Who was in the wrong? Right of way

Saturday, 13 kayakers paddled 22+ miles from Anacortes, WA to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Nearing arrival, we broke into smaller groups as not to overwhelm marina/take out operations. As my group of 3 approached the marina, with me in the rear, my buddies shouted at me to turn around. When I did, I was looking at the 3 bladed propeller of a sea plane on final landing approach, about 15-20 feet off the water headed right towards me. Before I could think “flip over” I heard the engine roar and noticed the wing bank to the left and nose start to come up. The pilot aborted the landing and circled around the island inside the harbor. Sea planes here come and go seemingly every 15 to 30 minutes. The approach is somewhat blind as they make a turn from open water into the harbor at low altitude. I always wondered if they had a blind spot right in front of them… Anyway, I did not end up a sushi roll this time, but was wondering if I did anything wrong?

Without seeing it…

– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 12:14 PM EST –

couldn't/wouldn't judge it...sounds like both you and the pilot did what you were supposed to...

there doesn't ALWAYS have to be a wrong......

blind spot
Yup – single-engine aircraft have a blind spot directly below the nose, some worse than others. If they’ve already levelled off for touchdown it could extend well in front of the aircraft.

You could check a chart or talk to one of the pilots to see if there’s a designated landing area.

Regardless of legal right-of-way, the same commonsense rules should apply that you’d use in any area with known heavy or high-speed traffic: stay together, paddle predictably, be alert, and minimze your exposure.

From the FARs:

91.115 Right-of-way rules: Water operations.

(a) General. Each person operating an aircraft on the water shall, insofar as possible, keep clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation, and shall give way to any vessel or other aircraft that is given the right-of-way by any rule of this section.

(b) Crossing. When aircraft, or an aircraft and a vessel, are on crossing courses, the aircraft or vessel to the other’s right has the right-of-way.

© Approaching head-on. When aircraft, or an aircraft and a vessel, are approaching head-on, or nearly so, each shall alter its course to the right to keep well clear.

(d) Overtaking. Each aircraft or vessel that is being overtaken has the right-of-way, and the one overtaking shall alter course to keep well clear.

(e) Special circumstances. When aircraft, or an aircraft and a vessel, approach so as to involve risk of collision, each aircraft or vessel shall proceed with careful regard to existing circumstances, including the limitations of the respective craft.

§ 91.13 Careless or reckless operation.

(a) Aircraft operations for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.

I think d. captures it as I was clearly being overtaken. I made a left turn into the harbor 20 minutes before he made his right turn into the harbor. Yes, there is a designated landing area there, but as far as I know, there is no restriction on use by boats. I was on a beeline toward the same place he wanted to go, albiet at a much slower pace. We were just discussing the marine right of way and concluded that any small, paddled craft, has the least right of way than any larger vessel… which is about everything. I was in no position to argue with this pilot. I only found one reference to a seaplane hitting paddlecraft and it was a canoe on the Columbia River. Killed 2 paddlers! I guess we need eyes in the back of our heads now.

…this from Bellingham Wa.


Looks nice!

Where was the airplane landing?

From that picture…
I came around from the right side of the picture and on a beeline to the left side of the marina. He came from the left side of the picture directly towards the marina. I think I was too small to see before he made the turn in at a few hundred feet high. They drop low below 50 feet way out there and come almost straight in.

Do I understand you correctily that you were paddling in a diagonal path through the center of the channel?

maybe next time it would make sense to cross the landing area in a perpendicular path and then travel along the side to reduce your time in the center of the landing area.

Very good point- here is the pilots view

– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 3:47 PM EST –

Indeed, the next time I will likely folow that very same advice. I found this pilots eye view of the harbor. It may be hard to see a 17 foot kayak as we do not put up much of a wake.



– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 2:51 PM EST –

You were in the wrong.

"Yes, there is a designated landing area there, but as far as I know, there is no restriction on use by boats."

A designated area means that there is a risk of airplanes landing. If you knew about it, you were irresponsible for being in the area (and for leading others into it).

*Everybody* has a responsibility to avoid collisions. The "right of way" stuff does not absolve anyone of this responsibility. Taking a slow boat *knowingling* into a risky area means that you were negligent.

Basically, if there was a collision, and you failed to take an action that would have avoided the collision, you would be responsible to some degree. In this case, your next of kin would have not had a strong case to sue the pilot!

Keep in mind that the nautical "right of way" stuff does not work like it does for cars.

More reasons...

I suspect that airplanes taking off or landing are restricted in their manueverability. Since a kayak has no real limits as to where it can go (eg, a kayak can travel in shallow water), the kayak has to give other craft that are limited the right of way.

As a recreational boater, you have a responsibility (as a courtesy, at least) to avoid impeding commercial traffic. The Coast Guard, as it happens, tends to takes a dim view of recreational boaters impeding people trying to make a living.

"91.115 Right-of-way rules: Water operations."

I suspect that the rules indicated earlier refer to airplanes that are taxiing.

Right of way
I tend to side with njkayaker on this one.

The “overtaking” rule is also used in sailboat rules, given that the one overtaking has a greater speed than the other, and most likely has a visual contact, probably before the one being overtaken does, and so has the best chance of avoiding a collision.

As a kayaker AND a pilot, I know that there is a point in the landing approach where if I had to make a sudden change of course to avoid the kayak, it will most likely be at the cost of at least the plane, and quite likely the lives of all on board.

