When the delegates who represent the United States at the forthcoming Safety at Sea Conference go to London this spring they will probably advocate a number of important changes in the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea. While most of the recommendations of the Conference of 1929 will no doubt be included, indications are that the changes considered by the Conference of 1948 will go much farther. And by far the most important change likely to be introduced by this western maritime country will be the proposal for a compulsory exchange of whistle signals between approaching steam vessels.[i]
It is an interesting fact that prior to the International Convention of 1889 all passing whistles were optional. In that Convention for the first time whistle signals were made compulsory on the high seas with the well known provision that:
The words “short blast” used in this article shall mean a blast of about one second’s duration.
When vessels are in sight of one another, a steam vessel under way, in taking any course authorized or required by these rules, shall indicate that course by the following signals on her whistle or siren, namely:
One short blast to mean “I am directing my course to starboard.” Two short blasts to mean “I am directing my course to port.” Three short blasts to mean “My engines are going at full speed astern.”[ii]
A critical examination of this rule reveals several significant implications in its wording and interpretation. “I am directing my course to starboard” means, of course, “I am changing course to the right.” “I am directing my course to port” means “I am changing course to the left.” The interpretation that either of these phrases may be used to describe a maneuver without change of course is entirely specious. Continuing present course is directing it neither to port nor to starboard. The only possible alternative meaning, “I am directing my course to starboard of the other vessel,” falls down if the other vessel is either meeting or crossing. In either case “directing course to starboard” would be going to port of the other vessel, and only in the overtaking situation would it mean to starboard of that vessel.
The three-short-blast signal has been interpreted by our courts to be a requirement not only when the engines are at full speed astern, but when they are at any speed astern if another vessel is in sight.4 This is no doubt because full speed astern is a decidedly indeterminate quantity, differing on vessels of the same outward appearance but with dissimilar power plants, and differing on the same vessel at different times under varying conditions of load, trim, steam pressure, and wind and weather. In the light of these interpretations the words “full speed” should probably be omitted from the rule at the next Conference. Article 28 must be obeyed by a steam vessel whether the approaching vessel is ahead, abeam, or astern; and whether that vessel is a steam vessel with a whistle or a sailing vessel without one. The rule which that vessel was found at fault in a collision on the Amazon Estuary for failing to whistle for the first of two changes to starboard; and the Corinthian, 11 Aspinall M.C. (N.S.) 264 (Admiralty) in which the Malin Head was similarly held at fault in a collision on the St. Lawrence for failure to whistle for the second of two changes to starboard.
It is significant that Article 28 must be obeyed by steam vessels not only on the high seas but wherever the International Rules apply. Perhaps the rules adopted in 1889 in some respects do not give sufficient attention to the fact that while they apply on the limitless waters of the ocean they must also be used on thousands of miles of restricted waters, though Article 25 is conclusive evidence that this point was not entirely overlooked at the Conference.6 The International Rules apply to all vessels in the Inside Passage to Alaska, the Inside Passage along the coast of Chile, the fjords of Norway and Denmark, the Skagerack, the Strait of Dover, the Canadian portion of the.Yukon River, the lower Saint Lawrence, the Amazon, the Plate, and many other of the world’s important rivers carrying, at times, a great volume of traffic, seagoing as well as inland. Far from being objectionable, this is exactly as it should be. As long as vessels move from one jurisdiction to another a single set of rules for preventing collisions for all public navigable waters would seem to be the best arrangement. The point is that international rules only do half the job if they prevent collisions rather well on the open sea, but fail adequately to handle situations arising in the navigation of bays, sounds, straits, channels, and rivers where sea room is restricted, traffic relatively congested, and, it goes without saying, collision hazard more often present.
Now while Article 28 as adopted in 1889— and as still in effect today—was undoubtedly an improvement over the purely optional use of whistle signals before that time, a careful examination of the rule reveals certain “gaps” in the signals provided if we try to apply it to all the possible situations involving risk of collision in good visibility between one steam vessel and another. These situations are commonly classified as meeting, overtaking, and crossing.
