Col Regs question - sails and paddles

Are there different collision regulations in different countries/jurisdictions? Is there a difference between international waters and freshwater?

I’m specifically wondering where the idea that paddlers had special rights came from, whether sailboats really do have special rights, and so on.


Michigan - Canada

– Last Updated: Feb-17-11 8:07 PM EST –

Freshwater has international marine law
- especially when 2 countries share the Great Lakes

David Johnston out of Toronto Canada writes
A profile of him can be found here -

Canada does have different regulations than the USA

So what status do paddle-craft have
If it is true that canoes and kayakers aren’t mentioned in the col-regs, are we just to be treated as flotsam?

It seems in Canada there would be the potential for a Criminal Code charge in the case below:

what idea that “paddlers have
special rights”? I haven’t heard that one. They’re a vessel, just like anything else.

Sailboats, working fishing boats, and boats that aren’t very maneuverable in a channel (such as barges or large ships) enjoy special privileges, it is true. And there are stand-on and give-way vessels, but that has more to do with who’s coming from which direction than the kind of boat. My only question has been on lighting and how to interpret “maneuverable”: A kayak can turn 360° on a dime, but anything can overtake it, so is it maneuverable or not? Most here seem to think so. I think the fact that it can’t get away should play a role.

And don’t “international waters” start 12 nautical miles out? More power to any canoe that goes out 12 miles!

Same as everyone else
Kayaks fall under the term ‘vessel’, meaning that we have to follow the same rules of right of way as everyone else. Kayaks do not have any special rights and have as much responsibility to prevent a collision as the captain of a freighter or drunk yahoo in a Bayliner.

Here’s the caveat; the ‘Law of Tonnage’ should be followed even more closely. This rule is simple. If it’s larger and will grind you into chum then it gets right of way.

Sailing vessels UNDER SAIL have right of way in certain circumstances as do fishing vessels (not a few guys on a Bayliner, but commercial vessels) that are actively engaged in fishing.

For example San Juan Islands in Wa. are International ruled even though there is a line of demarcation from roughly Port Angeles to Vancouver Island. This is due to so many Ports and not wanting to have a change in Rules in the final hours of a ships voyage. Inside Passage is likewise International.

Best to consult the Coast Pilot for specific local water info.

I must say it’s refreshing to read the responses so far! Well done.

well okay, if you want to go that route
the Danube river is ‘international waters’ too, but I assumed we were not talking about the exception but the rule.

You’re confusing two things
This thread pertains to waters controlled by the International Colregs (Navigation Rules). Typically these are seaward of demarcation lines, but as I pointed out there are exceptions,many exceptions.

For lake and river paddlers on State, DNR, other govt. land the Colregs are secondary to local Laws governing local waters/ Prudent mariners check which laws / Rules apply to the waters they wish to paddle and seek out local knowledge etc.

What I think you are refering to is the coastal zones which dictate vessel survival / safety equipment requirements as well as dumping requirements.

Detroit,MI - Windsor, Ontario,Canada

– Last Updated: Feb-18-11 1:28 AM EST –

The Detroit River is about 32 miles long and 1 mile wide (the width varies at points). It serves as a major shipping channel and has an international border Michigan paddlers need to be aware of. Ownership and control of the islands varies by their geographic location along the river. Either you are on the USA side or you are on the Canadian side. Know where you are at all times. Be prepared to identify yourself properly to authorities.

Many islands are small, uninhabited, and part of the International Wildlife Refuge. Some have been artificially made by industry. Michigan's Stony Island and Canada's Crystal Island have been largely formed from dredged sediments for a deep shipping lane, while Zug Island and Elizabeth Park were once part of the mainland.

If you plan on visiting Canadian owned Islands call 519-967-4320 . Someone from Border Services in Windsor,Ontario,Canada will answer and it may result in an authorization number being issued without requiring you to go to the mainland first. Write the number down as you may be asked for it when Canadian authorities arrive.

If you cannot produce an authorization number, it's called "Non-Reporting", and the fine is $1000. You will be guilty of unauthorized entry onto foreign country soil and the Windsor Border Services doesn't play games.