Harsh as it sounds, that’s the point at which the old Vulcan philosophy " The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" kicks in:

Scratch one fellow paddler! :frowning:

And no, that is not simply because I feel that I, protected (?) as I am in the plane can “get away” with killing a defenseless kayaker with little chance of harm to myself.

In fact, depending on the size and loading of the plane, and how the pontoon impacted the kayak, the collision could either rip the pontoon loose, or simply cartwheel the plane.

In reality, this is little different from someone riding a bicycle across the runway at a small airport. No water involved, but much the same potential outcome.

Most airports have fences and signs. Lakes require more care on the part of those using them, pilots and boaters alike.


Nautical rules

– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 3:07 PM EST –

"I tend to side with njkayaker on this one."

The nautical rules are actually pretty clear (so this really isn't a case of "agreeing").

"The 'overtaking' rule is also used in sailboat rules"

The overtaking rule applies to *all* water craft. When a plane is on the water, it's a water craft (ie, a very strange boat). When landing or taking off, things are a bit confusing. I suspect that, in these situations, the plane is a vessel with restricted manueverability. Which means the vessel that is less restricted (the kayak in this example) has to give way.

You, as the captain of a kayak, has to undertand the limitations of your vessel. If it's too slow to get out of the way of a plane landing in a designated zone, then you are not a competent captain.

Note that I am being blunt because the rules are blunt. This is an important issue and the orignal poster gets credit for bringing it up! (So, don't take any of this "personally").

Nothing personal taken
Believe me, in retrospect, I should have gone around Brown Island, and will next time. After 22 miles of paddling and a long day, I was thinking about a cold beer and had not given a thought to a sea plane. I was looking out for water traffic though. Seaplanes seem to be very quiet when landing, the engine almost idling. Lets all be careful out there. The killer here is the speed differential of an airplane and any watercraft operating lawfully in that harbor. In my case, paddling 5 MPH vs 100 mph of the plane. Would be interesting to know if there were any near miss incidents with a seaplane and the 300 foot car ferry that docks there several times a day.

Right-of-Way vs Common Sense
Disclaimer: All I know about this situation is what I have read and seen of these posts.

My tactic would have been to stay together as a group with the goal of being more visible. But as it was pointed out, there is a blind spot in front of single-engine planes that causes the pilot to have to try to get a look at the intended touch-down spot and then commit to it. The look-see is usually done in a banking turn before leveling off for the final approach and flare.

Would it be possible to adjust the route to minimize or eliminate crossing of this area?

Not to condemn you as being in the wrong: In my years of paddling in Canada I have experienced some close calls with float planes, both as a nearby paddler and as a passenger.


Dogmaticus says:

– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 4:03 PM EST –

Airplane very noisy, can hear 'em miles away. Particularly the ones coming in and out of that harbor and Lake Union, Seattle. That harbor very busy, wake up and smell the exhaust, look around more than you think you need to. You can be right and you can be 'dead right.' But here I think you could have routed yourselves more appropriate to the area.

Augustus Dogmaticus


– Last Updated: Sep-11-06 6:02 PM EST –

This is an interesting topic and it's useful to discuss it.

Some kayakers (not necessarily "doubledipper"!) seem to think they have some sort of "preference" over other vessels maybe because they are "slow" or "human powered". This is almost never the case because kayaks can go almost anywhere! Interestingly, kayaks might have preference over PWC (which, like kayaks, can go almost anywhere)!

"After 22 miles of paddling and a long day, I was thinking about a cold beer"
I suspect this is a common background to many mistakes. It can be difficult to keep one's head after a long day!

"Would be interesting to know if there were any near miss incidents with a seaplane and the 300 foot car ferry that docks there several times a day."

I bet both parties are quite interested in avoiding the other! (One would think the landing/take-off area is not in the path of the ferry.)

remote locations
It’s quite possible that in remote locations, float planes could reasonably be seen as a surprize.

If you are paddling in a harbor (especially, a busy one), you are responsible to know what is going on and what areas to pay particular attention to. The Coast Guard would not see “ignorance” as a legitimate excuse.

noisy planes
Not always loud enough. I’ve had them startle me approaching from behind when I’m hammering into a headwind and they come in with their engines cut, especially on the river if they come in low over the trees. We have no established areas for them to operate. Fortunately they aren’t very numerous. One guy that lives near me has a nasty habit of landing where-ever he pleases and it is a crap shoot predicting his movement sometimes. Some days he comes right down the middle of the lake. Somedays he lands on the river and motors up the lake, other days he just lands in the pasture next to the lake.

Seaplane base = airport
Also from the FARs:

A seaplane base is considered to be an airport only if its sea lanes are outlined by visual markers.

The Port of Friday seaplane base seems pretty official to me. The have a web site, and charts and stuff.


So basically a seaplane base is an airport.

Would you ask this question if you were riding a bicycle across the runway at a land airport and almost got hit by a plane? Probably not, because you know that you are not supposed to be on the runway.

I beg to differ
There is nothing quite so noisy in Friday Harbor as a deHavilland Beaver. The Cessna’s are a little quieter, but not by much. If you can’t hear a Beaver you need to take off the iPod and turn your head around more. FH is a busy place. There is a 300 car ferry that comes in and out. Yachties galore. Seaplanes launch and land often. Summer is very busy there. It isn’t like some inlet on the inside passage of BC. It is a port. If you have paddled 22 miles from Anacortes you are probably a bit tired. Save some gas for the end.

Augustus Dogmaticus