Before discussing the application of the rule to each of the situations named it will be well to digress long enough to agree on the meaning of the term “risk of collision” used above. When the courses and speeds of two vessels are such that they must inevitably collide unless one of them changes course and/or speed, risk of collision, to say nothing of the imperative necessity of positive action to avoid it, is obvious. Keeping a proper lookout, taking bearings, showing lawful lights at night, and the use of prescribed whistle signals are all intended by the rules to prevent the risk, once it develops, from becoming serious. However, it must by no means be assumed that there is no risk of collision in the legal sense, and that the rules therefore do not apply, merely because one vessel is not aimed directly at the other, or even because they are not at the moment approaching each other on a steady bearing. Ruling court authority in both England and the United States gives the term “risk of collision” a much wider application. In the words of Dr. Lushington, famous British Admiralty jurist of a century ago,
This chance of collision is not to be scanned by a point or two. We have held over and over again that if there be a reasonable chance of collision it is quite sufficient.
And in another case,
The whole evidence shows that it was the duty of the Colonia, with the wind free, to have made certain of avoiding the Susan. She did not do so, but kept her course till she was at so short a distance of a cable and a half’s length in the hope the vessels might pass each other. Now it can never be allowed to a vessel to enter into nice calculations of this kind, which must be attended with some risk, whilst it has the power to adopt, long before the collision, measures which would render it impossible.[iii]
As early as 1869 our own Supreme Court held that Rules of Navigation such as have been mentioned (as to the duties of two vessels approaching each other) are obligatory upon such vessels when approaching each other from the time the necessity for precaution begins; and they continue to be applicable as the vessels advance so long as the means and opportunity to avoid the danger remains. They do not apply to a vessel required to keep her course after the approach is so near that collision is inevitable and are equally inapplicable to vessels of every description while they are yet so distant from each other that measures of precaution have not become necessary to avoid collision.
And another federal court amplified this decision in the following unmistakable language:
Risk of collision begins the very moment when the two vessels have approached so near each other and upon such courses that by departure from the rules of navigation, whether from want of good seamanship, accident, mistake, misapprehension of signals, or otherwise, a collision might be brought about. It is true that, prima facie, each man has a right to assume that the other will obey the law. But this does not justify either in shutting his eyes to what the other may actually do, or in omitting to do what he can to avoid an accident made imminent by the acts of the other. I say the right above spoken of is prima facie merely, because it is well known that departure from the law not only may, but does, take place, and often. Risk of collision may be said to begin the moment the two vessels have approached each other so near that a collision might be brought about by any such departure and continues up to the moment when they have so far progressed that no such result can ensue. But independently of this, the idea that there was no risk of collision is fully exploded by the fact that there was a collision.
With such unimpeachable authority, it must be clear that rules purporting to cover situations involving “risk of collision” apply not only to approaches where collision might almost be expected to occur, or where it might occur, but where it could occur. With this interpretation, let us return to Article 28 International and the three situations.
- Steam vessels meeting. We may roughly characterize “meeting vessels” as on substantially opposite courses, and so that their respective headings, unless at least one of them is changed, will bring them into close enough proximity to involve “risk of collision.” As a practical matter we may recognize five meeting situations instead of one, though they all have in common the factor of the two steam vessels being on opposite, or nearly opposite, courses. In situation one they are exactly head and head, and each vessel, being required to alter course to starboard by Article 18, signifies such action by blowing one short blast. In situation two they are a little port to port, but not enough to clear, and again each vessel is required to alter course to starboard and to blow one short blast. In situation three they are a little starboard to starboard but not enough for safe clearance, and again the vessels will, if obeying Article 18, alter course to the right (this time somewhat across each other’s bows), and each blow one short blast. In situation four the vessels are already clear port to port sufficiently to indicate a safe passage without altering course, though risk of collision within the court interpretation of that term may well exist with an apparent clearance of half a mile. But if neither vessel is changing course in this case neither vessel can lawfully whistle. This may be said to be the first “gap” in providing for signals.
Likewise, in situation five the two vessels, approaching this time far enough to starboard of each other for a safe clearance on that side, pass starboard to starboard without a whistle signal, and we have the second “gap” in signals. While the value of whistling may be open to some argument in situation four, its omission in situation five is more serious because, particularly in border line cases, one vessel or the other may suddenly decide to “port her helm and show her red,” i.e., to right rudder, while the other remains confident that all is well for passing as previously indicated by the original headings. This situation in actual practice is more than an occasional cause of collision. In the present Articles 18 and 28, not only is there a “gap” in signals here, but there is no mention or recognition of the legitimate starboard to starboard situation itself; and the mariner is left with the inference that he must always get across to the port side of the other vessel, sometimes with disastrous results.
