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  #1  
Old 08-11-2013
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Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

Five Cal20s were racing today inside the breakwater of our harbor. It's a pretty large anchorage and we were fairly bunched up heading on a broad reach, winding our way through the boats when the Harbor Patrol with its blue lights flashing come toward the first 3 boats from the side. I'm thinking they plan to stop us but that doesn't make any sense. At the point I am starting to get near (probably about 50 feet away), they turn to circle a moored boat and call for its captain. They also yell at us (and the others) as we pass saying "when you see this blue light flashing, you must stay away 500 feet!" Did we hear them right? I've searched a bit and cannot find anything that says how far we need to be. If it is actually 500 feet, that's ridiculous because it would have put us practically outside the breakwater.

Here's another question. In looking around for the answer to the part above, I see that Seattle's Harbor Patrol regulations state, "Sailboats under sail do not have the right of way in narrow channels." Is this specific to Seattle waters or is this a USCG requirement? We often sail inside the inner breakwater, which has a very narrow channel so lots of tacking. We share this space with commercial fishing vessels, cabin cruisers, kayakers and runabouts though it's never excessive. We've not had any issues, so far, but I am curious about who has ROW between a motor vessel and sailing vessel in a narrow channel?

It would be great to hear your thoughts on these.
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Old 08-11-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

You do not have any special rights when sailing in a channel.
If you can't do so safely then you shouldn't do it.

From a rules of the road point of view depending on the nature of the working vessel it may be in the category of RAM (restricted in ability to maneuver) if so they outrank you on pecking order.

If the wind is just right and you can keep to the right and sail out the channel it should be OK.
If however you have to tack it would be a violation in many cases and just rude in the other cases to tack in front of someone.
It would however be OK to luff up and wait till they passed then tack across.

Also congratulations on being concerned and asking what the real rules are.
Some people just read the first page and figure that since they are sail everyone else has to get out of their way. Not true.

And of course if you are overtaking anything you have no rights at all.

You will find that a lot of experienced sailors add a rule that is not in the book.
They make it a habit to stay out of the way of commercial vessels at all times regardless of the rules for four main reasons:
1. We are out their for fun these guys are trying to make a living, why make a hard job harder for them.
2. Our understanding of what they can do and what is going on is often incomplete. They may have gear out, have limitations of draft, be towing something we can't see, are causing water turbulence that can suck us into them.
3. They are often really big if something goes wrong we may die.
4. Their whole livelihood depends on their license. If something goes wrong and the guy looses his license and his family suffers that would stink.

As far as the 500 foot rule goes I haven't heard of it. Again common sense and a little imagination would cause you to give a police boat a lot of room. Fifty feet is pretty close and if they were apprehending a drug trafficker and the guy decided to shoot it out you might die.
I would never willingly head any way near a police boat with the light on rules or no rules. It might be a sanitation check or it might be a load of RPG's. I don't know and it's none of my business and I'll stay clear.

I'm sailing to have fun. I can afford to be extra polite to everyone and never insist on my rights. I'm guessing that the folks who make it their business to insist on their rights if they do it consistently and often enough may be the same folks that just seem to be a little more prone to bad luck than most.

But like I said congratulations on asking some good questions.
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Last edited by davidpm; 08-11-2013 at 01:17 AM.
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Old 08-11-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

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Originally Posted by davidpm View Post
Also congratulations on being concerned and asking what the real rules are.
Of course, there are the official rules and the "real" rules. In the ICW, where sailboats are powerboats 99% of the time, the head to head passing rule is that the powerboat gets the center or deepest portion of the channel and the deeper draft sailboat gets the side.

I never heard of the 500 foot rule for blue lights or saw it being enforced but the "real" rule is that, if you have a blue light, the rules are whatever you say they are whether it makes common sense or not. Piloting under a blue light also makes knowledge of rules of the road and other nautical skills unnecessary.

Last edited by Roger Long; 08-11-2013 at 06:56 AM.
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Old 08-12-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

"Sailboats under sail do not have the right of way in narrow channels."
I can't believe you even have to ask this question. These forums are a great source of information for the boating community, but they are NOT a replacement for YOUR responsibility to know ALL the rules that apply to whatever you chose to do on the water.
"Is this specific to Seattle waters or is this a USCG requirement? " THIS IS AN INTERNATIONAL RULE from the ColRegs. You should read them one day.
I don't mean to be overly harsh, but seriously, perhaps you should be a little better informed about things like the rules of the road that directly relate to your safety and that of others.
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Old 08-12-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

Quote:
Originally Posted by gamayun View Post
"Sailboats under sail do not have the right of way in narrow channels."
This is true. Sailboats also do not have the "right of way" in wide channels. Nor do they have the "right of way" in open water. In fact, sailboats do not have the "right of way" anywhere!

