Answer to Question of the Week #11
This week’s question asked what is the proper order for who has to give way to whom, I also asked what makes a vessel a NUC (not under command), what is the definition of a Fishing vessel and what makes a vessel a RAM (restricted in ability to maneuver)
Nuc-Not Under Command
Ram-Restricted in Ability to Maneuver
Keep in mind that in an overtaking situation, that is when you are approaching another vessel or another vessel is approaching you from a direction that is more than 22.5° abaft the beam (where at night you would only see the other vessels stern light) the above listed heirarcy does not apply. If you are being over taken it is your responsibility to maintain your course and speed and not interfere with the overtaking vessel, regardless of their means of propulsion. If you are overtaking another vessel regardless of its size or means of propulsion it is your responsibility to steer so as to not interfere with said vessel.
What is a NUC-Any vessel that is unable to maneuver according the rules, usually because of steering or propulsion failure. This vessel at night would display 2 red lights in a vertical row where they can best be seen. During the day she would display 2 round balls in a vertical row.
Once, about 20 miles east of Miami at 0230 we broke our steering cable in the middle of some very busy shipping traffic. Upon notifying the first ship approaching us that we were steering with our emergency tiller and asking them to maneuver to give us more clearance we were very surprised by the instant response from all the shipping in the area as well as the USCG. The Coasties asked if we required assistance, we didn’t. The ship we contacted immediately told all shipping where we were, our course and that we were NUC. Every ship headed our way contacted us and told us they were maneuvering to avoid us and each asked if we required assistance. Oilers, container ships, tugs with tows, you name it they all responded in a positive manner. Like most recreational sailors we did not have the capacity to display the proper lights or day shapes but the maritime community responded with overwhelming positive support and actions.
What is a RAM-Any vessel that by reason of its work that is restricted in its ability to maneuver. Tugs with tows, dredges, dive boats, research vessels, buoy tenders, cable layers, aircraft carriers while launching or recovering aircraft, vessels transferring cargo or personal while underway. At night a RAM will display three lights in a vertical row-RED WHITE RED. During the day they would display a BALL DIAMOND BALL day shapes in a vertical row.
Vessels, including tugs towing are only RAMS when the tow restricts their turning ability. So, while restricted they usually will only be displaying their normal towing lights of 3 or 2 white in a vertical row.
What constitutes a Fishing Vessel-A vessel is considered “Fishing” when towing nets or warps that restrict its ability to maneuver. A recreational fishing vessel trolling is a power-driven vessel and not a “Fishing Vessel” under the rules. It is still a courtesy to give way to them when the situation arises. Generally, I have found them to be aware of my presence and to maneuver to keep their lines clear of me. Occasionally they don’t and sometimes I have seen them with a fish on the line and I have taken care to maneuver around them as a courtesy.
Regardless of your perceived “rights” please give commercial shipping a wide berth. Any attempt to pass in front of a large commercial vessel that is less than 4-5 NM away without first contacting them is foolish. Because of their size their speed may seem slower than it really is. Their view from the bridge of a ship is severely restricted in front of the vessel as nearly all ships have a blind spot a couple of miles or more in front of them. On a container ship with a full deck load their forward view may have a blind spot several miles long ahead of the vessel. Crossing inside this blind spot makes for some rather tense moments on the bridge of any ship. At night it is just plain fool hardy. When a close crossing situation exists I frequently call the ship in question and inform them I am altering course to pass behind them. I may have had plenty of room to continue on without calling but I figure when the other guy knows exactly what I am intending he is less likely to do something that interferes with my course of action. Peace of mind for all parties involved.