Friday, October 24, 2014

"They can afford 'em, but they can't drive 'em"

That was the announcement on the ferry loudspeaker system.  There had been a series of loud blasts of the deeeep horn and we'd come to a stop.  Then I looked up to see the cause of the noise and the crew's derision.

The sailboat was no longer in danger of being run over by the ferry.   Is public shaming over the ferry loudspeakers a suitable activity for a public entity like the Bainbridge Ferry?  I suspect not, but I suspect it made the announcer feel a little better.  Will it make the little boat's driver change?  I suspect forcing the ferry to stop was embarrassing enough. 

But we enjoyed the warm sunny crossing into Seattle last Sunday after a family visit on a long layover on the way to LA.  Here's a shot of us approaching the dock in Seattle.


  1. Under maritime 'rules of the road', the sailboat quite likely had the right of way.

    The oaf on the loudspeaker is the one who is demonstrating incompetence, and obviously shouldn't be at the helm of any vessel.

    1. Joe Blow, these are ferries that ply back and forth between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. It takes about 35 minutes. It's hard to imagine that maritime rules would allow small boats to stop them on a regular basis. But I know nothing about maritime law. But I did find this on Yahoo answers to the question: "Do sailboats always have the right of way over power boats and ships? This seems counter-intuitive. ?"

      "It depends on where you are. Assuming you are not in the middle of the ocean (as in, more than 50 miles offshore) and you are in an area where things like supertankers and container ships are an issue, chances are very good that you are operating in an area which is designated as a narrow channel, fairway, or Traffic Separation Zone. You'll need to look at charts and Coast Pilots for your sailing area to determine where these are. In any of these areas, a sailing vessel, a vessel engaged in fishing or a vessel less than 20 meters in length (about 70', meaning basically any boat anyone is likely to own) is not to impede the passage of any power driven vessel greater than 20 meters proceeding withing the channel, fairway or TSZ. Similarly, such large vessels are generally expected to stay within the channel, fairway or TSZ in order to avoid smaller boats. "

      That makes more sense. The ferry captain should be able to just show the ship's video to the Coast Guard and the sailboat would be appropriately penalized. Come to think about it, sometimes these ferries have an anti-terrorist escort.


    1. The bottom line from the example in the link seems to be "the incident was avoidable as the Hyak, 'had adequate time, equipment capability and 'sea room' to avoid the collision.'"

      The article doesn't say the sailboat had the right of way (or that it didn't), only that the ferry could have stopped and should have. The ferry I was on did stop. But the little boat, in my opinion, shouldn't have been in its way. The ferry has a predictable route and if the sailboater knows how to sail, he should be able to avoid the ferry's path. If sailboats had the right of way to stop ferries and the ferries had to stop three or four times per sailing for a sailboat, that would be enormously wasteful of time and fuel for hundreds of people each passage for one or two folks on the sailboat. It doesn't make sense where there is plenty of room for the sailboat to stay out of the way.

      The case you linked to is sort of like jaywalking. The pedestrian is wrong, but if the car can stop it has an obligation to.

  3. Beware of Yahoo answers, generalities rarely adequately represent the situational specifics of the questions in mind.

    In this particular instance, just one vessel being a ferry and the other a sailboat doesn't adequately describe exactly what took place.

    Both vessels have the right to operate, even in restricted zones.

    I know the ferries in Washington, frequently used to commute on them.

    I also have operated boats in and around those same ferries.

    Most of the time, the skippers on the ferries are competent and capable, sometimes not so much.

    As is demonstrated in the article above, the ferries aren't always operating according to regulations.

    The International Regulations for Avoidance of Collision at Sea (the ColRegs) govern the interactions between vessels.

    These rules spell out the precise responsibility of each vessel and the action that each should take in any given situation.

    Whether your vessel is designated stand on or give way, both vessels have a responsibility to avoid collision.

    And in this case, the sailboat could very likely be restricted in it's movements by channel depth or other factors not known.

    Just because the ferry blew it's horn doesn't mean the Coast Guard would necessarily be taking a dim view of the sailboat skipper. Depending on too many unknown variables not addressed here, the Coast Guard could very well have ended up dressing down the ferry boat captain.

    Problems with Washington ferry captains aren't without precedent.

    A Washington State ferry captain being charged is not without precedent.

    Assuming the guy on the loud hailer had it right is to make an assumption without knowing all the variables.

    The sail boat could very well have been within it's rights to operate in the manner in which it did.

    Until a number of variables are specified and confirmed, there's no reason to just assume the ferry boat had not blundered.

    1. Well, your articles do list a number of problems with the Washington State Ferry system. I'm linking here the last one to an Aug 2014 NYTimes article.


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