A sailor asked me to summarize the recent long thread that resulted from
my inquiry about collisions, liability, and obligations. He suggested the
discussion may merit FAQ status. Here are some comments on and about the
thread and the issue. The initial post described two sailors approaching
the shore, one way upwind of and way ahead of the other, and a collision
that resulted when the front sailor's jibe intercepted the second sailor's
path at the end of the jibe. Responses ranged from blaming sailor A to
blaming B, from constructive discussion to vitriol. Thread details are not
of much use, because no consistent rules or opinions emerged. What's more
pertinent is the wide variety and trends of comments that ensued on the
Net and in the street. Here are some observations about those comments.
1. The discusion does not warrant a FAQ, because too many conflicting
rules and opinions surfaced, including IYRU racing rules; commercial law;
windsurfing, surfing, and general boating guidelines; various local
customs; sympathy for both sailors' points of view; exceptions ranging
from unstoppable tankers to highly maneuverable windsurfers; touchy-feely
opinions; and by-the-book hard-liners supporting both sailors under
various rules. One avid windsurfer was unaware that ANY rules at all
address the use of ANY boats or toys on ANY water. The bottom line was
that even if we all knew all the rules (a GIANT "if"), we would not agree
on their application.
"The sailor on starboard always has the right of way". Not always true.
The instant he deviates from a very straight line, he gives up all right
of way. Once the mutual "I can outpoint you" dance starts, the overriding
rule becomes "Avoid all collisions". Many feel that "Starboard rules!" is
fine, except when one sailor is maneuvering on a wave or swell face, when
everyone else must give way. Confusion about this issue arises often when
slalom (straight-line) sailors venture into B&J venues, and two
conflicting sets of "rules" clash. Intermediate slalom sailors accustomed
to flat water and straight lines expect B&J sailors in 8' swell to behave
like intermediate slalom sailors, and it ain't gonna happen. The mix of
skills, expectations, and "rules" complicates life for both groups. A
sailor recently rigged up his slalom gear at a high-performance Gorge site
(the Wall) on a near-nuke day and asked a group of regulars, "Where's the
flat water? I want to work on my jibes?" Both he and the people accustomed
to that site were in for some surprises that day in the 6' swell.
"The first guy on a swell owns it". That's fine if all the people there
know and accept that rule, and it works pretty well until some
starboard-kind-of-guy comes along and nails some poor sap just luffin' and
jibin' and doin' his thing on his wave.
2. Some responders felt that no sailor has an obligation to try to avoid
another sailor who has broken some rule, accidentally or deliberately.
That ones's BS, on the highway, in the air, under the sea, on top of the
sea, and in the courts. If a sailor, driver, pilot, etc. sees a clear way
out of the situation that could not make it worse and does not take that
way out, he is significantly liable. That "clear way out" means any way to
avoid an impending collision that does not increase the risk of collision.
In a specific instance and in general, it merely requires that we spread
out on the water, watch everyone anywhere near us, and allow them room to
do very stupid, or very fun, things. If something risky is developing, we
just slow down, speed up, or change direction to put more distance between
us. If we stay two mast lengths away from all other sailors at every
instant, collisions are, by definition, impossible. Good luck.
3. Some people felt collisions are unavoidable, that no one is responsible
or liable for them. That's rediculous, on the water and in the courts. But
collectively, a ZERO COLLISION goal isn't realistic. Mix 200 sailors of
widely varying agendas and skill levels at one spot, 6'-10' of swell, the
lemming syndrome, 30-40 knots of wind, wildly varying amounts of ego and
concern for others, and multiple sets of "absolute" rules, and there will
be collisions. Just try not to get involved in one of them, because each
individual collision probably is avoidable, and the legal eagles will be
more than happy to establish blame. And that's not always bad. Case in
point: There's an *** ("jerk" doesn't do this guy justice) who feels
he owns the river from the Event Site to the Hatchery, and he runs over
anyone in his way. His sponsors have received scores of complaints about
his behavior, to no avail. Well, the guy landed a loop right smack-damn on
top of another sailor who had been sailing along in a straight line
minding his own business. The looper blamed his victim for being on the
planet; the victim is a laywer. The jury probably won't even have to leave
the courtroom to reach a verdict on this one. For once my sympathy is with
the laywer, assuming the event occurred as described. I've met the looper
on the water, and that leads me to believe the laywer in this case.
4. I didn't see when or where the "downed sailor" thread crept into the
collisions thread, but it did raise what I consider to be a pointless,
maybe even heartless, discussion. The guy in the water 1) is primarily
concerned with waterstarting, 2) can't see you coming if he's in a trough
between swells, and 3) certainly can't maneuver. All he can do is cream us
with his Ampro Gray Wave as we fly by two feet from his head. And w
deserve it! Guess which mast -- his Gray Wave or your World Cup carbon --
will come through that collision unscathed? Guess who ain't even going to
consider paying damages?
If some sailor is down in the water, we should just make certain we stay
at least two mast lengths away. That gives both him and us plenty of room
to totally***up, with no risk of collision. What could be simpler than
avoiding a stationary 30-foot target with a helmet in the bull's eye?
5. The comments that surfaced most often, and conflicted the most,
include: Jibers always give up all right of way. Sailors jibing to avoid
an obstacle have right of way. Sailors going in straight lines have right
of way. The guy in front, with no overlap, has right of way. The guy
upwind has right of way. The guy downwind has right of way. Everyone must
take steps to avoid a collision if those steps can't make the situation
any worse. No one has any obligation to avoid a collision. Sailor A must
pay. Sailor B must pay. Everyone always pays their own costs because they
knew the risks going in. Sailors who choose to sail fragile equipment must
bear the consequences (the polyester board went in the epoxy board's
bottom and out its top, with no damage to the polyester board). Near-blind
sailor should wear their glasses on the water or expect collisions.
Sailors on starboard always have right of way. Anyone riding a swell has
right of way. Starboard sailors lose right of way when they change
direction perceptibly. And last but not least, "I'm sick and tired of
being run ashore by unthinking jerks, and I'm jibing, here, now, before I
hit the rocks".
If there's a FAQ in there somewhere, it's a one-worder: THINK!
The long version: Use your head and eyes and give everyone lots of room,
all the time. If you collide, consider the circumstances and do the right
6. Some sailors who I know to be very caring, considerate people have
gotten fed up with flat-water, straight-line sailors clogging up the
limited big swell on the Columbia, and have begun figuring "If I can't see
another sailor, he isn't there" when banking off a lip. They maneuver
constantly, and admit they don't spend several seconds looking backwards
before each maneuver. They just try to stay out of crowds, keep track of
anyone within range, look when they can, and maintain some forward speed
even in radical maneuvers. Full jibes require more study and warning, but
not every off-the-lip/bottom turn is going to be advertised a minute -- or
a second -- in advance. They feel the people who come to these spots to
sail straight lines shore-to-shore with their eyes closed can damned well
do it somewhere else. After all, flat water is easy to find, but big bumps
I'm sure I've quoted and commented on some things here that will offend
others, or that many will disagree with. So what? This stuff is from my
vague recollection of at least 60 opinions I've received on my inquiry.
These comments and concepts stemmed from others, although I did interpret
some and extrapolate on others. I don't have time to reread the thread and
rewrite this tome to try to please everyone, including myself. Anybody who
wants to nitpick my summary has more time on their hands than I have. Have
fun and add your two cents worth, and we'll probably see a lot of
interesting points of view on rights of way.
DON FLAME-RETARDANT CLOTHING!!!!!!!!
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