International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, COLREG

There are some basic rules to follow in order to avoid collisions at sea. Your sailing course will enable you to take responsibility for avoiding collisions, and the full set of rules are usually carried on board the boat.

Look out – COLREG

An important rule to follow is Rule No. 5: ‘Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as all possible means appropriate in the prevailing conditions and circumstances…’
During your sailing course in regards to the COLREG, it is wise to develop the habit of looking out for other boats, especially if visibility is poor. Other crew may be preoccupied changing sails, and if the boat is heeling, the head sail can block the helms persons view to leeward. Floating debris, bouys or other markers should also be mentioned if thought to be a hazard to your boat. During the night, you will also need to look out for unlit boats, unlit bouys, anchor lights or flashing lights.

Risk of collision – COLREG

If it appears that your boat may be on a collision course with another vessel, then you must take compass bearings. Rule No. 7 of the COLREG tates that ‘if there is any doubt, then a risk of collision is deemed to exist…’, so if the compass bearings don’t change, then a risk of collision exists.

Take action – COLREG

During your sailing course, you will learn which boat has right of way (stand-on vessel) and which boat must give way (give-way vessel). Rule No. 8 of the COLREG states that ‘any action taken to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case permit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.’ Crew should always be prepared to take action when sailing in bad weather conditions or in high traffic density. When crossing a shipping lane, for example, it is required to start a boat’s engine if the boat is moving at less than 3 knots. In addition, good seamanship dictates that you don’t cross ahead of another boat, that you give ample time to take action by traveling at a safe speed and make a positive alteration of your course by at least 40 degrees.
If two sailing boats are approaching each other, the boat on starboard tack has right of way. When two boats are on the same tack, right of way is given to the boat which is furthest from the wind.
For boats under power, head-on situations mean that neither boat has right of way and both must alter course to starboard. Where there is risk of collision, the boat on the starboard side has right of way; the other boat must go astern.
Boats should keep to the starboard side through narrow channels and should not anchor. It is obligatory to give right of way to large ships both in channels and shipping lanes, and shipping lanes must be crossed at right angles to the boats using the lane. If a clear view is obstructed (around a river bend, for example) sound one long blast on the horn and await a reply.

Lights and shapes – COLREG

International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea -ColregDuring your sailing course you will learn the lights your boat is required to display at night and be able to identify other boats lights. Vessels under 20 meters are required to show a tri-color light, usually on the masthead; white to stern, red to port and green to starboard. Boats towing should also display a yellow light at the stern. Fishing vessels and power boats under way are compelled to show lights indicating their size and status or purpose.

COLREG Sound signals

may also be used when boats are in sight of each other and are standardized in the COLREG

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3 Responses to “COLREG”

  • Trackback from first mate


    wow, didn’t know that there are That many regulations at sea… for sure very important content for a sailing course….

  • Comment from Yaz

    This helped me a great deal to understand the COLREG…. Cheers

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