COLREG Rule No 09

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Part B – Steering and Sailing Rules

Section I – Conduct of Vessels in any Condition of Visibility

Rule-9: Narrow Channels 

narrow channel

(a) A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable. 

Narrow Channels: What is “narrow” depends on the type of vessel and the circumstances. A “channel” is a natural or dredged lane restricted on either side by shallow waters; it is often marked by buoys. There is no specific width of a narrow channel. The width of narrow channel could be between less than a mile and a few miles. 

Fairway: A “fairway” is generally in open water, and the water on either side is not much shallower than within the fairway. Fairways are dredged and maintained by the port authority & used to route vessels away from natural hazards, oil platforms, mines, or smaller vessels. 

Outer Limit of the Channel: Paragraph (a) requires all vessels to navigate on the far right side of a narrow channel, whether or not traffic is approaching from the other direction. If that is not “safe or practicable,” however, the mariner is justified in moving closer to the center or even over the center to the left side (providing the traffic permits such action). Usually, the depth of a narrow channel is less from centre line towards either side. 

(b) A vessel of less than 20 metres in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway. 

Shall not Impede: Rule 8(f) “shall not impede” language says that vessel directed not to impede shall take early enough action that sufficient sea room exists for safe passage. If risk of collision does arise (ideally it should not), the impeding vessel retains its duty to stay out of the way, notwithstanding any stand-on rights the more general Steering and Sailing Rules may have given it. In other words, the vessel directed not to impede should stay well clear! 

Only within a narrow: Paragraph (b) gives rights to non-sailing vessels that are over twenty meters long and that can safely navigate only within the narrow channel or fairway. The word ‘only’ implies that many vessels can’t navigate safely outside a narrow channel whereas there are small vessels (smaller draught) that can safely navigate just outside the narrow channel although they are allowed to use the narrow channel too.

If RoC exists: This Rule does not relieve a power-driven vessel which is restricted to the channel from her obligation to keep out of the way of a small power-driven vessel being overtaken or crossing from her starboard side, or of any sailing vessel, if there is risk of collision. 

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of any other vessel navigating within a narrow channel or fairway. 

It implies that fishing is permitted when the channel is not being used. In this paragraph, ‘any other vessel’ includes even small power driven vessels, sailing vessels, etc. 

(d) A vessel shall not cross a narrow channel or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within such channel or fairway. The latter vessel may use the sound signal prescribed in Rule 34(d) if in doubt as to the intention of the crossing vessel. 

Crossing The Channel: This paragraph prohibits all vessels from crossing a narrow channel or fairway such a way that would impede a vessel that could not safely operate outside of the channel or fairway. Rule 8(f) “shall not impede” language is operative here. If your vessel is directed not to impede another, try to avoid causing the other vessel to change its course or speed. If you blunder into a risk-of-collision situation, the general Steering and Sailing Rules will not apply to you–you will continue to be obliged to stay out of the way. Be mindful, however, that Rule 8(f)(iii) says that the general rules will apply to the vessel you are impeding. 

Doubt & Sound Signals: The Rule also provides for the vessel constrained to the channel to sound at least five or more short blasts or at least five short and rapid flashes if in doubt as to the intentions of the crossing vessel. Rule 9 says that this sound signal “may” be used–although Rule 34(d) requires its use in case of doubt. 

(e) (i) In a narrow channel or fairway when overtaking can take place only if the vessel to be overtaken has to take action to permit safe passing, the vessel intending to overtake shall indicate her intention by sounding the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(c)(i). The vessel to be overtaken shall, if in agreement, sound the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(c)(ii) and take steps to permit safe passing. If in doubt she may sound the signals prescribed in Rule 34(d). 

Overtaking: The International Rule 9 requirement for overtaking applies only when the overtaken vessel (in addition to the overtaking vessel) has to take maneuvering action to permit a safe passing. If the overtaken vessel agrees with the overtaking vessel’s passing proposal, then the overtaken vessel is required to “take steps to permit safe passing.” If permission from overtaken vessel is not required (i.e. there is sufficient safe sea room to overtake), then this paragraph doesn’t apply to the overtaking vessel. 

If it is not considered safe for the other vessel to pass the signal of at least five short rapid blasts could be made on the whistle. This signal indicates doubt about the intentions or actions of the other vessel and implies that the vessel ahead does not consider it safe for the vessel astern to attempt to pass. Usually, passage through narrow channel and fairway is well regulated by VHF surveillance from VTIS. Now-a-days, the use of VHF by Pilot/VTIS in such a situation is common in practical. 

Good seamanship: If safe and practicable, it would be good seamanship to move away from the side of the narrow channel or fairway in which the overtaking vessel intends to pass, to allow a greater passing distance and also to reduce speed in order to decrease the period of running closely parallel to each other. 

(ii) This Rule does not relieve the overtaking vessel of her obligation under Rule 13. 

Regardless of a permission required for safe passing, the overtaking vessel has ultimate responsibilities as per Rule-13. 

(f) A vessel nearing a bend or an area of a narrow channel or fairway where other vessels may be obscured by an intervening obstruction shall navigate with particular alertness and caution and shall sound the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(e). 

The requirements in this paragraph offer nothing new–the requirements for lookout, safe speed, needed precautions and Rule 34(e) covering the signal requirement. 

When two power-driven vessels approaching from opposite directions hear each other’s signals, the vessel stemming the tide should wait until the other has passed clear. 

(g) Any vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid anchoring in a narrow channel. 

It’s not strictly prohibited to anchor in a narrow channel. A vessel may require anchoring inside a narrow channel for many overriding situations. A vessel anchored in a narrow channel is likely to impede the safe passage of other vessels. A vessel which finds it necessary to anchor in a narrow channel should endeavor to do so in a position where she will not obstruct the flow of traffic. If a vessel needs to anchor in a narrow channel due to thick fog and non-operational radar, she should endeavor to do it outside the channel. 

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