driving boat

Operating a vessel is a serious responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

I hope all of our WaterLine readers are enjoying this beautiful stretch of weather and are in good health and fine spirits. Of course, with fair weather comes an overabundance of boats that make boating safely on our waters a challenge for all who navigate them. And on top of that, the increased number of boaters creates an even bigger challenge: Trying to decipher who knows what about the Navigational Rules of the Road (NAVRULES).

Learning the fundamentals of boating education is a crucial part of developing the requisite knowledge to safely operate a vessel. As a certified USCG instructor, I truly enjoy being part of the solution, teaching boating education at all levels from basic boating up to the captain’s license and beyond.

That said, what truly motivates me is getting out on the water with our students and applying theory to practice. Nothing can replace on-the-water training aboard a vessel in a dynamic, rapidly changing location such as Charlotte Harbor and its surrounding waterways. As I write this column, I have completed my eighth straight day providing on-the-water training to boat owners eager to become “brilliant on the basics.”

With the conclusion of each day came the hope that the next day would be knucklehead-free. A knucklehead is a boater that clearly lacks even the most elementary skills to safely operate a vessel and has little to no understanding of the NAVRULES, which were written specifically to prevent collisions at sea. Regrettably, each day provided a surplus of knuckleheads to use as examples for my students. I call these encounters “teachable moments.”

My top teachable moment earned the title of Knucklehead of the Week. This guy was on the wrong side of the channel driving directly at us and earned a series of five short blasts (the whistle signal for danger, doubt or no) from my vessel to fully get his attention. Thankfully that convinced him to alter his course to starboard and pass port to port (as required by the NAVRULES).

You can’t make this stuff up. As the saying goes, disappointed but not surprised. On a positive note, each student was afforded a plethora of opportunities to see what to not do.

OK, let’s learn some new NAVRULES. Please keep in mind the overview I’m providing is summarized and is meant for recreational boaters navigating on our saltwater bays, harbors, rivers and in the Gulf of Mexico. While reading, please keep in mind, the average recreational boater does not need the same working knowledge of the NAVRULES as a commercially licensed USCG captain.


Last week we covered Rule 1, which describes to whom the NAVRULES apply. This week we will explore Rule 2 (responsibility) and Rule 3 (general definitions). In my boating education classes, I speak at great length about Rule 2. I believe it is one of the most misunderstood of the 41 NAVRULES.

This a far-reaching rule which affirms that nothing shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, captain or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with the NAVRULES. Rule 2 then goes on to explain that when interpreting and complying with it, due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from the rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.

In summary, this rule unequivocally places the responsibility of the vessel and its passengers in the captain’s hands. This is the big enchilada. It firmly reminds us that the captain cannot delegate the safety of the vessel or its crew and is always responsible.

Now on to Rule 3. Rule 3 clearly defines what a vessel is, leaving nothing to the imagination. Vessels include every description of watercraft (including seaplanes) used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water. The term “power-driven vessel” means any vessel propelled by machinery. And the term “sailing vessel” means any vessel under sail, provided that propelling machinery is not being used.

There’s no ambiguity here. It’s not just powerboats and sailboats — operators of PWCs, jon boats, and even kayaks and canoes (non-motor-powered vessels) will all need to follow the rules too. It’s the law.

Until next time, remember to never stop learning and treat every boat outing as an opportunity to practice.

Capt. Jack R. Sanzalone is a 30-year submarine veteran and licensed USCG Master Captain with 38 years of experience. He is the owner of Boat Tutors and teaches both basic and advanced boating education. You can contact Capt. Jack at Jack@BoatTutors.com or by visiting his website, BoatTutors.com.

Capt. Jack R. Sanzalone is a 30-year submarine veteran and licensed USCG Master Captain with 38 years of experience. He is the owner of Boat Tutors and teaches both basic and advanced boating education. You can contact Capt. Jack at Jack@BoatTutors.com or by visiting his website, BoatTutors.com.

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