Handbook of the Nautical Rules of the Road by Llana & Wisneskey

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Rule 1 -- Application


INTERNATIONAL

INLAND

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

(a) These Rules apply to all vessels upon the inland waters of the United States, and to vessels of the United States on the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes to the extent that there is no conflict with Canadian law.

 

Where and when do the maritime navigation rules, or "rules of the road," apply? Do the International Rules apply only on international waters (or the "high seas")? Do they apply only to large commercial ships, or to small boats as well? Rule 1 provides the answers.

First, notice that both the International and the Inland versions apply to "all" vessels. If you're not sure what can be called a vessel, you may be surprised to find out that Rule 3(a) gives a very broad definition, which includes large craft, small craft (even sailboards), seaplanes on the water, and military craft.

Older rules that allowed Navy and Coast Guard vessels to operate in violation of these Rules under some circumstances are no longer in effect. Navy and Coast Guard vessels do sometimes operate at night without navigation lights, but the commanding officers of those vessels assume full responsibility for avoiding collisions and are laible for damages resulting from their violation of the Rules.

Now, where do each of the two sets of Rules apply? The International Rules apply on the "high seas" and connecting waters. High seas waters are beyond the limits of a country's territorial sea. The U.S. territorial sea now extends twelve nautical miles beyond the baseline, which runs along the coast and across the mouths of rivers and bays. The width of the territorial sea varies from country to country, but twelve miles is now the internationally accepted standard.

Even though the actual language says that the International Rules also apply to connecting waters "navigable by seagoing vessels," that requirement is often overridden by the application of paragraph (b). In almost all cases the International Rules apply on territorial waters (lying between the coastline and the high seas) and also on some "internal waters" (inside the baseline). Rivers, harbors, bays, and so forth are examples of internal waters. The U.S. internal waters to which the International Rules apply include the rivers and bays of Alaska, Puget Sound, the rivers and bays of most of Maine, and some other waters.

There is no one rule describing the boundary marking the limit of application of the International Rules, but rather the line is set out in detail by regulation. The lines of "demarcation" dividing application of the International Rules and the Inland Rules are described in Part 80 of Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations. In most cases the demarcation line follows the shoreline. Where it doesn't, the line is laid out as a series of straight lines connecting prominent points, such as lighthouses or the ends of jetties.

The Inland Rules apply on U.S. navigable waters inside the demarcation lines and on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. These waters are called "inland waters" and are formally defined in Rule 3. The Inland Rules also apply to U.S. vessels operating on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes except for those provisions that conflict with Canadian navigation rules for the Great Lakes. The U.S. and Canadian navigation rule drafters worked together to minimize the differences between the two countries' rules and to help ensure that the Great Lakes mariner would have little difficulty transiting from one side to the other.

 

INTERNATIONAL

INLAND

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

(b)(i) These Rules constitute special rules made by an appropriate authority within the meaning of Rules 1(b) of the International Regulations.
(ii) All vessels complying with the construction and equipment requirements of the International Regulations are considered to be in compliance with these Rules.

 

A legal relationship exists between the two sets of Rules, and that relationship is explained, after a fashion, in paragraph (b). The International Rules recognize the existence and usefullness of special (national) rules but admonish the navigation rules authorities to eliminate unnecessary differences between international and national rules. Consistency, of course, minimizes confusion, errors, and the potential for collisions.

Inland Rule 1(b) cites the International Rule 1(b) authority for special rules and incorporates the International Rule constructions and equipment requirements as alternative provisions of the Inland Rules. This allows vessels complying with the International Rule requirements and operating on International Rule waters to enter U.S. inland waters without having to switch over to, for example, a differnt navagation light arrangement. Vessels operating only on inland waters may elect to comply with International Rule navigation light requirements instead of Inland Rule requirements. If they do, however, they must comply exclusively with all International Rule lights. You can;t mix and match the International and Inland requirements to suit your individual style. An important caveat: all vessels entering U.S. inland waters must follow the Inland Rule Steering and Sailing Rules and use Inland Rule sound signals (or radiotelephone).

 

INTERNATIONAL

INLAND

(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 aithorized elsewhere uder these Rules.

(c) Nothing in these Rules shall interfere with the operation of any special rules made by the Secretary of the Navy with respect to additional station or signal lights and shapes or whistle signals for ships of war and vessels proceeding under convoy, or by the Secretary with respect to additional station or signal lights or shapes for fishing vessels engaged in fishing as a fleet. These additional station or signal lights and shapes or whistle signals shall, so far as possible, be such that they cannot be mistaken fr any light, shape, or signal authorized elsewhere under these Rules. Notice of such special rules shall be published in the Federal Register and , after the effective date specified in such notice, they shall have effect as if they were part of these Rules.

 

Special additional station signal lights, shapes, or whistle signals are explicitly authorized by the International and Inland navigation rules for certain classes of warships, vessels in convoy, and vessels fishing in a fleet. These supplement the normal lights, shapes, and signals and are not to be used to replace them.

Additional optional lights for vessels fishing in close proximity (in a fleet) are separately permitted under Rule 26(d) and are listed in Annex II.

