Editor’s note: The Boating Barrister column Do the Rules of the Road Work?by John K. Fulweiler, Esq. in our July issue raised some interesting questions.

Dear John,

Anent your article on Rules of the Road in WindCheck, we encountered the same question on a much smaller scale in the 1970s when I was a member of the International Regulations Committee of the International Yacht Racing Union.

The committee worked under the international organization in charge of the regs, but also on an Inland Rules promulgated by nations in Europe. An example involves sailboards, which had become a hazard in constricted passages and crowded lakes, similar to your observations about sailing vessels proceeding at 40 knots and making changes in course that other traffic has no way of predicting. Some of the Low Countries declassified sailboats as sailing craft, making it their responsibility to avoid collisions.

Currently the IYRU (now World Sailing) recognizes kite boarding as sailing, the international class for which seeks admission to the Olympics. Speaking of unpredictability, how does another craft or even a swimmer know what course a craft that at times flies is on? It’s like the Andrea Doria case where none of the four Italian officers were plotting on radar the course of the Stockholm – the only way to determine the actual course of the other vessel.

It might be postulated that respecting the America’s Cup match the racecourse was closed to traffic so that the problem did not surface. Yet suppose there was a collision with severe damage and one boat sued the other for damages. Coincidentally encountered last weekend Anthony Parker, an Admiralty lawyer, who helped defend the U.S. Naval Academy after one of its yachts T-boned a civilian racing yacht. The latter took Navy to court, partly because as the non right-of-way yacht it had failed to foot the bill to pay for the damages. The court threw the case out under the principle that the yacht by entering the race came under the Assumption of Risk doctrine. Look forward to other comments you receive.

Your Obedient Servant,

Henry (Harry) H. Anderson, Jr., Mystic, CT

John Fulweiler replies:


Thanks for your letter! Anyone that starts correspondence with a nod toward the lexicon of Beowulf (i.e. “anent”) is okay in my logbook. I was pleased to learn someone with your yachting pedigree gives credence to my earlier observations regarding the inadequacy of the Rules of the Road with respect to certain craft in certain situations. I hope we’re not excreting to windward and that the powers that be hear our canary. It is, indeed, an issue that needs prompt treatment. I’d enjoy speaking with you should you find the time. Thanks again for the response. 

Very truly yours,

John K. Fulweiler

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