Rules Of The Road: How To Determine Who Was At Fault In A Boat Collision
"Rules of the Road," is a term used for regulations that govern the conduct of boats in relation to each other. In other words, in collision situations. The purpose of Rules of the Road is to prevent vessel collisions. Think of navigational rules as a set of rules, much like the "rules of the road" apply to car drivers.
There are two sets of navigation rules: inland and international. International navigation rules are standardized all over the world, allowing boats from different countries to follow the same rules when they meet. Inland navigational rules can vary from region to region. Nautical charts typically include a demarcation line which shows when the Nav rules transition from inland to international, so that boaters can be aware of changing standards of navigation. In general, these demarcation lines follow the coastline and cross inlets and bays. On the seaward side of the demarcation lines, international rules apply.
Understanding navigational rules or COLREGS (Collision Regulations) and knowing which is the stand-on boat or which is the give-way boat, is essential to determining which boat was the cause of a collision which occur on the navigable waters of the United States.
There are various rules that apply to specific situations. Here are some examples:
Rule 5 Look out
Rule 6 Safe Speed
Rule 7 Risk of Collision
Rule 8 Action to Avoid Collision
Rule 9 Narrow Channels
Rule 14 Head-On Situation
Rule 15 Crossing Situation
State Navigational Rules & Federal Maritime Law
Many States, have navigational rules. For example, California Harbors and Navigation Code and Arizona Revised Statutes. However, the Federal Rules of the Road / Nav Rules trump the State rules. Some State navigational rules include no wake zones or local traffic patterns. A violation of a COLREG or State law may give rise to powerful maritime presumptions. These are known as the Pennsylvania Rule and Breach of Statute.
Reasonable Care Under the Circumstances
In a collision situation, the Rules of the Road or State navigational rules are the primary method for determining who was at fault for the collision. However, the law also allows for recovery based upon a violation of a duty of care. The law imposes duties upon vessel operators under different circumstances The standard here is whether the acts or omissions which caused the collision were reasonable under the circumstances. In order to prevail under general maritime law you must prove a duty, breach of duty, the breach of duty was a cause of your injuries and damages.
This article is not legal advice. This article is simplistic in order to achieve clarity. The circumstances of your case may vary from those described herein. The foregoing legal discussion is based upon Federal Maritime Law. Meaning the collision occurred on the navigable waters of the Untied States and Admiralty Jurisdiction applies. If you are a seriously injured in a boating accident you should consult with a boating accident attorney.