Waterkampioen watersport magazine

Good seamanship and liability.

On the road we call them right of way rules, but on the water we talk about swerve rules. You must do everything you can to avoid a collision. Good seamanship is what it’s called. Just as there are rules for road traffic (the Road Traffic Act), on the water we must adhere to the rules laid down in the Inland Waterways Police Regulations (Bpr) to prevent damage. If you don’t keep to them, in principle you are liable. And vice versa: if I do everything by the book, am I covered? Well, no! In contrast to road traffic, there is a very important, so-called open standard on the water: good seamanship. This is laid down in the Bpr in Articles 1.04 and 1.05.

Precautions (Art. 1.04)

“The skipper must, even in the absence of explicit regulations in these regulations, take all precautions that are required by good seamanship or by the circumstances in which the vessel or convoy is located, in order to avoid in particular: endangering the lives of persons; causing damage to other vessels or floating objects, or to banks or to works and facilities of any kind located in the waterway or on its banks; endangering the safety or smooth operation of navigation.”

Deviation from the regulations (Art. 1.05)

“The skipper must deviate from the provisions of these regulations in the interest of safety or the smooth running of navigation (…) according to good seamanship.”

If you follow the rules, good seamanship will usually be present. But even if you know the basic deviation rules – such as wind gives way to lee; engine gives way to muscle gives way to sail – more importantly, you may have the right of way, but you should never take it.

Good seamanship also means that you don’t want to get into a “last minute” situation.

Looking out and assessing what other water users are doing can prevent many annoyances. Sometimes you can prevent a “just not” situation by just jerking up, slowing down or accelerating. In fact, you are a good sailor when you do not let it come to the line!

Crossing ships

The rules for taking evasive action are particularly important for intersecting vessels. A classic example:

One ship is sailing on the starboard bank of the main waterway and another ship is coming from the starboard side of a branch waterway. The main rule is clear: the ship that is sailing on the starboard bank has right of way over intersecting ships. But perhaps the skipper does not know the rules or has not looked at the chart? Here, the ship that has right of way may be expected to take measures to avoid a collision. Failure to do so certainly does not mean that all damage will be borne by the crossing ship.

A striking example is a recent collision near Terneuzen. The traffic centre had informed both ships of the presence of another ship on a crossing course, but neither took up VHF radio contact with the other.

Although one ship had made a mistake in failing to give way, the court ruled that the ship that took way was also jointly liable for the damage in a 75-25 percent split. Just a few other considerations from decisions of the Dutch Maritime Court: “Keeping track of positions is a matter of good seamanship”, “There was no question of voyage preparation” and “The changes of course at this stage do not appear to have been dictated by good seamanship.” And the speedboat skipper who did not take into account that his stern wave could cause problems for another vessel was also held liable.

Also, in sailing competitions, always pay attention to what the race rules say. In almost all races on public waters that are not exclusively demarcated, the Bpr remains in force. So you will always have to apply good seamanship, even though it might cost you a place or even victory.

More information or download old articles: https://www.anwb.nl/kampioen/algemeen/digitaal-archief


Frits Hommersom met groene bril

"You have the right to a lawyer who tells it like it is!"

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