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Old 07-18-2012, 10:31 AM   #1
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Anatomy of a Collision - Who Was at Fault, and Why?

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Old 07-18-2012, 10:39 AM   #2
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Anatomy of a Collision

Who Was at Fault, and Why?

By Chuck Fort


The International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea, also called COLREGS or Rules of the Road, were adopted in the United States in 1864. Based on common sense, it has been said if all vessels always abided by the Rules, there would be no collisions at sea. In this issue of eLine, we’ll take a look at one claim that supports the idea that Rules are meant to be followed.
***********
The Collision: Two sailboats on San Francisco Bay are approaching each other, bow-to-bow, on a collision course. Both boats are under power, each traveling at four to five knots, and are closing quickly. A few seconds before impact, the skipper of the larger boat, a 40-footer, throws the helm hard over to starboard and yells at the skipper of the smaller boat, who responds by turning sharply to port. The two boats collide, with the smaller boat ramping up onto the deck of the larger boat. There were no injuries, but both boats suffered extensive damage (Claim # 0810161).
As is often the case when two boats collide, both skippers insisted the other was at fault. There were no outside witnesses. These sorts of disagreements are routine and are typically settled by the respective insurance companies. In this case, however, no agreement was reached and the claim went to arbitration. Who was at fault?
Discussion: Sails were neatly furled on the larger boat but on the smaller boat the mainsail was up. The smaller boat’s skipper claimed he was “sailing” (A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a sailing vessel) but a check of nearby weather buoys confirmed that San Francisco Bay was uncharacteristically calm that day and his argument was quickly dismissed by arbiters.
The skipper of the larger boat claimed the collision was solely the responsibility of the smaller boat; after all, it hit him. Again, the investigators were not convinced. One of the primary Navigation Rules (rule five) was ignored by both skippers: Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision. Had either skipper been paying attention, the collision would not have occurred.
The Judgment: In most, if not all collisions, there is more than one cause and usually enough blame to go around, even if on the surface the reasons seem obvious. There is no “right of way” for boats. There are stand on vessels, which are required to maintain course and speed, and give way vessels, which are required to take whatever measures are necessary to avoid a collision, usually specifically pointed out in the Rules. As the investigator noted, “being the stand-on vessel does not unconditionally impart immunity, but rather confers specific responsibilities.” The Rules make this apparent: When, from any cause, the (stand on) vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision. Even if the smaller boat was a stand on vessel, she still may be required to make course adjustments to prevent a collision. Finally, if vessels are meeting head on as was the case: Each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other. The skipper of the smaller boat made the mistake of turning to port, which violated another rule as well; the Rules specifically state that vessels shall not alter course to port for a vessel on her own port side. In a meeting situation such as this, where both parties were not paying attention, a last second turn to starboard by both skippers would not have avoided the collision but likely would have reduced the impact and resulted in less damage to both boats.
After reviewing all the facts gathered by the investigators and the statements from the skippers, the arbiters concluded that, “Based on the diagrams offered by both parties, it is not clear why the two boats did not see each other much sooner than they did. Both parties had a duty for lookout in this case that was breached. That duty was breached slightly longer by [the skipper of the smaller boat]; as a result, he shoulders sixty percent of the liability for the loss and that portion of the damages.” The skipper of the larger boat was responsible for the remaining 40 percent.
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Old 07-18-2012, 02:45 PM   #3
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Age old issue that seems more pertinent in today's times with the use and almost slavish reliance on electronics and auto-pilots.

You have to maintain an almost constant and effective watch! With eyes!

Clear that had both captains done so, no collision would have happened.
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Old 07-18-2012, 02:54 PM   #4
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Really meant "would NOT have happened"!
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Old 07-18-2012, 03:54 PM   #5
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Really meant "would NOT have happened"!
And no, that wouldn't have not been a double-negative.
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Old 07-18-2012, 05:27 PM   #6
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not so sure that they "didn't see each other"....probably did and each thought they were stand on and didn't budge till it was too late.

Based on the smaller boats turn to port...THAT guy really is a dolt.
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Old 07-18-2012, 08:06 PM   #7
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On those facts, both vessels failed to keep a proper lookout and failed to take timely steps to avoid a collision. When a collision was imminent but still avoidable, one correctly altered course to starboard,the other negligently altered course to port, probably in panic at the situation. That action ultimately brought the vessels into collision; I`d have thought that vessel bore greater liability than a 60% apportionment,but not the entire responsibility. BruceK
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Old 07-18-2012, 08:12 PM   #8
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On those facts, both vessels failed to keep a proper lookout and failed to take timely steps to avoid a collision. When a collision was imminent but still avoidable, one correctly altered course to starboard,the other negligently altered course to port, probably in panic at the situation. That action ultimately brought the vessels into collision; I`d have thought that vessel bore greater liability than a 60% apportionment,but not the entire responsibility. BruceK
What facts? Two skippers involved in a collision claim they didn't see the other guy? Fact???? I seriously doubt there are ANY facts reported by either skipper as one "claimed" to be sailing which the arbitrators quickly dismissed and then the knucklehead turned to port...probably not capable of reporting one reliable fact at all....
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Old 07-18-2012, 10:10 PM   #9
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Right of way

