Monday, 6 June 2011

The Rules

I used to take part in a lot of plays; school plays, youth theatre in the holidays, amdram, university plays... so I thought that learning a few rules would be easy, just like learning lines.

It's not.

I've got the meaning of them, that's not the problem, the problem is the placement of seemingly insignificant words. For example, in the normal world, it wouldn't be a problem to exchange a "will" for a "shall" or even a "may", in the rules however, it matters. In the language of the Rules, these words are not insignificant and using the wrong one or putting them in the wrong place is tantamount to heresy. I was flippant about learning the Rules when I started this course, thought I could easily box them off in a few weeks and so didn't get around to learning them properly until Officers on ships started getting on my case about them. And thank gods they did! I'm getting there, slowly, I've gotten all the lights and shapes stuff done, and distress signals, and out of the really important ones: 4-9 and 11-13, and 19. (I'm putting off 10 because it has so many little parts). Rules 14, 15, 16 and 17 are all fairly simple, so is 18 actually, so I reckon, if I put my mind to it I could have them signed off soon, hopefully by the end of this trip (three weeks time).

What I'm trying to say really is this: If I could give anyone starting out on this career one piece of advice, it would be this learn your COLREGS! Learn the structure first, it goes a little something like this....

Part A - General - This is Rules 1, 2 and 3.
  • Rule1 - Application. This basically says that the Rules apply to everyone on the high seas and waters connected to the high seas that are navigable by seagoing vessels. There's a lot more to it in reality though.
  • Rule 2 - Responsibility. In a nutshell, this says that if you fail to follow the rules and crash, it's your fault, but it also says that if by following the rules you end up crashing, it's also your fault. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don't!
  • Rule 3 - Definitions. Does what it says on the tin really, it's a lovely long list of exactly what a 'vessel' is, what a 'power driven vessel' is, what a 'sailing vessel' is... all the way from a) to m) "The term Wing-In-Ground (WIG) craft means a multimodal craft which, in it's main operational mode, flies in close proximity to the surface by utilizing surface-effect action" You'll probably never see one, but you still have to know what it is!!
Part B - Steering and Sailing Rules. These are the really important ones, that you have to know like the palm of your hand.
This part is broken up into three sections;
Section 1 covers the Conduct of Vessels in ANY condition of Visibility.
Section 2 covers the Conduct of Vessels IN SIGHT of One Another.
Section 3 covers the Conduct of Vessels In RESTRICTED VISIBILITY. Remember that.

So in Section 1 we have:
  • Rule 4 - Application. The rules in this section apply to.... (hint, see above!)
  • Rule 5 - Look out. i.e. keep a good look out, at all times, using ALL available means.
  • Rule 6 - Safe Speed. Go at a speed appropriate to the circumstances and conditions you are in, when determining what this should be, all vessels should consider: Visibility, Density of traffic, Manoeuvrability of your vessel, Lights around you, Weather and your Draught (in relation to the depth of water) I remember these points with the mnemonic VD Makes Little Willies Drip. In addition, vessels with radar should also consider: Characteristics and limitations of the radar, any Constraints imposed by the radar range in use, the Effect of sea, weather and other interference, the Possibility that small objects may not be detected by radar, the Number of other vessels detected by radar and the More exact assessment of visibility that can be made using radar. Another handy little mnemonic for these ones is Chinese Charlie Eats Pussy No More. Both mnemonics are gross, but highly memorable!
  • Rule 7 - Risk of collision. This rule defines how you will determine if there is a risk of collision.
  • Rule 8 - Action to avoid collision. This says that any action to avoid collision will be taken in good time, and be obvious to the other vessel that you are doing it. 
  • Rule 9 - Narrow channels. Basically, keep on the starboard side of a channel, small vessels keep out of the way, and use sound signals if overtaking or nearing a bend.
  • Rule 10 - Traffic Separation Schemes. Another one of those rules with a load of little parts, (a to l!). To sum it up- keep to your lane, if you're crossing it, do so on a heading that is 90 degrees to the lane, small vessels keep out of the way.
 In section 2: Conduct of vessels in sight of one another. These rules tell you what action to take when risk of collision exists.
  • Rule 11 - Application. (as above)
  • Rule 12 - Sailing Vessels.
  • Rule 13 - Overtaking
  • Rule 14 - Head on Situations
  • Rule 15 - Crossing Situations
  • Rule 16 - Action by the Give-Way vessel
  • Rule 17 - Action by the Stand On vessel
  • Rule 18 - Responsibilities between vessels. This tells you who has to give way to who when both vessels are not the same type. i.e Sailing vessels keep out of the way of vessels engaged in fishing, etc.
In section 3 there is only one rule:
  • Rule 19 - Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility. This is almost guaranteed to come up in your Orals, so know it, and know it well.
 After that little lot you have three more parts, these you don't need to have off by heart and back to front, but you do need to know what they mean!

Part C - Lights and shapes
Rules 20 - 31. These rules are best learnt visually, you don't have to know which rule is which, but you do need to know what vessels will display what shapes during the day, and what lights they will show at night, and be able to define what they are from a variety of viewpoints. Get a set of flash cards!

Part D - Sound and Light Signals
Rules 32 - 37. The title explains it all really. It's all about learning when to go ding ding ding, dongalongalong...

Part E - Exemptions
Rule 38. Some older ships, depending on when they were built, are exempt from having to comply with some bits and pieces regarding the installation of certain lights and sound signalling appliances.

Annex 1- Positioning and technical details of lights and shapes. Best learnt as diagrams mostly.
Annex 2 - Additional signals for fishing vessels fishing in close proximity. Learn these with your lights and shapes.
Annex 3 - Technical details of sound signal appliances. Very technical, the important part to remember is the distance over which you must be able to hear the signals, depending on the size of the vessel.
Annex 4 - Distress Signals. Learn these off by heart. And make sure you're learning the most up to date version, see MSN 1781 (M+F) (Amendment).

So now I guess I should take some of my own medicine, and go and nail rule 14!