COLREGS are navigation rules you must know if you plan to sail soon. Of course, no one can blame you if you haven’t heard of these rules, especially if you’re a beginner in boating. But you don’t have to worry because these rules are pretty simple. You must take your time learning them by heart, and you will be good to go.
This article will look into the best practices for navigating COLREGS. You’ll also learn some of the top tips for safe sailing so you can look forward to a smooth journey out at sea. This will also be a helpful refresher you can remember when you start your trip.
COLREGS Meaning and Its Importance
COLREGS is an acronym for The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972. These rules are valid worldwide to ensure that no collision will occur at sea as long as these are followed and adhered to properly.
COLREGS exists for one primary purpose and reason: to prevent sea collisions that are often quite fatal. These rules are critical since they are applicable globally, so all captains and crew should follow them no matter where they are. Thanks to this, there won’t be any misunderstandings and conflicts about who will give way.
There are a total of 72 COLREGS regulations that were developed in 1972 by the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization or IMCO. The association was renamed in 1982 into the International Maritime Organization or IMO.
Five parts make up the convention:
- Part A: General
- Part B: Steering and Sailing Rules
- Part C: Lights and Shapes
- Part D: Sound and Light Signals
- Part E: Exemptions
Who Should Follow COLREGS?
Anyone who navigates the waters outside the COLREGS Demarcation Lines is required to comply with COLREGS. These distinguish the high seas from the inland waterways, rivers, and harbors. Sailors are expected to adhere to the international and inland rules within the Demarcation Lines.
COLREGS don’t get in the way of the local law. All countries can designate their own signal or station lights, whistle signals, and shapes for fishing vessels, vessel convoys, and warships.
This means that aside from the COLREGS, you must also learn and be familiar with the Inland Navigational Rules for the specific country where you will be sailing.
The Most Critical COLREGS Rules
It would be best to familiarize yourself with all the COLREFS every time you sail the high seas. This will ensure that you and others are safe throughout the trip. But listed below are some of the top tips and most critical rules that you should remember before you embark on your upcoming sea journey:
Rule 5: Look-out
Rule 5 states that the deck should always have a watchkeeper all the time. They should also stay vigilant and use all the available tools. It means they must use their eyes, ears, VHFs, binoculars, AIS, and radar when applicable.
To maintain a good watch, always listen to VHF channel 16. Keep your ears wide open for sound signals like a fog horn. Make sure you also scan the horizon as often as you can with the help of the binoculars as needed. Monitor your radar and AIS screens at all times as well.
Rule 7: Risk of Collision
Rules 7 and 5 are strictly connected. The watchkeeper must know how to identify the risk of collision once they see a target.
If you ever spot a vessel or light on the horizon, take bearings with the handheld compass to determine their direction and speed. Compare their possible course with that of your vessel. There must be a reasonable chance of over 2 to 3 degrees in the vessel’s compass bearing, or a collision will likely happen.
There is also a warning from the regulation against scanty or incomplete information. Three common errors might lead to making an incorrect calculation of risk. These include failure to monitor the situation to verify if the vessel is passing astern or ahead of you, relying exclusively on the radar information, and failure to take a compass bearing.
Rule 6: Safe Speed
Every vessel is expected to proceed at a safe speed, depending on the situation. Two factors affect the safety of the speed of the vessel. These are how quickly they can take an avoiding action and how soon the vessel will be able to see a target.
The following may further affect these two factors:
- Background lights that might confuse the watchkeeper
- Draught wherein a smaller draught-to-depth ratio can reduce the maneuverability of a boat
- Maneuverability of the vessel
- State of visibility
- Traffic density
- Weather conditions
It means that a very maneuverable vessel will still be able to sail faster than its less maneuverable counterpart.
Your speed must be adjusted according to the situation. Always slow down in dense traffic or heavy fog. Take your time assessing every target and the risk of collision with it.
Rule 15: Crossing Situation
The regulation states what should be done in a crossing situation. You have to keep in mind that this rule applies only to two power-driven vessels. The two boats should travel under an engine, or a sailing vessel would be prioritized over a powerboat.
If you’re on a boat under an engine with a power-driven vessel on the starboard side, you must give way to it and never cross ahead whenever possible. You can either alter course or slow down to achieve this.
If you can, you should permanently alter the course to starboard, as this will let you pass at the back of the stand-on vessel. You can also change to port if your starboard side has vessels or other navigational hazards. However, this should be done early on to show your intentions as clearly as possible.
Rule 14: Head-on Situation
If there is a meeting of two power-driven vehicles on one course, both vessels must change their course to starboard and then pass on the port side of the other vessel.
The following will help you recognize if you are in a head-on situation:
- The other vessel can be seen ahead or almost ahead
- The vessel’s masthead lines can be seen in a line or almost in a line
- Both sidelights can be seen in a line or almost in a line.
You can switch courses if you’re unsure.
Rule 12: Sailing Vessels
There are slight changes to the rule if there is a risk of collision between two sailing boats approaching each other. There are a few potential situations that you might encounter. These are the following together with a few tips on how to deal with them:
Unable to identify tack
If a vessel with wind on the port side spots a yacht going windward and can’t identify the tack they are on, the vessel should give way to the yacht.
Wind on different sides
If the wind on two yachts is on different sides, the yacht with the wind on the port side should give way to the other yacht.
Wind on the same side
If the wind is on the same side for both sailboats, the vessel to windward should be the one to stay out of the way of the other. These are just some of the most essential practices to navigate COLREGS and ensure a safe trip every time.