Don’t Become a Rule 9 Violation

Last week I was heading out of Oakland Inner Harbor and negotiated passage with this inbound ship just moments after I heard them on the radio calling in a Rule 9 violation.  Not good for someone out there on the water.  What is Rule 9?

By the way…Rule 9 also says to stay to the starboard side of a channel but I had coordinated with the pilot to pass starboard sides as he was going to a berth port side to.  But that’s a different topic…

All boaters are expected to know and comply with the Navigation Rules – it’s the law.  USCG Auxiliary boat crews are especially expected to comply, including recurring testing of the navrules exam to maintain coxswain certification.  Even for those boaters who know the rules, many don’t know the consequences of breaking them.

When operating in a busy port like San Francisco Bay, you WILL have interaction with shipping traffic.  In SF Bay we have a Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) with which all commercial traffic participates, and other vessels can contact them (on Channel 14 inside the Bay) for traffic advisory.  

So what is Rule 9?  I won’t include all of it but here are some key points:

Rule 9(b) – A vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel which (that in Inland Rules) can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.

There is a very similar paragraph in Rule 10 regarding Traffic Separation Schemes:

Rule 10(j) – A vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the safe passage of a power-driven vessel following a traffic lane.

OK, so that’s pretty obvious – don’t get in the way of large ships.  The problem is, many boaters greatly underestimate the speed of a large ship, just like how a 747 landing at the airport appears to be barely moving (they land at 150 knots).  The reality is that ships can be moving quite quickly to maintain steerageway.

A Rule 9 violation happens when a small boat crosses too closely in front of a larger vessel as discussed above and impedes them.  When this happens, the ship’s pilot can call the Coast Guard to report the event and they will come out and cite the small boat operator.  See this article on gCaptain about an incident a couple of years ago where a sailboat crossed in front of this ship in Stockton.

Aside from the incredible danger, the fine can be as much as $14,910 per incident.

The internet is full of “boat fail” videos, but here is one that is just heart-wrenching.  A historic schooner is struck by a ship in Germany and only by sheer luck was no one killed.  See the story here.

While it is easy to be an armchair quarterback, there are several mistakes this captain made in the minute leading up to the collision.

Don’t be a Rule 9 violator.

Credit: John Whitman