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The Europa and Charles Bartlett...
Present and Proposed Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, &c......
by Commander J. A. Heathcote....
Charles Curme, R. N......
RULES OF THE ROAD AT SEA.
It is the duty of every seaman to study and familiarize himself with the “Rules of the Road."
A correct understanding of these rules will enable those in command, and officers in charge of decks of vessels, to act with promptitude at critical moments when the vessels in their charge and the lives of all on board may depend upon their knowledge and prompt action for safety. The introduction of steam in ocean navigation and the great increase in the number of vessels employed in commerce within the last 25 years have also greatly increased the responsibilities of those engaged in navigation. The simple “Rules of the Road”—the common law of the seawhich governed in the days of sailing ships, are no longer sufficient guides to safety.
Maritime nations have found it necessary to enact stringent laws upon the subject, specifying in minute detail the obligations devolved upon all officers and others occupying responsible positions on board ship.
All, or nearly all, the maritime nations of the world have adopted the same “Rules of the Road at Sea” to prevent collisions and the loss of life and property on board ship; notwithstanding which, there is considerable diversity of opinion at the present day in regard to the practical benefits which they were designed to confer upon seafaring men.
Owing mainly to the great loss of life and property by collisions at sea in late years, and especially in the summer of 1866, public attention was very naturally drawn to the laws of passing vessels, which led to animated and able discussions upon the subject, and resulted in many suggestions in regard to proposed alterations of existing rules.
The United Service Institution of Great Britain undertook the investigation of the subject of the “Loss of Life at Sea, Collisions, Ships' Lights, and the Rule of the Road,” on the evening of May 2, 1866, at a regular meeting of the Institution, and continued the discussions at adjourned and regular meetings with great earnestness until the middle of the following July. The result of these discussions and proceedings was given to the public during the same year, (1866,) under the title of “The Loss of Life at Sea, with Report of the Committee of the Council to the Vice President of the Board of Trade; also Collisions at Sea, Ships' Lights, and the Rule of the Road, with Discussions; and the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, the Rules concerning Lights, and the Steering and Sailing Rules, with Diagrams.
At about the same period Commanders P. H. Colomb and H. W. Brent, H. B. M. Navy, published “The Law of the Port Helm;" “An Examination into its History and Dangerous Action, with Suggestions for its Abolition," &c.
These two publications, as well as others, including papers of William Sterling Lacon, Esq., on this important and interesting subject, have been largely drawn upon in the preparation of this work. The purpose being to provide, in as compact a form as possible, for the use of seamen in general in this country, and especially of the Navy, all attainable reliable facts and supposed sound arguments bearing upon the subject to guide them in arriving at correct conclusions, and to serve them in the hour of danger or need; no other apology need, therefore, be offered for any want of originality of language or thought that may appear.
It will be observed that the “Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” issued in pursuance of the British Merchant Shipping Act, Amendment Act of 1862, and which were adopted by act of Congress, approved 29th of April, 1864, have been slightly altered in phraseology by order in Council, dated January 9, 1863, (see Notes to Articles 2, 6, and 7,) and by order in Council, dated August 4, 1868, (London Gazette,) Articles 11 and 13 are explained. This latter order in Council being, as will be remarked, of a date subsequent to the papers and discussions above referred to, with the exception of the last paper, by T. Gray, Esq., (Secretary to the Marine Department of the British Board of Trade, issued by authority September, 1868.)