Determining a safe operating speed
The general safety rule under the Inland Navigation Rules states that every vessel—sail or power—should proceed at a safe operating speed at all times to avoid a collision.
After my wife and I sold our sailboat and bought a powerboat, we had to adjust to its higher speed. With the sailboat, which had a maximum speed of 7 knots, we could rarely overtake another vessel and had plenty of time to make course corrections. This isn’t the case when you’re cruising at 25 knots.
As captain, you have the responsibility of avoiding a collision even if your vessel is the stand-on vessel and has the right of way. You must be able to stop your vessel within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances, a feat much harder to accomplish at faster speeds.
You should consider three main factors when determining a safe operating speed for your vessel.
- Visibility. Darkness, fog, heavy weather (rain or snow) and smoke reduce our ability to see. In these conditions, give extra attention to your vessel’s speed. Also consider blind spots such as bridges or sharp bends in channels. Bridges pose a particular hazard, as small fishing boats are often around the pilings and may be just out of sight on the other side of the bridge.
- Sea conditions also affect safe operation. Heavy wind and seas require more attention at the helm. Consider the physical limitations of the vessel and crew when operating in rough conditions.
- Traffic density is an important factor to consider when determining a safe operating speed for your boat. Sometimes, especially during holiday weekends, it feels as though boats are coming at you from all directions.
When in doubt about a possible collision, slow down and make appropriate course changes. –Jim Dunn
AIS Electronics for Boaters
Is an Automatic Identification System is right for you? Learn how AIS can help you avoid collisions with other vessels.