Now comes the fun part, re-entering the United States legally. Call 313-393-3949 for USA customs inspection inbound in Detroit,MI. You may be told to report in person via driving your vehicle to Metro Beach, Erma Henderson Park, or Elizabeth Park and they will send a USA customs representative to inspect your kayak. If no one is available to come to you at those locations you may have to drive to the Ambassador bridge to report.

It's a $5000 fine for the first offence and your name is stuck in the computers forever. Any future legal border crossings will be jeopardized by your prior errors. U.S. and Canadian vessels like kayaks can freely cross the international boundaries and cruise where they want.

If you land on foreign soil for lunch, to pee, repack your kayak, etc., etc.-- follow the rules.

Easy to forget what the Great Lakes states (plural) actually are

I'll let someone else explain the St. Lawrence River seaway

No special rights

– Last Updated: Feb-18-11 10:50 AM EST –

Paddle craft are craft - despite a current attempt by the lawyer for a motor boat operator who killed a kayaker on Lake George to classify paddle craft as glorified logs. So, for example, the Coast Guard can issue a fine to a paddler just like a motor boat for being unlit and meandering inappropriately in a ferry docking area (which we saw and fully approved of in Portland ME).

Sailboats, as mentioned above, have an involved set of right of way rules when they are under sail. Having been allowed to handle the wheel/tiller on larger sailboats by astonishingly trusting captains, I have found that many of these rules boil down to a game of chicken with 30 ft boats. I have been told more than once NOT give way to the other boat because we have the right of way, as we missed the other boat by maybe 5 feet... usually that 5 ft was gotten by my sneaking in a few small course changes in defiance of orders. In a paddle boat it is safest to just give them lots of room.

Channels into harbors, that kind of area, require that paddle - or any kind of - boats not be an obstruction. Given our speed compared to a fishing boat coming in on autopilot at the end of the day, the only way to manage that is to stay out of the channel.

There is a general sequence often stated about who has to give way by class of craft and maneuverability, the basis of which I don't know. I think the confusion happens when people try to apply that to all interactions between boats, and don't account for the practical means of keeping out of each others' way.

Right of way is easy
In general you give right of way to the vessel with the most restricted maneuverability.

A kayak has the most maneuverability of almost any vessel so it rarely has the right of way.

Big ships cannot turn, slow down or leave the deep channel. They have right of way.

Trawlers or fishing vessels with lines or nets out have right of way.

Sailboats have limited maneuverability because they can not go upwind and changing direction can be a lot of work so they often have right of way.

So it basically comes down to asking yourself if you have the maneuverability to get off of the approaching vessels way. If so you should do it.

Of course it becomes difficult when the approaching vessel has an erratic course like a jet ski or drunk boater. If you get hit by them it comes down to who has the better lawyer.

Racing sailors have the most fun with this. They take it to the Nth degree yelling starboard and ramming each other. After the racing the protest committee assigns fault and the guilty party rights a check for the damages to the wronged party and the fun continues next week.

Rule 18

A kayak does not necssarily have the most manueverability. But often has the least visibility so for a paddler to assume the right of way is foolhardy.

I’d question your skipper Celia
I give way all the time when I am the stand on vessel WHEN it’s clear to me the other vessel has no clue, therefore it’s up to me to account for the idiot. I maintain course and speed and try to contact the other vessel. If maintaining course and speed clearly will put our vessels at risk of collision, I take control and alter course. If you are being told to maintain course and speed such that you get within 5 ft. of another vessel, there is something very dangerous going on. I’m going to assume you were in a race situation?

In Rule 2 it explains what I’ve alluded to. It’s sort of like a car situation where you’re asked “did you try to avoid the accident?”. The problem I find with “SOME” recreational sailors is they have partial knowledge, and huge attitude. They will often assume stand on status when they are give way, even under sail. Example: If their engine is on they are a power vessel (sail up or not)!

So, even if your skipper was correct (let’s assume he was) his advice to you was negligent as he failed to take evasive action to avoid a collision. You did, and that’s what saved the accident. Well done, and find another sailing pal.

