Get Out of My Way! by Mike Creasy
Have you ever driven a car in another country? It can be exciting if you aren’t familiar with local rules of the road, especially in places where they drive on the opposite side. Of all modes of transport – road, rail, air and sea - road transport is probably the least coordinated on an international basis, with more variations in rules and attitudes than any other mode. Maybe this is because there are so many more “amateur” drivers than there are private pilots, weekend boaters or free-style train operators.
Whatever the reason, it seems that our attitude towards operating a car is not only getting worse – road rage, rat racing, ignoring traffic lights, etc, etc - it’s spilling across into the small boat arena.
A recent close call at Port Renfrew reminded me that even in this age of boater competency certificates (the marine version of firearms acquisition permits) not everyone cares about rules. While approaching the narrow entrance to the San Juan River, another boat approached us on a converging course on our port side. Although we had the right-of-way we were concerned about the risk of collision, but were unable to turn away to starboard because of shallow water. The other boat slowed at the last minute, coming within a single boat-length, and turned in close behind us. As we made our way up the narrow channel towards our moorage, the other operator made his feelings known, but collision was avoided.
The rules of the road for such an occurrence are very clear: a vessel approaching from starboard shall stay clear. Unfortunately, this fundamental of marine navigation is not well known in boating circles, whether on lakes, rivers, oceans or yacht ponds. Sad but true!
Model boats have been known to have the odd collision, and while the fault usually lies with the other guy, it wouldn’t hurt to review the rules once in a while. The rules are much the same as for full-size boats, and are based on the idea of yielding to boats on the right (or starboard). Now, model boats alter course much faster than full-size and we usually operate in a restricted area, such Harrison Model Yacht Pond on Dallas Road, so some give-and-take is required. Still, you must understand that other boaters don’t know your intentions, and will want to avoid collision as much as you.
Port: If a power-driven vessel approaches within this sector, maintain with caution, your course and speed.
Starboard: If any vessel approaches within this sector, keep out of its way.
There are plenty of additional rules for full-size boats about size and power, and again these generally apply to the yacht pond. All boaters should realize that power boats must yield to sail boats, and sail boats have a series of rules to apply between themselves. Similarly, small, agile vessels must yield to large, less manoeuvrable vessels – particularly in restricted areas.
Racing has its own protocols to apply between the participants, but the basic rules still apply when racers meet up with non-racers. The difference is that race events – just as in full-size racing – generally require that non-racers stay clear of the course. This is a matter of common sense and courtesy; no-one has the authority to demand that other boats stay clear when a hydroplane does a few laps on Harrison Pond, but it seems reasonable to move to the side of the pond for a few minutes. Same thing with submarines or very large models.
On the flip side, operators of these boats can’t expect everyone else to leave the pond immediately. Just as with radio frequencies, some planning and negotiation is required.
Something else to keep in mind on the Yacht Pond is the competency level of the operator and the quality of the equipment. Not everyone is as gifted as you with a radio control, and not all boats are equal to yours in terms of turning and stopping! While the rules of the road are just ducky, they aren’t much help when the rudder linkage slips or the transmitter battery dies. And they don’t mean a lot to a salivating 10 year old with his $50 rocket ship from Crappy Tire, looking to see how fast it will go.
Never forget that you might have the right-of-way, but if you launch your $2000 dreamboat in the middle of a bumper boat contest, or do a quick left turn in front of a guy with no reflexes and no reverse……. well, you’ve been warned!
We usually have a good crowd at the pond and few problems or conflicts, so lets keep it that way!
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Transport Canada Marine Navigation website
US Coast Guard Navigation Rules