amendment comes into force, Annex IV must still be learnt in its present format.

 

Part E – Exemptions

RULE 38

Exemptions.

Any vessel (or class of vessel) provided that she complies with the requirements of the International Regulations for the Preventing of Collisions at Sea, 1960, the keel of which is laid or is at a corresponding stage of construction before the entry into force of these Regulations may be exempted from compliance therewith as follows:

(a) The installation of lights with ranges prescribed in Rule 22, until 4 years after the date of entry into force of these regulations.

(b) The installation of lights with colour specifications as prescribed in Section 7 of Annex I to these Regulations, until 4 years after the entry into force of these Regulations.

(c) The repositioning of lights as a result of conversion from Imperial to metric units and rounding off measurement figures, permanent exemption.

(d) (i) The repositioning of masthead lights on vessels of less than 150 meters in length, resulting from the prescriptions of Section 3 (a) of Annex I to these regulations, permanent exemption.

(ii). The repositioning of masthead lights on vessels of 150 meters or more in length, resulting from the prescriptions of Section 3 (a) of Annex I to these regulations, until 9 years after the date of entry into force of these Regulations.

(e) The repositioning of masthead lights resulting from the prescriptions of Section 2(b) of Annex I to these Regulations, until 9 years after the date of entry into force of these Regulations.

(f) The repositioning of sidelights resulting from the prescriptions of Section 2(g) and 3(b) of Annex I to these Regulations, until 9 years after the date of entry into force of these Regulations.

(g) The requirements for sound signal appliances prescribed in Annex II to these Regulations, until 9 years after the date of entry into force of these Regulations.

(h) The repositioning of all-round lights resulting from the prescription of Section 9(b) of Annex I to these Regulations, permanent exemption.

This rule was necessary, to allow sufficient time for the required changes to be made in the positions and characteristics of lights, and in the performance of sound signalling appliances on vessels built before 1977.

 

SUMMARY

In conclusion, it is hoped that you have found this guide to be useful.  The Annexes have been purposefully left out, as previously described; in practice, a cursory knowledge only of Annex I and III is required for first certificates of competency, which is where this guide is predominantly aimed.  That is not to say that the Annexes can be ignored.  They must be read and Annex IV must be learnt practically verbatim.  The additional lights that fishing vessels and trawlers may make, when fishing in close proximity (Annex II), must be read and understood.  It is also worth remembering at this stage, the secondary meanings of the International Code Flags and how they directly correspond to this Annex.  You may be asked for the corresponding day signals (i.e. the flags) when you go up for your Orals!

In conclusion, it is very difficult to “teach” the Rule of the Road.  Most of the effort has to be made by the student to learn the Rules for themselves, after which they can then be discussed in class or on-board ship.  The lecturer (or officer on-board ship), can only give examples of situations where one or more of the Rules apply.  If the student does not know the Rules in the first place, then he/she will not gain anything from these more practical lessons.

How each individual elects to read and learn the Regulations is very much a personal matter.  The best way that I have found, is to read them whilst on the loo.  This is due to the fact that, with the best will in the world, the Rules themselves are an extremely boring read and those who attempt to sit in their cabins and read them, usually find that by Rule 3, they have given up.  By taking the book with you to the loo (or better still, photocopying the rules and sticking them up on the back of the loo door) you have no other distractions and so can study and learn a different rule on each visit.
 

A Simplified guide to the Collision Regulations

 

Part A – General
Rule Subject What it says
Rule 1 Application Where the regulations apply and who they apply to.
Rule 2 Responsibility The master is responsible for the safety of his vessel and crew,   wherever the rules require.
Rule 3 Explanation The titles and definitions used within the regulations.
Part B – Steering and sailing   rules
Section I – conduct of vessels in   any conditions of visibility
Rule Subject What it says
Rule 4 Use of Rules 5-10 All rules in Section I apply in all conditions of visibility.
Rule 5 Look-out Keep a good lookout at all times.
Rule 6

Speed

Maintain a safe speed according to conditions, other traffic and your   vessel’s characteristics.
Rule 7 Assessing risk Continually monitor the position of other vessels to assess the risk   of collision, taking bearings and using radar, if fitted.
Rule 8 Action Make positive, obvious, course and speed changes to avoid collision.
Rule 9 Narrow channels When in narrow channels, stay as far to starboard as is practical and   do not impede larger vessels.
Rule 10 Separation schemes Cross Traffic Separation Schemes at right angles to the general   direction of traffic flow and do not impede larger vessels.
Section II – conduct of vessels   within sight of one another
Rule Subject What it says
Rule 11 Use of Rules 12-18 All rules in Section II apply to vessels within sight of one another.
Rule 12

Sailing vessels

The way in which sailing vessels should manoeuvre, when approaching   each other.
Rule 13 Overtaking The overtaking vessel must keep clear of the vessel being overtaken.
Rule 14 Head-on When approaching head on, powered vessels should pass port to port   and turn to starboard if necessary to avoid collision.
Rule 15 Crossing If another powered vessel is approaching on your starboard side, you   have to give way to it.
Rule 16 Give-way action The vessel without a right of way (give-way) should take early   action.
Rule 17 Stand-on action The vessel with a right of way (stand-on) should usually maintain her   course and speed.
Rule 18 Keep clear Power gives way to sail, as well as to vessels restricted by draught,   fishing, manoeuvrability or not under command.
Section III – conduct of vessels   in restricted visibility
Rule Subject What it says
Rule 19 Restricted visibility When visibility is restricted and vessels are not in sight of one   another, proceed at a safe speed according to conditions.
Part C – Lights and shapes
Rule Subject What it says

Rule 20

Application When lights and shapes should be used.
Rule 21 Explanation Titles and definitions used in Rules 22-31.
Rule 22 Range and type Lights used on vessels of specified sizes.
Rule 23 Motorboats underway Specified lights for power-driven vessels when underway.
Rule 24 Towing and pushing Specified lights and shapes for power-driven vessels when pushing or   towing.
Rule 25 Sailing and rowing Specified lights and shapes for sailing vessels and rowed craft   underway.
Rule 26 Fishing vessels Specified lights and shapes for fishing vessels underway and at   anchor.
Rule 27 Special cases Specified lights and shapes for vessels not under command or   restricted in manoeuvring.
Rule 28 Deep-draught vessels Specified lights and shapes for vessels whose manoeuvring is   constrained by draught.
Rule 29 Pilot vessels Specified lights and shapes for pilot boats underway and at anchor.
Rule 30 Anchored or aground Specified lights and shapes for vessels when at anchor or aground.
Rule 31 Seaplanes Exemptions for aircraft designed to manoeuvre on water.
Part D – Sound and light signals
Rule Subject What it says

Rule 32

Explanation Titles and definitions used to describe sounds and sound-making   equipment.
Rule 33 Equipment Sound-making equipment required for vessels below and over 12m in   length.
Rule 34 Sound signals Various types of sound and light manoeuvring and warning signals.
Rule 35 Restricted visibility Sound signals for use in restricted visibility.
Rule 36 Attracting attention Suitable use of sound and light to attract the attention of another   vessel.
Rule 37 Distress signals Use of appropriate signals when assistance is required.

 


Part E – Exemptions
Rule Subject What it says

Rule 38

Exemptions Detail exemptions on the position of lights for vessels built before   1977.
In addition to the rules above, there are four Annexe’s which give   positioning and technical information on lights and shapes, additional   signals for fishing vessels, technical details of sound signal appliances and   Distress Signals.

Guy King

Senior Lecturer

Warsash Maritime Academy

 

Acknowledgements:

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (with Amendments in force from November 2003).

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