Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How Narrow is “Narrow?” NAVSAC recommends the Coast Guard develop navigation criteria.

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Mr. Craig H. Allen, Sr., Judson Falknor Professor of Law and of Marine Affairs University of Washington.

In June 2010, the U.S. Navigation Safety Advisory Council (NAVSAC), the Coast Guard’s advisory council on the Rules of the Road, unanimously recommended to the Coast Guard that it formally designate those waters in the U.S. that will be subject to Inland Navigation Rule 9 as “narrow channels or fairways.”

The NAVSAC action comes partly in response to a recommendation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to the Coast Guard following the NTSB’s investigation into a collision between two towing vessels on an inland waterway.

The NTSB discovered that the vessel operators had come to conflicting conclusions as to whether the waters were a “narrow channel or fairway” for purposes of applying Rule 9.

Rule 9 Working Group
NAVSAC formed the Rule 9 Working Group and met in June of 2009 and June 2010 to examine the issues and present draft recommendations to the council for consideration.
The working group members noted that the Inland Navigation Rules include two “area-based” risk management rules:

  • Rule 9, applicable to waters that constitute narrow channels or fairways,
  • Rule 10, applicable to traffic separation schemes.
The members also observed the contrast between Rule 9, which leaves it to the mariners to determine when the rule applies, and Rule 10, which applies only when the waters have been designated a traffic separation scheme.

They also noted that the rules do not define “narrow channel” or “fairway” or provide the mariner with criteria for determining which waterways fall within those terms.

The group’s conclusion: Rule 9 has the potential to be an important collision prevention rule, but its effectiveness is undermined. The multi-factor Rule 9 analysis adopted by courts in collision cases is complicated, and the need for a case-by-case analysis of the relevant factors might well delay the mariners’ collision avoidance action.

There is also a risk that two (or more) approaching vessels will reach conflicting conclusions as to whether Rule 9 applies to a given situation, as the tow boat operators did in the collision investigated by the NTSB.

The working group therefore concurred with the NTSB recommendation to the extent that it recommended that the Coast Guard take action to better enable mariners to know when to apply the narrow channel rule.

Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/spring2011/.