- The overtaking situation. In this situation one vessel must be approaching another from aft or in the arc on either side more than two points abaft the latter’s beam. It is usually indicated at night to the overtaking vessel by her inability to see either of the other vessel’s side lights, though this is an uncertain test at best due to the frequency of incorrectly set side lights and the tendency of vessels under certain conditions to yaw in their courses.
It will be seen from Article 24 that an overtaking vessel has the option of passing on either side of the overtaken vessel, subject only to the modification that in a narrow channel the overtaken vessel should be on the right hand side of the channel and it would therefore ordinarily be better seamanship in such waters for the overtaking vessel to pass on the left. This situation is, to a greater degree than any other, one of privilege and burden, and the obligation is put upon the overtaking vessel to keep well clear, not only throughout the approach and during the actual passing, but long enough afterward so that she is in the most literal sense “finally past and clear.” This is equally true whether the overtaking vessel is steam or sail.
Under the present Article 28, International Rules, vessel A overtaking vessel B and desiring to pass her does not signal unless the approach will be sufficiently close to indicate a change of course to clear her. Then A, if a steam vessel, blows one short blast if changing to the right, and two short blasts if changing to the left. Vessel B is required by Article 21 to keep course and speed, and cannot properly, therefore, give any whistle signal.
Again we have “gaps” in the desired use of whistles. Not only is the rule devoid of a whistle signal for A unless she changes course, but it is equally devoid of a whistle signal for B should she deem it unsafe at that time for A to pass. When A has reached a position well clear of B’s track, she may return to her original course, using the proper signal to indicate the reverse direction she now turns, and once again receiving no answering signal from B. Although this last signal of A in most cases has no useful purpose, and is nearly always omitted in practice, its use seems to be required by Article- 28 on the grounds that, with another vessel not only in sight but in the immediate vicinity, it announces a maneuver which is certainly not forbidden, is naturally to be expected, and is at least by implication “authorized by the rules.”
- Two steam vessels crossing. In this situation again we have one of privilege and burden, where it is the theory of the rules that the surest way to avoid collision is to restrict one vessel, misnamed “privileged,” to continuing the maneuver in which she is engaged, i.e., to keep course and speed; and to require the other vessel, the “burdened” vessel, better called the “giving way vessel,” to take all the positive action to avoid collision. Thus vessel A, having vessel B in the crossing position to port, is required by Article 21, with its footnote, to keep course and speed across B’s bow unless and until B’s failure to do her duty and give way forces A into the jaws of collision. Vessel B, having vessel A in the crossing position to starboard, is required by Article 19 to keep clear, is forbidden by Article 22 to cross, and is directed by Article 23, if necessary, to slacken speed or stop or reverse. All the words of four articles are thus set up for the primary purpose of making it clear to vessel B that for her the territory ahead of vessel A is forbidden territory. Yet notwithstanding this legal armor, if B fails to yield, A may have to go through the most trying situation known to seamen, that of holding on across a deadly cutwater advancing upon her with ungodly speed at the most vulnerable angle of attack, without benefit of any whistle signal. This is the worst signal “gap” of all. The four-blast danger signal so widely used in the inland waters of the United States in situations of this kind is not recognized in the present International Rules. Until vessel A properly alters course or speed in the very jaws of collision she can take no legal comfort in the use of one, two, or three blasts; but when that crucial moment comes she will be held to the double duty of taking such steps as will, in her judgment, best aid to avert collision, and of indicating by the appropriate signal of one, two, or three short blasts the maneuver by which she tries to escape the results of vessel B’s wrongdoing. And even if vessel B is law- abiding, she need not whistle if she keeps clear of vessel A by the simple expedient of slowing down without changing course, a legal but hardly a moral method of letting vessel A find out the honesty of her intentions. What vessel B should always do, of course, in this situation, is to give vessel A both a substantial change to starboard and the reassuring whistle blast which properly accompanies that maneuver; but there is nothing in the present rules that compels her to do it.
To sum up, the signal “gaps” inherent in the existing international system of having one and two blast whistle signals used only to signify a proper change in course result in lawful whistle silence: (1) in the meeting situation by either vessel not altering course, whether she passes to starboard or to port of the other vessel; (2) in the overtaking situation by the overtaken vessel, and by the overtaking vessel if she approaches on a parallel course to one side and does not alter it; (3) in the crossing situation by the stand- on vessel, and by the giving way vessel if she does not alter course, either because the stand-on vessel will evidently clear her with no action or because she elects to keep her course and reduce speed.
