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Discussion Starter #1
I have been sailing several years and I know the Coast Guard Navigation Rules well enough to fell comfortable cruising in our area of the Pamlico Sound North Carolina. I have recently joined in with a small racing club, of about 20 boats 25' to 35' (mine is 30'). The club follows US Sailing ISAF Rules of Racing 2013-2016.

So, I have a fundamental question and I am almost embarrased that I am asking, because I am so sure that I know the answer. But, my question is, is there any reason for me to believe that while racing, any of the Coast Guard Navigation Rules do not apply.

I have follow up questions depending on how the discussion goes.
 

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This is my understanding - and I am not a maritime lawyer, so... When you are racing, you and the other boats in the race agree to be governed by the Racing Rules of Sailing when it comes to encounters between the boats racing. If you encounter another boat not racing, then COLREGS apply. Many offshore races suspend the RRS and revert to COLREGS at night, for safety reasons. (No luffing after dark)
 

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Sandy has it right.

While racing under RRS or any other racing rule system, COLREGs do not apply to boats that are racing. But they do apply between boats that are racing and boats that are not racing.
 

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Mermaid Hunter
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So, I have a fundamental question and I am almost embarrased that I am asking, because I am so sure that I know the answer. But, my question is, is there any reason for me to believe that while racing, any of the Coast Guard Navigation Rules do not apply.
Read the racing rules carefully. The normal rules apply and the racing rules are a layer on top of them. It is a higher and more defined standard, not a different one.

Incidentally the COLREGS apply outside the demarkation line. Inside the US line the US Inland Rules apply. Not many differences but they are there.
 

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Just try to stay so far ahead, you don't have to remember any of them.
 
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...or angrily yell "Starboard" or "Overlap" with a red face anytime any boat gets near yours to baffle your competitors...
In a "rookie" regatta once going for the start line on a starboard tack the "rookie" helmsman looked over his left shoulder and hollered "STARBOARD!!!!" at the adjacent boat. They were so surprised they didn't say anything but they all had that "HUH???" look on their faces.:laugher
 

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██▓▓▒▒░&
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"But, my question is, is there any reason for me to believe that while racing, any of the Coast Guard Navigation Rules do not apply. "
Nope. Racers get no special standing in the eyes of the law.

USCG regulations apply in all the navigable waters of the US, at all times. State laws additionally apply in all state waters at all times.

Racing rules are a third layer of rules that apply only to racers.

Yachtsmen, who are by definition gentlemen, will often cut racers some extra slack if they are observed to be racing, but that's by courtesy, not by law.
 

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Ok, I will say it again with more authority and cites. While racing the only rules that pally between racing boats are the Racing Rules of Sailing (or local rules). The colregs do not apply (at least in the US). Below are exerts from the only US Circuit Court to ever hear a case on point. Juno SRL v. Endeavor, Nos. 95-1426, 94-2193




The history of the COLREGS shows that they were enacted because of the need to establish a code of international rules of the road for maritime traffic throughout the world.   See H.R.Rep. No. 447, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 1977, reprinted in 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 509.   However, nothing in their history, or in the public policy issues that led to their enactment, indicates that they were meant to regulate voluntary private sports activity in which the participants have waived their application and in which no interference with nonparticipating maritime traffic is implicated.   Therefore, by entering a regatta with sailing instructions which unambiguously set forth special, binding “rules of the road,” the participants waive conflicting COLREGS and must sail in accordance with the agreed-upon rules.   We base this conclusion not only on the nature and history of both the COLREGS and the private activity in question, but also because of the strong public policy in favor of the private settlement of disputes. - See more at: JUNO SRL v. ENDEAVOUR, Nos.?95-1426, 94-2193., June 09, 1995 - US 1st Circuit | FindLaw



Thus, the CHARLES JOURDAN and the ENDEAVOUR were contractually bound to race by the rules of the road contained in the IYRRs, and to resolve issues related to fault for any collisions according to those rules.   This is consistent with the long-established traditions and rules of conduct of this sport.   See generally J. Rousmaniere, The Golden Pasttime:  A New History of Yachting (1986).   Moreover, there is a well-established public policy encouraging the private resolution of disputes through arbitration and other non-judicial forums. - See more at: JUNO SRL v. ENDEAVOUR, Nos.?95-1426, 94-2193., June 09, 1995 - US 1st Circuit | FindLaw [citations removed]



Insistence on blind application of COLREGS to the facts of this case is not only unsupported by any historical imperative in this legislation and contrary to the weight of the sparse relevant authority, it is logically unsound.   Such application would turn on its head and render rife with uncertainty the thousands of private yacht races that take place throughout the United States and worldwide in which participants voluntarily agree to be bound by the IYRRs.   See De Sole, 947 F.2d at 1170.   The decision could even have a serious negative impact on such international races as the America's Cup or the yachting events of the forthcoming Olympic Games in Atlanta.   Under such logic, notwithstanding agreement by Olympic participants to abide by IYRRs and to have protests decided by international juries, they could thereafter relitigate any issues in the courts under the COLREGS.   Such absurdity is difficult to countenance, and cannot have been contemplated by Congress or the treaty negotiating authorities when the COLREGS were adopted.   Such legislation is simply not applicable to private yacht racing in which the participants have voluntarily adopted a different set of rules of the road for application among themselves.10 - See more at: JUNO SRL v. ENDEAVOUR, Nos.?95-1426, 94-2193., June 09, 1995 - US 1st Circuit | FindLaw



