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TOPIC: Room to tack at an unexpected obstruction

Room to tack at an unexpected obstruction 6 months 3 weeks ago #141

  • Bill Brockbank
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This was a real incident which didn't go to a hearing. So only one side of the story appears.
Two boats, L (later P) and W are both sailing close hauled on starboard in open water with W on L's weather quarter and not overlapped.
L is caught by surprise when a rescue boat towing some driftwood appears on her lee bow, forcing her to tack. The incident happens too quickly for L to call for room to tack, so W and L (now P) have a minor collision.
Q. What rule(s) apply and why?
A. L was entitled to call for room to rack in which case W would have to respond by tacking or shouting You Tack (and then keeping clear of L). The rule requires W to respond to L's hail even if W didn't see any obstruction, perhaps a swimmer. Or the driftwood before it got collected by the rescue boat.
Providing L hails W must respond. If L can hail for an obstruction known only to her it's unreasonable to expect W to respond (and the rules don't require her to) if L doesn't then hail.
L fouled W and should spin. L should have kept a better lookout.
Q2. Should W have averted a collision, or done more to lessen it?
A2. No. The 'avoid collision' rule puts much more onus on the give way boat than the right of way one. It even asks the right of way boat not to alter course until it's clear that give way isn't. That's to avoid both boats simultaneously trying to lessen a collision with neither sure what the other will do next.
Comment: The 'invisible obstruction' part of the rule isn't perfect. The rulemakers struggled with a deep draft boat fitted with sonar to who a nearby part of the seabed was an obstruction crossing paths with a fleet of shallow draft boats in (to them) open water. They couldn't answer the question as put so changed it to one they could!
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