There is a fourth circumstance of common occurrence in the restricted waters of a river or other winding channel where the meaning of one and two blast signals in the present International Rules makes their use unsatisfactory, not in this case because they cannot be used, but because their use may become actually hazardous. The writer is constrained to bring up this argument from many years of experience as an Alaskan pilot, during which it was his duty to take numerous ocean steamships through the 523 miles of Inside Passage in western British Columbia, much of it narrow and tortuous, where the International Rules are the only collision regulations in effect. In the situation referred to, our vessel, let us say, is heading south, near the middle of a channel perhaps a mile in width, and we are approaching a 40-degree bend in the channel to the eastward. On the other side of the turn we see another steam vessel approaching, bound in the opposite direction. As we reach the turning point, marked by a lighted buoy, and promptly (and necessarily) execute left rudder in order to swing to our new course, what signal shall we give? We are certainly making a proper change of course to port, another vessel is in sight and approaching with a bone in her teeth, and Article 28 clearly calls for two short blasts. But how will such a signal be interpreted by the other vessel? May she not be misled into thinking we have in mind a starboard to starboard meeting, instead of merely giving notice of a routine turn to port with every intention of steadying up for a port to port passage once the turn has been made? Frankly, under such circumstances the writer has upon several occasions negotiated such a port to port clearance without whistling at all, afraid to risk using the signal prescribed and at the same time realizing that if collision did occur it would be extremely difficult to escape the penalty of silence.
It seemed to us on the Rules of the Road Committee that these faults in the International Rules were serious enough to warrant a thorough consideration of the alternate signaling method in use in the various inland waters of the United States. We had before us the rules in three such jurisdictions; namely, inland waters generally, rivers whose waters flow into the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes and their connecting and tributary waters as far east as Montreal. We found that the statutory rules, supplemented in all three cases by regulatory “pilot rules,” all have in common a required exchange of whistle signals by approaching steam vessels coming within half a mile of each other, whether meeting, overtaking, or crossing, and whether either vessel changes course during the approach or not. It is this last which is the real crux of the matter. As long as there is a causal relation between the whistle and the rudder, we are, to borrow a legal expression, estopped to use one or two blasts unless at the same moment we change course. The other vessel cannot even acknowledge our signal without a similar change in course on her part. Thus we now have at sea a one-way communication system, with the sender often unaware as to whether the receiver has gotten the word. At best we tell her only which way we are turning, and not how fast or how much. At worst we keep our dogged course, and sweat out the approach in whistle silence. All this is inherent in the meaning of whistle signals in the International Article 28. But the minute we divorce the whistle string from the rudder and use one and two blast signals to indicate the manner of passing, these objections for the most part disappear. There are no“gaps” where the first vessel cannot whistle; and the other vessel is always bound to reply, thus in all normal cases removing any uncertainty of maneuver from both. That is what the various inland rules have aimed to do, and precisely why, in the opinion of the Committee and of two-thirds of the mariners who answered its questionnaire on this point,9 those rules should do a better job of preventing collisions. For surely it is more important in a collision approach to have a whistle signal reveal our intention to maneuver out of collision in the manner prescribed for a given situation than it is to have it reveal only the fact that we are at the moment swinging right or left. And by the same token an answer which is an agreement to carry out the same maneuver is of more value than an answer which reveals only the state of the other vessel’s rudder, and, as happens when there is a “gap,” is of much more value than no answer at all.
Also common to the rules for all U. S. inland waters is a required danger signal of four or more short blasts (recently changed to five or more on the Great Lakes), to be used, in clear weather or foul, when either of two steam vessels is in doubt as to the action of the other. It is a well known fact that, at sea as well as on land, the best laid plans of mice and men “gang aft agley.” Under the best of rules, whistles fail or are omitted or are not heard; steering gears carry away; tempest, tides, and currents intervene; and seamen try to steal the right of way. In short, there are so many uses for the danger signal that to the professional student its omission from the International Rules for so long is hard to understand, and it is not surprising that the questionnaires recommended its adoption by a vote of 888 to 74.9 In the meeting situation it would be blown if the other vessel’s actions indicate that she ignores, fails to hear, or intentionally disregards our signal, or if after a proper exchange of signals she still makes a wrong maneuver. In the overtaking situation it would be used not only to warn the overtaking vessel, in answer to an unacceptable proposal, not to try to pass, but whenever through any cause an emergency arises. In the crossing situation it would be especially useful to the stand-on vessel if the other vessel fails to give way, or fails to signal as required, and of course it would serve equally well in case of a misunderstanding of signals from any other cause. In thick weather it would be blown when the apparent increasing loudness and steady bearing of approaching fog signals indicate that collision is imminent unless positive remedial action is immediately taken. It would be used at all times by a vessel in whose opinion a situation in extremis has developed or is threatening. It would be used much as it is today not only in the inland waters of the United States, but on a “bootleg” basis in almost every harbor in the world.