Law of tonnage

– Last Updated: Feb-18-11 3:43 PM EST –

The bottom line IS the law of tonnage, especially for those of us in paddle craft.

I sailed when I was young and it was common to hear sailors assert "power yields to sail, sail yields to paddle." A cute saying but not really true. Besides it won't do you much good after you've been run over for your surviving family members to say you had right of way over that powerboat.

As Frank noted "In general you give right of way to the vessel with the most restricted maneuverability."

Pleasure craft are not to interfere with working boats nor cause them to change course.

As Salty noted the ColRegs indicate that every operator has the obligation to avoid collision. The boat which has the last reasonable opportunity to avoid collision is expected to do so.

The rules of right of way among sailing vessels are somewhat more complex, though the same obligation to avoid collision holds.

Kayak sail
Just put a sail on your kayak - you’ll win every lawsuit

Ha. Unlikey and the question is…
will you survive! I get the humor :slight_smile:

Law of tonnage
I’m not involved at all, nor have I studied the interpretation of this seemingly vague rule. I think if I were to argue it, I would have to consider why it exists, the spirit of the law. My guess would be something to the effect of a rule or perhaps common understanding that a boat under sail always has the right of way, leading to a need for a tonnage rule. Large, unmaneuverable, commercial vessels restricted to a deep channel, constantly having to give way to inconsiderate recreational sailors and smaller vessels that, given common courtesy, would know yielding right-of-way represents a much lesser burden to them. Seems reasonable. Arguing that a larger recreational boat, not in an area restricting its direction of travel, faster and more easily maneuverable, has tonnage right of way over any smaller vessel? I would guess there are a lot of factors to weigh in. A blanket tonnage rule lacks foresight as much as a blanket sailing rule. I get the impression that none of these can be interpreted as blanket rules. Is that somehow off base?

The problem is with "blanket"
statements of partial truths. To your point, I never like the rule of tonnage slogan because there really is no such thing in the “technical sense”. Having said that, it’s a slogan that can keep paddlers out of trouble so it serves a purpose.

In a way, to your point, it’s as disingenuous as sailboats under sail “always” have right of way. Nothing could be more misleading, but unfortunately many recreational sailors believe that.

To me, the Rules are daily life on the water so I get frustrated when folk can’t seem to “get it”. Having said that, I can see how the Colregs could be daunting to the average boater / kayaker, and it’s not surprising folk get confused over some of the details.

To wilso’s point, adopting a slogan that may not be accurate, but keeps paddlers in a safe mindset seems appropriate to me given the audience, and is better than the equally wrong but far more dangerous assumptions many paddlers have about right of way (another bad term). Stand-on and Give-way is better.

In conclusion I’d say the ideal scenario would be that any boater, paddler fully embrace the Colregs and know them thoroughly. The next best thing would be wilso’s post. The most dangerous thing is probably something in the middle.

Safe paddling and good thread with accurate info.

"Law "of tonnage is Physics
There is no regulation that is the ‘law of tonnage’. It is more akin to a law of physics :wink:

As Salty noted it is a simple aphorism that can help keep people in paddle craft out of danger.

IMHO The Col Regs are actually pretty interesting reading. They are carefully articulated rules for avoiding collision at sea. Many recreational boaters may not read them, but if you are boating on other than your own pond, it is worth your time. In many cases they embody common sense. In some others they delineate safe procedures in what could be dangerous and/or confusing situations.

Tongue in cheek

– Last Updated: Feb-18-11 6:10 PM EST –

The 'Law of Tonnage' is tongue in cheek. It's called that by paddlers because we have the least tonnage period. We'll be ground up or run down by anyone. The top of my head when I'm in my kayak is roughly 34" (lightly loaded) above the water line, I know because I've measured. No one can see me unless they're looking and they're not far above the water's surface even though I'm yellow,white and red. Power boats are bigger, sail boats are bigger, freighters, ferries, barges under tow, etc are all bigger. Hence the Law of Tonnage. At least with commercial vessels I can make certain assumptions about where they will be but you never know about Mr. Bayliner