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Who has the Right of Way?

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Vol. III, No. 62

A sailboat meets a Coast Guard buoy tender in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Photo by Allen Clark.

A sailboat meets a Coast Guard buoy tender in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Photo by Allen Clark.

Maybe this sailboat should just keep the buoy tender to port since it has a green can on board and the sailboat is returning?!

Seriously, though. They’re probably not as close as they look, but if these two vessels were on a collision course, who would have right of way?

Assuming that the sailboat is not motor-sailing (which it very well may be), the sailboat should technically have the right of way under one of the simplest rules of the road: sail over power. The Coast Guard vessel is essentially just another power boat as long as (1) it’s not working and restricted in ability to maneuver (RAM), and (2) it’s not constrained by draft (CBD) such that it cannot easily change course without risking running aground. Since the Coast Guard vessel doesn’t appear to be displaying any day shapes indicating it is RAM or CBD, the sailboat should have the right of way. But the common sense law of gross tonnage applies: the buoy tender is a big boat traveling fast. Any wise sailboat skipper would stay well clear!

-DC

Categories: WaterViews

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