Special additional signals for Navy vessels are listed in Part 707 of Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations and include the following:

  • sec. 707.2 Man overboard lights (two pulsating all-round red lights in a vertical line)
  • sec. 707.3 Yardarm signaling lights (flashing all-round white lights)
  • sec. 707.4 Aircraft warning lights (one all-round red light)
  • sec. 707.5 Underway replenishment contour lights (red or blue lights)
  • sec. 707.6 Minesweeping station-keeping lights (two white limited-sector lights)
  • sec. 707.7 Submarine identification light (intermittant flashing amber beacon--three flashes, one per second, floowed by three-second off period)
  • sec. 707.8 Special operations lights (revolving beam colored red, green, or amber)
  • sec. 707.9 Convoy operations sternlight (blue light in lieu of regular sternlight)
  • sec. 707.10 Wake illumination light (white spotlight)
  • sec. 707.11 Flight operations light (combinations of different colored lights)
  • sec. 707.12 Amphibious operations lights (various combinations of colored lights)
     
    

INTERNATIONAL

INLAND

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

(d) Traffic separation schemes may be established for the purpose of these Rules. Vessel traffic service regulations may be in effect in certain areas.

 

Rule 10 sets out regulations for vessel operation in traffic separation schemes (TSS) adopted by the Organization in the case of the International Rules, or established by the U.S. government for Inland Rules waters. The Organization is the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a body of the United Nations. Rule 1(d) authorizes IMO to adopt traffic separation schemes to which Rule 10 will apply.

Traffic separation schemes are used to keep apart ships that are proceeding in opposite directions (usually in well-traveled sea lanes) and are most commonly found in the coast approaches to busy ports around the world. The traffic separation schemes associated with U.S. ports lie, for the most part, in high seas waters where ships are mostly outside of U.S. jurisdictional control. International Rule 10 applies in those cases. This goes for traffic separation schemes off foreign coasts as well. Violations of Rule 10 are reported by the country off whose coast the traffic separation scheme is located to the flag state of the vessel involved. It is then up to the flag state (country of vessel registry) to adjudicate the violation and impose any penalties.

Vessel routing systems in inland waters can be in the form of traffic separation schemes (covered by Inland Rule 10), or in the form of Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). Inland Rule 1(d) calls attention to the fact that separate regulations may apply to certain heavily trafficked or hazardous areas. As of this writing, eight VTS areas have been established, but no inland TSSs yet exist. A more complete discussion of this subject appears under Rule 10 and in Appendix III to this book.

 

INTERNATIONAL

INLAND

(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 signaling appliances, such vessel shall comply with such other prrovisions in regard to the number, position, range or arc of visibility of lights and shapes, as well as to the disposition and characteristics of sound signaling appliances, as her Government shall have determined to be the closest possible compliance wither these Rules in respect to that vessel.

(e) Whenever the Secretary determines that a vessel or class of vessels of special construction or purpose cannot comply fully with the provisions of any of these Rules with respect to the number, position, range or arc of visibility of lights or shapes, as well as to the disposition and characteristics of sound signally appliances, the vessel shall comply with such other provisions in regard to the number, position, range or arc of visibility of lights or shapes, as well as to the disposition and characteristics of sound signaling applicances, as the Secretary shall have determined to be the closest possible compliance with these Rules. The Secretary may issue a certificate of alternative compliance for a vessel or class of vessels specifying the closest possible compliance with these Rules. The Secretary of the Navy shall make these determinations and issue certificates of alternative compliance for vessels of the Navy.

 

The navigation rules have set up navigation light, shape, and sound-signal requirements that can be redily applied to almost all vessels used today. Occasionally, however, a vessel that has been designed or modified to perform a particular, perhaps unique function will not be able to comply fully without having its special function impaired. In those cases, Rule 1(e) permits a deviation from the navigation light, shape, or sound-signal requirements but only to the point of preventing interference with the special function. This permitted deviation from the Rules is called "alternative compliance," and the document granting that deviation is the Certificate of Alternative Compliance.

Vessels must fulfill two criteria before receiving a Certificate of Alternative Compliance. First, the vessel must be of special construction or purpose. Ordinary passenger, cargo, or recreational vessels do not meet this first criterion, but offshore oil and gas facility supply vessels and cable-laying vessels, for example, do.

Second, it must be shown that full compliance would interfere with the special function of the vessel. If this second criterion is also satisfied, the vessel must still comply as closely as possible with the requirement without interfering with its special function.

For example, full compliance by an offshore supply vessel over fifty meters long would require the placement of an after masthead light (and mast) in the middle of its long open cargo deck. However, doing this would interfere with the vessel's cargo-handling function. Instead, the after masthead light is placed at the forward end of the cargo deck, and the forward masthead light is placed at the stem, thereby obtaining the maximum horizontal separation possible (although still less than required by the Rules).

The secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating makes alternative compliance determinations for Coast Guard and private vessels. This authority has been delegated to the Coast Guard. Procedures for obtaining Certificated of Alternative Compliance are found in Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 89 for the Inland Rules and Part 81 for the International Rules. The Secretary of the Navy makes alternative compliance determinations for Navy vessels.

 

INLAND

(f) The Secretary may accept a certificate of alternative compliance issued by a contracting party to the International Regulations if he determines that the alternative compliance standards of the contracting party are substantially the same as those of the United States.

 

Only the Inland Rules contain a paragraph (f) in Rule 1, which states that, in determining whether a foreign vessel in U.S. inland waters complies with the navigation rules, U.S. authorities may rely on the determinations of the flag state (the state in which the vessel is registered)

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