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Unified Rules, Radiotelephones, and Towboat Legislation



Commander John S. Lipuscek, USCG
Chief, Casualty Review Branch, Merchant Vessel Inspection Division, Headquarters

THE STUDY OF marine casualties From an address before the 1970 on the Great Lakes, the Western provides us with invaluable informa- Marine Section, of the National Rivers, and other inland waters. Altion in identifying programs which Safety Congress and Exposition. though similar, these rules nevertheshould ultimately lead to legislation

less contain significant variations designed to make our navigable

among themselves and differ pointwaterways safer.

Commander Lipuscek, a 1943 edly from the more recent InternaThree Coast Guard supported bills graduate of the U.S. Merchant Ma- tional Rules. H.R. 214 takes this into introduced in the last session of Con- rine Academy, Kings Point, New consideration, and contains rules congress promise to reduce several pri- York, began his seafaring career with forming to the International Rules. mary causes of vessel collisions. The the Alcoa Steamship Co. and in 1953 The only exception is the inclusion of proposed legislation dealing with the joined the U.S. Coast Guard. He special rules designed to meet local L'nification of the Rules of the Road,

served aboard two Coast Guard Cut- conditions where necessary. Required Bridge-to-Bridge Radio- ters and was attached to several ma- The 200 miles of highly congested telephone Communication and Tow- rine inspection offices--Boiler and

waterway between Baton Rouge and boat Requirements, will attempt in Hull Inspector and Investigating Of- the Head of Passes on the Mississippi certain areas and under certain cir- ficer in New York, Executive Officer River has undergone an unprececumstances to avert (1) meeting or

of the Merchant Marine Detail in dented growth in recent years. Ever passing without mutual agreement,

Yokohama, Japan, and Inspector and increasing amounts of hazardous ma(2) failure to communicate with an- Investigating Officer in San Fran- terials are being shipped by water, other vessel by available means and

cisco. Following these assignments he and the vessels transporting them (3) a number of other personnel

became Officer in Charge, Marine In- continue to increase in number, size, faults. While not designed to elimi- spection, San Juan, Puerto Rico. In and speed. With heavy traffic a grownate personnel error, the bills never

1968, he assumed his present duty as ing problem, dangerous complicatheless would require swift and, in Chief, Casualty Review Branch, Mer

tions result in this zone where the the case of towboat operators, more

chant Vessel Inspection Division at deep draft ocean freighter meets the knowledgeable communication and Coast Guard Headquarters.

conventional river tow. When the agreement between approaching

entire Mississippi River was govvessels.

erned by the Western Rivers Rules, The significance of the pending ertheless manifest themselves on all

which allow ascending and descendlegislative proposals as tools in reduc- waterways in a variety of situations.

ing vessels to pass on either hand at ing vessel casualties is best emphaUNIFICATION OF RULES OF

the option of the downbound vessel, sized by looking at some recent dis

a custom was long judicially recogTHE ROAD asters on the Mississippi River. While

nized that upbound vessels "took the it is true that some problems are

The United States has three sepa- points” and downbound vessels “took peculiar to the Mississippi, they nev- rate sets of rules governing navigation the bends”. Recognition of the cusPhoto Courtesy New Orleans States-Item Shortly after colliding with the barge pushed ahead by the Warren J. Doucet, the flames from the Union Faith cast their deathly glow over the doomed vessel. (The outline of the Greater New Orleans Bridge is barely visible in the upper left corner).


tom was easy, because there is no this way. What happens is this: An showing a descending vessel apnarrow channel rule on the Western ascending vessel comes up on the proaching a bend to the right. If she Rivers; and the "head and head rule" point or the inside of the bend. The is required to pass port to port she

modified as to vessels ascending current is at its weakest here and must hold to the point and attempt and descending to allow, as men- eddies flowing in the opposite direc- to overcome the forces of the current tioned, the descending vessels to tion often assist the vessel. A descend- which are setting her across the river choose the mode of passing whatever ing vessel entering a bend stays on

toward the bend and toward the asthe relative aspects of the vessels the outer or bend side of the river. cending vessel which is keeping to her were on first sighting.

The flow of current tends to set a ves- side of the channel under Article 25 In 1948 the River below the Huey sel across the river towards the bend; of the Inland Rules. P. Long Bridge was placed under the and with the following current a rela- Under Western Rivers Rules vesInland Rules, which do have a nar- tively high speed over the ground is sels are permitted to pass starboard row channel rule and do not have a realized, as well as an increased turn- to starboard or port to port providing special rule for vessels ascending and ing circle and increased difficulty in they can do so safely. Article 25 of descending rivers as a qualification to holding to the point. Assuming that the Inland Rules, however, requires the “head and head” rule.

half of the river bends are "bends to that “in a narrow channel every vesThe “Points and Bends Custom” is the right” and half are to the left, we

sel shall, when it is safe and praca necessity for many vessels in order

are presented with a hazardous con- ticable, keep to that side of the fairto safely navigate the river. This is dition 50 percent of the time if two way or midchannel which lies on the particularly apparent during times of approaching vessels are expected to starboard side of such vessel.” This high current velocity when a vessel accomplish a “normal” port-to-port in effect calls for vessels to normally using “Points and Bends” makes passing. We can dramatically demon- pass port to port. maximum use of the river current in strate the danger of collisions by Confusion, therefore, does result

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