Monday, June 4, 2007

No Rules? Somebody say 1, 2, 3....GO!

Remember the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when one of the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang attempts to take over in Butch's absence? When Butch returns, they decide to fight for who will be boss, and before fighting, Butch asks to review the rules. The bad guy says "Rules!? There are no rules in fighting!", so Butch asks someone to start the fight, and Sundance quickly says "One, two, three; GO!" and Butch takes this huge guy down with one very well place kick to the crotch...

Well, we have our Rules, and before you get into a court fight over them, you should be aware of one important thing: there are no rules. We just call them the Rules of the Road because the word rule is the most efficient way to say "you better do this, or else." But, they are not rules in the traditional sense that you would think of, like the rules of math or gravity. The Rules of the Road are the guidelines for recommended conduct, and they are by definition open to the interpretation of each individual who is bound by them, who is then open to be admonished by others for his failure to correctly interpret.

Rule 2(a) pretty much spells it out: "Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the master thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case." My interpretation of that rule is: ITS EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF.

Here is a quote from what is my favorite page at the USCG website:

The International Navigation Rules do not confer upon any vessel the right of way; however, certain vessels in sight of each other are responsible to keep out of the way of others...Navigation Rules should be regarded as a code of conduct and not a bill of rights. They do not bestow rights or privileges, but impose the duty to either give-way or stand-on, dependent on the circumstances...Finally, all this said, the ordinary practice of seamen requires precaution under all conditions and circumstances and not strict adherence to the rules or any other practice. Although strict adherence may not always be prudent, the Rules are very precise in stating that nothing shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect (Rule 2). Neglect, among other things, could be not maintaining a proper look-out (Rule 5), use of improper speed (Rule 6), not taking the appropriate actions to determine and avoid collision (Rules 7 & Rule 8) or completely ignoring your responsibilities under the Rules

So, over the course of this coming season, when we are all out there using and depending on those rules, I will post some thoughts and insight about the Rules of the Road and how they pertain to us little towboat guys.

Homework for this week: does the word "scanty" appear in the rules? If so, in what context?