By Malcom MacKenzie

The ‘International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea’, the ‘Rules’, are widely accepted by the concerned public, including ship owners and managers, as being the standard by which collisions at sea should be avoided. Any number of senior ship managers and marine surveyors will convincingly argue, based on long experience, that compliance with these Rules is the way to avoid accidents in the belief that they have been the law for so long that they are proven and the inevitable solution to the avoidance of collisions. Sadly, this is a mistake as seamen no longer study the Rules in any detail.

Today’s masters and watch officers, in general, do not know the ‘Rules’ and can not apply them in any detail thoigh they have a broad outline. When I started my mariner apprenticeship in 1955, I was informed by our ship’s chief officer that I should not be allowed ashore in any port until I could correctly quote another of the ‘Articles’, as we called the Rules in those days, prior to arriving off each port of call. We were on the Northern Europe to Australia and New Zealand trade routes, so we made two round voyages a year with some sixteen port calls on each round voyage. As we spent eight months of every year, loading and discharging in some 16 ports every voyage, this prospective ban on going ashore needed to be taken seriously. I learnt all the Articles word perfectly. It involved a year’s concentrated effort. I never had my shore leave withheld. For my 2nd Mates oral exam I had to quote six of the Articles; I managed it easily; I passed. And the examiner remarked, as he passed me, ‘You certainly know your stuff’. I suppose all of us who took the exam in those days knew their Articles.


Today’s bridge watch apprentices are taught to follow Rule 2(b). It is known as the ‘general prudential’, it reads:-

‘In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all the dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, whuich may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger’


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