So you think you know the Rules of the Road, as in the 72 COLREGS and the Nav Rules?

The former is formally known as the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea, 1972, which became effective on July 15, 1977. 

The latter, for the inland waterways, is called the Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980. It took effect on Dec. 24, 1981.

Let’s just say that there are multiple layers of “knowledge” of these vital rules that are designed to keep us from crashing into one another. The awareness of these layers is sometimes spotty or pretty much non-existent.

Mariners often superficially define this knowledge as the rote memorization required to pass the Nav Rules portion of the licensing exams. In this regard it’s relatively simple. The answers to the multiple choice questions are either right or wrong. Passing is 90% or above and you get a license. Lower than 90%, then no license. Some mariners go beyond this, recognizing that the practical application of the rules is often far more complicated than what is learned solely by reading a copy of the COLREGS/Nav Rules book that must be carried on board. But another layer exists. It has to do with the legal aspects and interpretations by the courts, casualty investigators and, perhaps most important to mariners, Coast Guard administrative law judges. ALJs preside over actions against mariner’s licenses when things go awry.

If you think that it doesn’t matter or how courts view the rules has no practical value in the daily operations of a vessel, you are sadly mistaken.

There is a very affordable tool available to any mariner that wants to improve their knowledge (technical, practical and legal) of the rules. It’s called Farwell’s Rules of the Nautical Road by Craig H. Allen, now in its 8th edition. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. You might be surprised by what you'll learn.