In sum, the International Jury found the ENDEAVOR solely responsible for the collision, and it was inappropriate for the district court to have gone beyond this decision in the assignment of fault.   We conclude that the findings of that forum were final and binding on the parties, and we therefore reverse the decision of the district court in that regard. - See more at: JUNO SRL v. ENDEAVOUR, Nos.?95-1426, 94-2193., June 09, 1995 - US 1st Circuit | FindLaw





There is similar case law at least from England and other commonwealth countries.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Coast Guard rules do not alwasy apply

Stumble, This is the kind of response I was looking for when I posted the question, although the answer is not what I expected. Everyone should take the time to read the case you provide the link for. My wife (sailing buddies, coworkers, and children) say I am obsessive, but these guys are obsessive with money. I said in my question that I am new to racing but I wonder how wide spread your explanation is known or understood. I also wonder how the coast guard considers your evidence. After all when the coast guard shows up with twin 250 hp Hondas on the back of a 30 foot inflatable vs a guy in a Carolina skiff with a clipboard (no offense intended to the volunteers of the sport) the rule of fire power applies? I would think if your case is widely accepted that there would be at least some kind of explanation or reference in the COLREGS to private contracts/agreements. I see the title attorney in your post, so I will give you that you know the law, but I would feel better if we had at least a few cases somewhere in the Chesapeake instead of the South of France, and that the coast guard said something other than all vessels. Right now I may be thinking that Minnewaska and others may be right, when racing stay out front and yell a lot.
 

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That case was decided by the 1st US Circuit Court. Other than a case from your district (there isn't one) or from the US Supreme Court (there isn't one) there isn't a more authorative source.

The USCG frankly doesn't care. If you are following the rules and have filed with a permit with them for organized activities on the water (like you are supposed to), then I can't see why they would ever be involved. If you do get stopped for a COLREGS violation (which I have never heard about in sailing) then it's something to discuss with the local commander.

Since that case was decided the argument has actually gotten stronger in favor of the courts accepting the determination of the protest committee since Congress has strengthened the provisions related to private settlement of disputes (in this case binding arbitration). Honestly I think this is much ado about nothing, if you are at fault you pay, if you aren't they pay.
 

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Stumble, you might bear in mind that court opinion is relevant only to the facts of the specific case, that is, what rules bind two participants in a race?

The court says that the participants have contracted to agree on following rules of behavior--among themselves and other participants. That does NOT exempt them form following the rules for all vessels, with regard to all vessels.

The OP's question was "But, my question is, is there any reason for me to believe that while racing, any of the Coast Guard Navigation Rules do not apply. " And the answer is, the USCG and state rules STILL APPLY although the participants may agree to follow other rules among themselves.

A racer can't yell "Starboard!" and expect a fuel barge to yield. Unless, of course, the barge happened to be in the race.(G)

The USCG, or an appeals court, might have a very different opinion of the matter. One federal circuit court ruling actually doesn't even bind anyone else in any other federal circuit. You'd typically find a NY federal circuit court and a CA one coming to directly contrary opinions. And they are just opinions, unless the case goes all the way up to the US Supreme Court. Signatories to a contract generally cannot exclude themselves from being governed by the laws of the land. Or sea. That's why you can't set aside the speed limits if you want to do some street drag racing. The laws still stand, even if you agree to play private games (racing) by other terms.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
ai believe the coast guard regs always apply

Stumble
Permit! That changes everything. A quick google search reveals a 79 page document that to me very much shows that the coast guard cares. I have only scanned the document, but I have the impression that it is designed for events bigger than Saturday club races of 20 vessels. But, the fact that the coast guard does permit, therefore regulate Regattas and Marine Parades, tells me they have no intention of giving up regulation of all vessels on the water, just as the introduction of the COLREGS state. I do not have fancy stationary that says I know, so sitting down with the local commander is not something I plan to risk having to do. Remember the rule of firepower! He has it, I do not. And, your last paragraph is particularly strange to me, since the case you site is the only case to be heard. Your last sentence sounds like attorney speak for don’t bother me any more, and that is fair enough. I think I am back where I was in the beginning. I am not sure that club racing is worth the risk. I think for me to be convinced that the COLREGS do not have to apply between 2 or more racers (the question was never about a racer vs a fuel barge) there has to be some document from the coast guard so stating that some other governing body or document applies. That just does not sound like the coast guard I have come to know. Until then I will comply with whatever is the more restrictive rule. I may be at the back of the pack, but I will still be enjoying a day on the water, while watching the fools in front of me yelling starboard.
 

