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

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Rule 11 -- Application



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

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


Rule 11 begins Section/Subpart II and says that Rules 11 through 18 apply to vessels in sight of one another. The International and Inland versions are the same except for the difference in terms ("section" versus "subpart") that is due only to past practices between the treaty drafters and the U.S. Congress. (We will refer to either as "section.")

Rule 3(k) says that vessels shall be deemed to be in sight of one another only when one can visually observe the other. If one vessel fails to sight the other only because of an inadequate lookout (Rule 5), then that vessel is not excused from complying with the Rules in this section.

The Rules in this section in most cases assign to one vessel in a two-vessel encounter the primary responsibility for staying out of the way of the other. The vessel obliged to stay out of the way of the other is called the "give-way" vessel; the other vessel is called the "stand-on" vessel. The theory behind these Rules is that the give-way vessel is the one better able to stay out of the way, although in practice this is not always the case.

The execution of these Rules depends on the operator of each vessel being able to assess the other's relative position, course, speed, and intentions. Hence the Rules in this section depend on good visibility (day or night). In restricted visibility when vessels are not in sight of one another (when they cannot visually observe each other), Rules 11-18 do not apply and the vessel operators are required to follow instead Rule 19 (Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility).

What Rules you should use depends on whether you can actually see the other vessel, and only indirectly on the condition of visibility. If you have vessels A and B on your radar screen but can visually see only vessel A, you must follow Rule 12-18 with respect to A and Rule 19 with respect to B. In such a situation you may find that obscured vessel B moves out if its fogbank (or haze or whatever) and become visible. As soon as it does, and when it is clear that it also sees you, Rules 12-18 would then normally apply. If the other vessel, upon becoming visible, is too close or is coming on too fast for you to act effectively under Section II Rules (stand-on / give-way), then Section I and Section III Rules have been violated (by somebody) and you must take whatever action is needed to avoid collision--immediately.


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Rule 12