My first rule is "The bigger the boat, the righter the way"
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Old 07-18-2012, 11:09 PM   #10
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We were taught a long time ago that when we are going to make a course alteration to avoid an oncoming or crossing vessel, make the course change very obvious and make it sooner rather than later. If we're converging on a tug and barge, for example, regardless of who's the stand on and give way vessel, if it looks like it might be close we wiil alter course with a 45 degree turn toward the rear of the barge. This should leave no question in the minds of the tug crew what our intentions are.

I find it interesting how often, at least with recreational power boats, boats head toward each other with either no or an almost unnoticeable course change.. There's a whole channel's worth of room around them yet they continue to plow toward each other. The two helmsmen have to see each other yet the objecctive seems to be to pass as close as possible despite the mile wide channel they're in. It's almost like the boats are magnets. Or that the skippers feel that even a minor course change will throw their plans into chaos.

So the fact this sailboat head-on occured is not surprising to me given what we see every time we go out up here. Althougt here the culprits are more often than not a pair of big, plowing cruising boats.

What's really amazing is that on the occasions this has happened to us--- one of these plowing things coming at us some distance away--- if we alter course nine times out of ten the oncoming boat will drift its bow over to continue heading at us. Perhaps it's like riding a bicycle to these skippers--- you tend to go where you look. If there's a pothole in the road you want to avoid, if you stare at it as you approach, that's what you'll hit.

So far as I'm concerned in this particular collision both skippers are equally at fault. Sure, the one turned the wrong way at the last second (so did the Titanic) but the fact that both boats continued unerringly on their collision course until they were just boat lengths apart defines both of them as equally incompetent in my book.
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Old 07-19-2012, 12:04 AM   #11
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Contributory negligence!! That's the way I would call it too. There was no clear right or wrong and there rarely is (unless one of the boats is moored or at anchor.) When you’re in wide open water at the speeds sailboats and trawlers move, collisions should be very very rare, but I wouldn't call them "accidents" in any case.

I watched two 36' sail boats come together in my marina last fall. One T-boned the other after 10 seconds of blowing their handheld air horns at each other. Too bad they hadn't used that time to reverse their engines and avoid the collision rather than wasting their time asserting who had the right-of-way.

Just another example of Gene Pool Cleansing!!
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Old 07-19-2012, 01:41 AM   #12
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What facts? Two skippers involved in a collision claim they didn't see the other guy? Fact????
The "facts" found by the tribunal determining the case, as set out.

In the absence of a set of "agreed facts", a Tribunal deciding a case hears the versions of the incident placed before it, ie the evidence, to objectively determine the 'facts'. It then applies relevant law to the "facts" as found, and reaches a decision. BruceK
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Old 07-19-2012, 07:04 AM   #13
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The "facts" found by the tribunal determining the case, as set out.

In the absence of a set of "agreed facts", a Tribunal deciding a case hears the versions of the incident placed before it, ie the evidence, to objectively determine the 'facts'. It then applies relevant law to the "facts" as found, and reaches a decision. BruceK
Thus the arrogance of any legal system that works like that....to think "it" , the system can determine facts and even use the word "fact"...then possibly use case "law" from it.

While I understand that is how it's done...I resent the concept that drawing conclusions from sketchy or even lying witnesses can ever be labeled as "fact".

Both skippers probably lied through their teeth and both got appropriately whacked...aside from the damage to their vessels
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Old 07-19-2012, 11:14 AM   #14
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The "facts" found by the tribunal determining the case, as set out.

In the absence of a set of "agreed facts", a Tribunal deciding a case hears the versions of the incident placed before it, ie the evidence, to objectively determine the 'facts'. It then applies relevant law to the "facts" as found, and reaches a decision. BruceK
--------------------------------------------

Very true!! I don't fault our system. I think they get it right more often than wrong. In the absence of video, audio, or written documentation, the "tribunal" must draw a conclusion based on the information they have. Human recollection, observation and perception rarely approach the level of "fact."

"The dimmest ink is better than the best memory."

Larry B
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Old 07-19-2012, 11:38 AM   #15
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--------------------------------------------

Very true!! I don't fault our system. I think they get it right more often than wrong. In the absence of video, audio, or written documentation, the "tribunal" must draw a conclusion based on the information they have. Human recollection, observation and perception rarely approach the level of "fact."

"The dimmest ink is better than the best memory."

Larry B
I don't think the system is all that bad...the US legal system may be better than most...but it is arrogant and I just have a hard time calling someones "conclusion" automatically a fact because it is in a court.

If the same person drawing the same conclusion was a witness and NOT part of the tribunal...they would be admonished for calling their conclusion a "fact"...thus my opinion of legal arrogance.
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