To adherents of the International status quo who are unfamiliar with an intention- and-reply system of signals it may seem that in “going inland” we are advocating the sacrifice of desirable simplicity in favor of something more complex. The writer encountered this argument last summer in the course of informal sessions in Europe with committees of half a dozen nations which will participate in the coming conference. In one important maritime country representatives took the stand that essential simplicity is the keynote of the present international system, and that for the sake of safety it must at all costs be preserved. They maintained that for one short blast to mean anything more than a lawful turn to the right can only result in confusion to the mariner and promote disaster.
To this our Committee would be inclined to reply somewhat as follows: It is a mistake to regard the system we are proposing as more complex than the one now in effect at sea and in many inland waters subject to the International Rules. In some respects it is even simpler. As already mentioned, the whistle is in no way connected with the rudder. The one and two blast signals are blown only by one steam vessel to another, never between steam and sail. If you prefer to think of a single meaning for a single signal, then remember that whether you are meeting, overtaking, or crossing, whenever you initiate one short blast it means “We are maneuvering so as to leave you to port.” When the other vessel answers with the same signal it is always an acknowledgment that the signal is understood, an agreement that she will do her part to carry out the announced maneuver. In the meeting situation this answer means “Yes, you are leaving us to port, and we are leaving you to port.” In the overtaking situation it means “Yes, you want to leave us to port. As we are going in the same general direction, in order to do that you will, of course, pass on our starboard side. That is all right with us.” In the crossing situation the answer means “Yes, you are going under our stern, leaving us to port, and we are crossing your bow, leaving you to port.” Quod est demonstrandum.
The reader will note that we have really been discussing the relative merits of two systems of whistle signals between steam vessels, both designed with the useful and laudable purpose of preventing collision. Both have been in use by all classes of such vessels, over wide areas, in all sorts of navigable waters, for a long period of time. At the risk of being called cynical, the writer ventures the assertion that the degree of obedience accorded the spirit and the letter of both signal systems has been, on the whole, about equally low. For purposes of appraisal, this is perhaps unfortunate: we could choose very easily between a system which experience shows mariners disregard and one which they scrupulously follow. But in practice it is too often the case, both at sea and in inland jurisdictions, that whistles required by the rules are omitted except when the vessels involved are passing so close that the mariner in charge of one bridge or the other is fearful. The case books still reveal a startlingly high correlation between damaged or sunken ships and broken rules of the road, especially rules regarding whistle signals. If the new International Rules are to bring about any substantial reduction in the number of marine collisions, then it seems that they must not only be based on a system of signaling that is bound to be effective if obeyed, but they must somehow be so carefully and so lucidly worded that they will achieve a higher degree of obedience than is given to-day to either International or Inland Rules.
In preparing the U.S. proposals for steering and sailing rules, the Committee was largely influenced by several important mandates received from the returned questionnaires, the replies to most questions being answered so decisively that there was little doubt what maritime public opinion favored. Thus, a large majority recommended the compulsory exchange of passing signals, the danger signal of four or more short blasts, the bend signal of one long blast, and a synchronous amber light to go on and off with the whistle so that the signal could be “seen” as well as heard. Likewise, the questionnaire people very strongly approved changing the wording of the rules to eliminate ambiguities, and including as part of the rules, where practicable, ruling court interpretation.9 With all these points in mind, it became necessary almost completely to rewrite the signal rule, Article 28, and extensively to revise Articles 18, 19, and 24, the three “situation” rules, so as to include in the appropriate rules the prescribed signals for meeting, crossing, and overtaking.