Why? Because there is no such thing as "right of way" in this context (you're not driving a car!). There is a "stand on" vessel, and there is a "give way" vessel. Neither of which has the "right of way." Both of which are equally responsible for avoiding a collision.
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Old 08-12-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

Rule 9(a) does NOT care whether you are propelled by sail or power, *everyone* shall stay to the right as much as is "safe and practicable".

And 9(b) says vessels less than 20 meters, and (any) sailing vessel shall not impede passage of a vessel that' confined to that channel (usually by her deep draft).

That said, if the wind's on the nose and you gotta get home in that open sailboat with no engine, guess what?? you have to tack to get there.. just time those tacks to stay out of the way of the bigger guys who can't maneuver as quick as you can. Radio (portable or permanent) and hand signals work well here, if you use them.

Now I just *love* to have my sailing students beat in or out of our jettied harbor channel whenever we can, it is just so "graphic" about how boats move "against" the wind. But it's lightly-trafficked, and we use the hand signals a lot. The powerboaters (since we're a majority-sail marina) largely "get it" and understand we're not zig-zagging just to annoy and obstruct them. Timing is everything and the ourboard is sometimes idling in neutral just in case.

Now, to have to stay 500' away from a very maneuvarable blue-light with nothing going on that inhibits him? That would mean not entering the breakwaters at all. We don't have a police boat in the harbor anyway.

I love to have my students chant with me, "Motor?? We don' need no steeenkin' MOTOR!!!" and when we can sail all the way into the slip, we do, 'cause these are *sailing* lessons first and foremost.

But we do speak respectfully to motor when we need it.... ;-)

And the Rules of the Road are for everyone. I hafta teach that, too.. ;-)
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Old 08-12-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

Quote:
Originally Posted by capta View Post
"Sailboats under sail do not have the right of way in narrow channels."
I can't believe you even have to ask this question. These forums are a great source of information for the boating community, but they are NOT a replacement for YOUR responsibility to know ALL the rules that apply to whatever you chose to do on the water.
"Is this specific to Seattle waters or is this a USCG requirement? " THIS IS AN INTERNATIONAL RULE from the ColRegs. You should read them one day.
I don't mean to be overly harsh, but seriously, perhaps you should be a little better informed about things like the rules of the road that directly relate to your safety and that of others.
Capta, we're here to share knowledge, not berate anyone for asking a legitimate question whose answer could help others, too. Perhaps just a link to the regulations would have been more appropriate.
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Old 08-12-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

Quote:
Originally Posted by capta View Post
"Sailboats under sail do not have the right of way in narrow channels."
I can't believe you even have to ask this question. These forums are a great source of information for the boating community, but they are NOT a replacement for YOUR responsibility to know ALL the rules that apply to whatever you chose to do on the water.
"Is this specific to Seattle waters or is this a USCG requirement? " THIS IS AN INTERNATIONAL RULE from the ColRegs. You should read them one day.
I don't mean to be overly harsh, but seriously, perhaps you should be a little better informed about things like the rules of the road that directly relate to your safety and that of others.
I find that statements, such as the ones you have made above, are much more impressive and useful as teaching tools when they are properly cited.

MedSailor
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  #9  
Old 08-12-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

I take it then that I am the only one here horrified to read that this person found out by accident that he might not have the right of way while sailing in a confined channel?
To actually get to a point where one owns a 38' boat and is racing Cal20s (and has a rep power of 4), without knowing that there is a set of rules governing one's actions and those of others around you on the water is pretty scary to me.
Sorry to ruffle some feathers, but this is life and death stuff here folks and a simple link to the internet might not get the attention that I feel this justifies.
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Old 08-12-2013
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Re: Questions about standoff distance and narrow channels

Well, it is a little tricky, Rule 18 ("sail over power" et al) is prefaced by "Except where Rule 9 (and 10 and 13) otherwise require".

Rule 9a) and b) do so "otherwise require"--keep right, and don't obstruct the bigger dudes..

So it's a two-step reading of the rules. But still, we do need to know this stuff, I agree. It can indeed be life or death. Or, if luckier, just embarrassing and expensive

Still, "a spoonful of (constructive criticism) honey helps the medicine go down" ?? ;-)

Last edited by nolatom; 08-12-2013 at 04:44 PM.
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