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I don't know if you're racing against a bunch of lawsuit-happy skippers or what, but just to confuse things a little more, let me point out racing rule #3, specifically part (c):

3 ACCEPTANCE OF THE RULES
By participating in a race conducted under these racing rules, each
competitor and boat owner agrees
(a) to be governed by the rules;
(b) to accept the penalties imposed and other action taken under
the rules, subject to the appeal and review procedures provided
in them, as the final determination of any matter arising under
the rules; and
(c) with respect to any such determination, not to resort to any
court of law or tribunal.

So if you enter a race, you agree that in case of an incident involving another boat, responsibility will be determined by the protest comittee or appeals boards, and you further agree not to take any disputes to court. Again, I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure insurance companies will settle according to the outcome of a protest. (Perhaps with some caveat regarding timely notification of protest.)
 

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Hellosailor,

If you read my posts above a number of times I said that the RRS only apply to boats that are racing, and that COLREGs apply as between a boat that is racing and one that isn't.


MoncSail,

You are supposed to get a permit for any organized activity on the water. If it's just a few boats going to raft up together then yes you are supposed to get a permit for it. My yacht club submits a one page permit request every year with all of the dates we will be racing, covering something like 40 weekends, and 60 weekdays. Plus a few organized raft ups every year.

If you choose not to race go ahead. But to not race because of very well established law... Well that's fine I guess. The reason I don't see this as an issue is that in over 200 years of US law, there is only one reported court case on the issue and it says COLREGS don't apply. If you choose to play it safer than this that's fine. But I would be suprized if you could get any attorney in the US to think your interpretation is a reasonable one. Feel free to get a letter of coverage from your insurance company to see what their feelings are since they will be paying anyway.

But keep in mind if COLREGs applied every single skipper in every race in the US would have violated them. Every start is rife with COLREGS but not RRS violations.


Sandy,

That is a modification of a pretty standard binding arbitration clause found in many contracts these days.
 

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If you read my posts above a number of times I said that the RRS only apply to boats that are racing, and that COLREGs apply as between a boat that is racing and one that isn't.

Something the racing boats that have setup their race across the channel seem to forget sometimes. While I may feel bad for them I'm not sailing an extra 10 miles to go the long way to avoid their little race.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Maybe we can race

First, Thank you for continuing this discussion. I believe we are getting into some real issues that can be helpful, at least to beginning racers like me.
Sandy, I do not think I am racing with a bunch of lawsuit happy skippers. I am familiar with the agreement that was signed and the paragraph you posted. But, let’s see what the COLREGS have to offer
“Whoever operates a vessel in violation of this Chapter” “is liable to a civil penalty of not more than $5,000 for each violation.” And “Every vessel subject to this Chapter” “is liable to a civil penalty of not more than $5,000 for each violation, for which penalty the vessel may be seized
Now we are at $10,000.00 and we lost the boat, if it is not already at the bottom, but it gets better:

A person operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner that
endangers the life, limb, or property of a person shall be fined not
more than $5,000, imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

So, we round the committee boat at the start of a race on a starboard tack, harden up with a sharp 20 degree turn, 5 seconds later we hit a port tack boat broad side, both sink, somebody drowns. For sure when we rounded the committee boat we being the stand-on vessel did not maintain course and speed. However under racing rules as the right-of-way boat we gave the port tack boat room to keep clear expecting them to turn down out of the way, but they did not and we hit them. Coast investigates, yada yada yada, I am in jail for a year. Yes I have a vivid paranoid imagination but, I think you guys ought to give me that the stakes are high and the Coast Guard can hurt you.

As a side note but perhaps related, I see the word civil in the COLREGS frequently, but the word criminal does not appear. Can I be imprisoned as a civil penalty?

Stumble, I do not know if my sailing club has filed a permit with the coast guard. I will find out, but it may take me a week or so to do that. If we have, I think I am good to go. It is an acknowledgement by the coast guard of what we are doing. They have skin in the game.

I hear what you are saying about only one court case, but it does make me wonder if we are talking about the same concern. I am not afraid of my fellow sailors. I believe I am reasonably protected from them. My concern is with the coast guard. I believe they have a well deserved reputation for not playing. I am wondering if your one court case covers them as well?
 

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Kynntana (Freedom 38)
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Re: Maybe we can race

snip.... My concern is with the coast guard. I believe they have a well deserved reputation for not playing.
Not sure what "not playing" means, as well as the other post that implied the CG has more firepower, so you don't want to talk to them. I know a lot of coasties, and in some of the skippers' meetings I've attended, CG personnel were there to speak to the group on such things as vessel traffic communications, what happens when you transmit a DSC emergency, etc. For sure they're like the TSA on the water, so you can't really joke around with them, plus they have big guns, I get that, but why not just ask this question of your sector command? the CG is there to serve the public and they may know of other cases that didn't go to trial.

Rule #1 in all the books is to avoid collisions; however, I've seen this attitude where skippers will maintain they're the stand on vessel for an uncomfortable time to see if the other guy flinches or yells something first. In one of our local races around the bay, I was on a slow Hunter getting overtaken by a faster boat. They needed to fall off to go around us, so just before they rammed up our stern, they yelled, "we're racing" perhaps thinking we'd get out of their way. We yelled back, "so are we." They went around.
 
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