In the proposed rules finally adopted by the Committee, every effort has been made to make it clear to the mariner exactly what is expected of him in each form of approach. In Rule 18, meeting steam vessels are classified into those already clear port to port (Section A), those meeting too close on either side to clear without changing course (Section B), and those already clear starboard to starboard (Section C); and whistle signals are prescribed for each. Section D makes plain existing court interpretation of when it is legal to pass starboard to starboard, and Section E makes whistle silence by either vessel no excuse for not carrying out the required maneuver. In Rule 19, crossing steam vessels are put under the same basic relation of privilege and burden as at present, but an exchange of one blast signals is made mandatory, to be initiated by the giving way vessel and answered by the holding-on vessel, in this respect differing from the present inland pilot rule. As under existing rules in U. S. inland waters, the giving-way vessel must avoid the holding-on vessel by swinging right and going under her stern or by waiting until the other vessel has crossed ahead. The proposed rule precludes her swinging left, as now permitted in this situation at sea, which emphasizes the primary aim of the rule with reference to the giving-way vessel: to make the area ahead of the holding-on vessel forbidden territory. The arrangement of the rule is significant in that it first definitely sets up the relation of privilege and burden, and then provides positive means of carrying out the resulting duties of each vessel, including the use of proper whistle signals. Final reference to Rule 27 is for the purpose of calling attention to the necessity of departing from the rule and taking appropriate remedial action to prevent collision whenever, through misunderstanding or any other cause, the vessels find themselves in extremis. In Rule 24, the overtaking situation is handled much as in the present Inland Rules, but with some clarification of language. The proposed rule again provides for a compulsory exchange of whistle signals and sets forth in detail the specific maneuvers to be carried out in this situation by each steam vessel. In the proposed Rule 28, the back-down signal (for any speed astern, as now interpreted), the danger signal, the bend signal, and the visual amber light synchronous with the whistle are set forth in logical order. Throughout the proposed rules the conventional steam vessel has given way, at the suggestion of the British “Working Party,” to a term more appropriate in these days of Diesel propulsion: power driven vessel.
PROPOSED RULE 18
- When two power-driven vessels are approaching each other so as to involve risk of collision, on substantially opposite courses which will enable them to pass port to port safely without any alteration of course, they shall pass port to port. Either vessel shall give, as a signal of her intention to pass port to port, one short and distinct blast of her whistle, which the other vessel shall answer promptly with a similar blast.
- Likewise, when two power-driven vessels are approaching each other so as to involve risk of collision, on substantially opposite courses, so that any alteration of course is necessary to avoid collision, each vessel shall alter her course to starboard and pass on the port side of the other. Either vessel shall give, as a signal of her intention to pass port to port, one short and distinct blast of her whistle, which the other vessel shall answer promptly with a similar blast.
- When two power-driven vessels are approaching each other so as to involve risk of collision, on substantially opposite courses, and their courses are so far to starboard of each other that the vessels can safely pass starboard to starboard without any alteration of course, they shall pass starboard to starboard. Either vessel shall give, as a signal of her intention to pass starboard to starboard, two short and distinct blasts of her whistle, which the other vessel shall answer promptly by two similar blasts.
- Under the foregoing provisions of this rule two power-driven vessels, when approaching each other on substantially opposite courses, shall not attempt to pass starboard to starboard unless their courses lie so well clear to starboard of each other that they can so pass without any alteration of course.
- Failure to give or receive any of the whistle signals required by this rule shall not lessen the duty of both vessels to pass each other as herein prescribed, except when emergency action becomes necessary as provided in Rule 27.
PROPOSED RULE 19
- When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, other than when one vessel is overtaking another, the vessel which has the other to starboard shall keep out of the way of the other.
- If any alteration of course is necessary to comply with this rule, the power-driven vessel which has the other to starboard shall alter her course to starboard sufficiently to pass astern and clear of the other vessel; but whether altering course or not, she shall give, as a signal of intention to comply with this rule, one short and distinct blast of her whistle. The power-driven vessel which has the other to port shall immediately answer with a similar blast of her whistle and shall keep her course and speed. (See Rule 27.)
PROPOSED RULE 24
- Notwithstanding anything contained in these rules every vessel, overtaking any other, shall keep out of the way of the overtaken vessel.
Every vessel coming up with another vessel from any direction more than two points abaft her beam, that is, in such a position with reference to the vessel which she is overtaking that at night she would be unable to see either of that vessel’s side lights, shall be deemed to be an overtaking vessel; and no subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these rules, or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear.
As the overtaking vessel cannot always know with certainty whether she is forward of or abaft this direction from the other vessel, she should, if in doubt, assume that she is an overtaking vessel and keep out of the way.
