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

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Rule 2 -- Responsibility


INTERNATIONAL

INLAND

(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.

(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.

 

Rule 2, worded identically in both the International and Inland versions, says when the Rules shall be followed, when supplemental action is required, and when the Rules are not to be followed. Although a statement warning against failure to comply with the Rules would not seem to be necessary (because the Rules are the law), Rule 2 emphasizes that the navigation rules are not merely statements of customary practice or recommended guidance.

Furthermore, Rule 2 holds the mariner responsible not only for complying with the Rules but for avoiding collisions. Merely complying with the Rules is not enough. If, in fact, strict compliance with the Rules would result in immediate danger, a departure from the Rules (to the extent necessary to avoid the danger) is required. A mariner who chooses to adhere strictly to the word of the Rules, and thereby causes or fails to avoid a collision that could have been prevented by other action, may not use compliance with the Rules as a defense to liability.

The basis for this apparent catch 22 is that the Rules cannot possibly cover every conceivable situation of vessel encounter. The Rules are written for usual or likely situations; atypical situations are termed "special circumstances." A complete list of special circumstances is, of course, impossible to provide. A number of examples should give some idea of the term's meaning.

During routine operations, almost all vessels engage in maneuvers that are not covered by the Rules. These maneuvers, which normally take a very short time, may occur near other vessels. Vessels entering or leaving a slip, for instance, do not follow the steady course needed for Rule applications. Likewise, vessels proceeding stern-first are considered to be in special circumstances.

Vessels not making way may be in special circumstances. First, a vessel should avoid stopping in a high-traffic area, and when a vessel decides to stop, it should make its intentions clear to other vessels in the area. As always, a proper lookout should be maintained.

Risk-of-collision situations are a bit tricky. If good conditions exist, and if the stopped vessel can put on maneuvering speed quickly, and if one assumes that its steady course is that indicated by the point of its bow, and if then, by Rule 15, it would be the give-way vessel, the Steering and Sailing Rules would apply and the stopped vessel would be obligated to keep out of the way of the other. But if the vessel is drifting, its course may not be obvious. If the stopped vessel is large, it may not be able to move out of the way of a fast oncoming vessel. Whatever the "if" of the situation, encounters with vessels not making way through the water deserve extra caution.

Another special circumstance occurs when two vessels have managed to get themselves much to close to each other and are headed in unfortunate directions. Collisions about the happen are often called "extremis" situations. The vessels involved are said to be "in extremis."

An extremis situation occurs when a collision can be avoided only by the action of both vessels. Here Rule 17(b) requires the stand-on vessel to maneuver to avoid the collision. In general, however, an extremis situation is one in which a collision is imminent, in which there is an immediate danger of collision ("in the jaws of a collision"). The collision need not occur for an extremis situation to have existed.

In an extremis situation, the operators on one or both of the vessel have failed to take the first line of preventive actions prescribed by the Rules. The second line of defense comes into play; the parties in extremis are required to do whatever is necessary to avoid a collision or at least to minimize the damage.

The physical limitations of the vessels may also impose special circumstances. Draft limitations will prevent some give-way vessels from turning into shallow water; a sluggish craft may preclude a timely maneuver for others.

The presence of more than two vessels may preclude full compliance with the Rules; action required with respect to one vessel may conflict with the action required with respect to one or more of the others. Again, special circumstances exist.

Sometimes vessel masters find it more convenient (as opposed to necessary) to maneuver in conflict with the Rules. This is permitted only after all vessels involved agree to a departure from the Rules. The master proposing to depart must comply with the Rules until agreement is reached by all parties. This means that the master should not begin to line up his or her vessel for a maneuver in conflict with the Rules until after agreement on that maneuver has been reached--early planning is a must. The proposal is in no way binding on the other vessel's master until he or she agrees to it. Once agreement is reached, neither vessel is the stand-on vessel, and each should proceed with caution. Agreement to depart from the Rules should not be made under normal circumstances, and an agreement to depart should never be assumed from customary practice or prior agreements.

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