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As boaters, we’re told early and often that we must always abide by the nautical Rules of the Road, which spell out in great detail the responsibilities of all vessels in certain situations — crossing, passing, meeting head-on, etc. But did you know there’s another rule saying that, in fact, all the other rules are secondary?

OK, so it doesn’t say that exactly. What Rule 2(b), also known as the General Prudential Rule, does say is: “In construing and complying with these [Rules of the Road] due regard shall be given to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.”

In other words, you have the right to take the necessary action to avoid a collision or urgent navigation hazard — even if this departs from the normal procedures. For example, say you’re the stand-on vessel in a crossing situation and therefore required to maintain your course and speed, but some goofball is about to T-bone you. You’re justified in throttling up to get out of his way.

First, however, make sure you hail the offending vessel on Channel 16 and announce your intentions. Even if the other skipper isn’t listening, the Coast Guard is, and that radio transmission could be used as evidence in court if an accident occurs.

Speaking of court, be sure that you invoke Rule 2(b) with caution, not carelessly. Any person who operates a vessel in violation of the nautical Rules of the Road could find himself or herself liable for a civil penalty in the thousands of dollars. In addition, that person, if found to have been operating in a negligent or grossly negligent manner, can be subject to further fines and possibly imprisonment.

The Rules of the Road are there because they provide structure and uphold techniques that have worked well in the past, but we should also always be prepared to depart from the norm in order to protect our crew and vessel. Just be sure that you have a plan and a sufficient reason if you invoke Rule 2(b), in case the worst should happen.

United Marine Underwriters is more than just boat insurance. Browse our Boats For Sale at BoatBrowser or our Lake Resource Guide at LakeBrowser or share your fishing stories and photos at True Fish Tales – the ones that did not get away.

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