- When one power-driven vessel is overtaking another power-driven vessel so as to involve risk of collision, and the overtaking vessel shall desire to pass on the right or starboard side of the other vessel, she shall give, as a signal of such desire, one short and distinct blast of her whistle, and if the overtaken vessel answers with one short blast, shall direct her course to starboard; or if the overtaking vessel shall desire to pass on the left or port side of the other vessel, she shall give, as a signal of such desire, two short blasts of her whistle, and if the overtaken vessel answers with two short blasts, shall direct her course to port. However, if the overtaken vessel does not think it safe for the overtaking vessel to attempt to pass at that time, she shall immediately so signify by giving several short and rapid blasts of her whistle, not less than four, the danger signal, and under no circumstances shall the overtaking vessel attempt to pass until such time as they have reached a point where it can be safely done, and the overtaken vessel shall have signified her willingness by blowing the proper signal, two short blasts for the overtaking vessel to pass on the port side, one short blast to pass on the starboard side, which signal shall be answered with a similar signal by the overtaking vessel before passing. After an agreement has been reached, the overtaken vessel shall in no case attempt to cross the bow or crowd upon the course of the overtaking vessel.
PROPOSED RULE 28
- If, when power-driven vessels are approaching each other, either vessel for any reason regards as unsafe the course or intention of the other, the vessel in doubt shall immediately so signify by giving several short and rapid blasts of her whistle, at least four, the danger signal.
- When vessels are in sight of one another, a power-driven vessel under way whose engines are going astern shall indicate that fact by three short blasts of her whistle.
- Whenever a power-driven vessel is nearing a bend in a channel where, from the height of the banks or other cause, a power-driven vessel approaching from the other direction cannot be seen for a distance of one-half mile, such power-driven vessel, when she shall have arrived within one- half mile of such bend, shall give a signal by one long blast of her whistle, which signal shall be answered by a similar blast, given by any approaching power-driven vessel that may be within hearing around the bend. Should such signal be so answered by a power-driven vessel upon the farther side of such bend, then, immediately upon sighting each other, the usual signals for meeting and passing shall be given and answered. Regardless of whether an approaching vessel on the farther side of the bend is heard, such bend shall be rounded with alertness and caution.
- When a power-driven vessel is moving from her dock, berth, or anchorage, she shall give a signal by one long blast of the whistle; but she and any approaching vessel shall be governed by Rule 27, the general prudential rule, until her course is apparent, and then both vessels shall be governed by the applicable steering and sailing rules.
- The one, two, and three short blast signals and the danger signal provided in these rules for power-driven vessels shall never be used except for the purposes prescribed. The one, two, and three short blast signals are never to be used except when vessels are in sight of one another, and the course and position of each can be estimated in the daytime by a sight of the vessel herself, or by night by seeing her navigation lights.
- As soon as practicable, but not later than January 1, 1949, every whistle signal shall be further indicated by a visual signal, consisting of an amber colored light or lights so located that from any direction at least one such light shall be visible in clear weather for a distance of not less than three miles. This light shall operate simultaneously and in conjunction with the whistle sounding mechanism, and be visible during the period of the sound signal.10
4 See The Sicilian Prince (CAA NY 1905) 144 F 951, The Deutschland (CAA NY 1904) 137 F 1018, and The San Juan (Cal. 1927) A.M.C. 384, in which two different vessels were held at fault for failure to sound three blasts to approaching vessels (1) when coasting astern after stopping engines, (2) when maneuvering with one engine ahead and the other astern, but with net sternboard; and a third vessel was upheld under like circumstances for using the three-blast signal means that one and two short-blast signals are rudder signals, to be used by a steam vessel whenever, and only when, that vessel is making a lawful change of course. It means that there is no answering signal as such; the second vessel (if steam) does not whistle unless she also changes course. And it means that if a steam vessel makes a second change of course because she alters too little the first time, a tragically frequent cause of collision, she must repeat her whistle signal.
10 The foregoing proposed rules have recently been adopted in almost identical form as part of the new Panama Canal Rules which became effective January 1.
* Article 25. In narrow channels every steam vessel shall, when it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel which lies on the starboard side of such vessel.
A licensed Puget Sound and Alaska pilot, and Professor of Transportation at the University of Washington, on leave for the War, Captain Far- well is one of the world’s authorities on Rules of the Road. As chairman of the American committee established in 1945 to work on international regulations for preventing collisions at sea, he is now en route to London to take part in the International Conference for Safety at Sea.