The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 19 Jan 1906

Full Text



Marine Lecture By Capt. Thomas Donnelly.

From a sailor's standpoint, the marine lecture on Monday evening by Capt. Donnelly was the most interesting of the series so far. It was on the "Rules of the Road" for the navigation of the great lakes. Capt. Donnelly began by giving the history of the rules relating to navigation from their first adoption. He showed that the international rules of the road in force for so many years on the ocean were almost identical with chapter 79 of the revised statutes of Canada, and these latter rules were amended by order in council of the 9th February, 1897. These rules applied to the lakes, rivers and other navigable waters within Canada or within the jurisdiction of the parliament thereof and were found by men interested in lake shipping to be inadequate for the trade on the great lakes, where vessels are crowded into narrow waters and where the vessels are increasing in size and draft. Rather an unfortunate state of affairs existed on the American side of the great lakes owing to the fact that United States steamboat inspection board were empowered to make rules for navigation of United States steamers and these in many respects differed from the international rules of the road. The Lake Carriers' Association on the United States side of the great lakes were instrumental in having a new set of navigation rules adopted in the year 1895. These rules were found to be a very great improvement over the international rules of the road, but they only applied to the navigation of ships on the United States side of the boundary line, and if steam vessels navigating the great lakes followed the rules laid down in the White law, when navigating in Canadian waters and a collision should occur, the United States vessels might easily be shown to be at fault.

When you consider, said the lecturer, that it is impossible for United States vessels to carry cargo to Lake Erie ports from the upper lakes without passing through Canadian waters, one can easily see what a dangerous state of conditions might arise from this state of affairs. Then on the great lakes there were so few vessels under British registry navigating, compared with the great number of vessels under United States register, that the Canadian masters were gradually falling into the habit of using the American rules as laid down in the White law and this was contrary to the statutes of Canada, if a Canadian vessel was being navigated on the Canadian side of the great lakes, and was contrary to the international law of the rules of the road when navigating anywhere on the great lakes. A movement was made in Canada by interested parties to have the laws made as near alike as possible. It was found that the United States laws could not be changed except by special act of Congress. The Canadian rules for the district west of Montreal on the contrary could be altered by an order in council of the dominion government and after considerable effort along these lines the rules of the road for the great lakes was enacted under the authority of chapter 79, revised statutes of Canada, to apply on "the great lakes, including Georgian Bay, their connecting and tributary waters and the St. Lawrence river as far east as the lower exit of the Lachine Canal and the Victoria Bridge at Montreal," and these came into force July 1st, 1904. Now these rules are not exactly similar to the United States rules, and there is no reason under the sun why they should not be exactly alike, except that some of the advisors of the marine department were bound to prove to those interested on the great lakes that we did not know what we wanted. However, said the lecturer, these are the rules now in force and any one calling at his office would be given a copy free.

It is very important that these rules should be clearly understood by every one in charge of lake vessels, but let me state, said the lecturer, in passing, that these rules do not apply to vessels navigating our minor inland waters or what might better be called the back lakes. Capt. Donnelly then commenced by showing how carefully these rules had been compiled. By the rules every steam vessel which is under sail and not under steam is to be considered a sailing vessel and every vessel under steam whether under sail or not is to be considered a steam vessel and the word "steam vessel" includes any vessel propelled by machinery. The statutes, that there might not be much confusion on the great lakes, made this explanation necessary, but he gave illustrations as to what the rules meant in this respect. If the sailing yacht owned by Mr. Fisher of Portsmouth navigated the harbor with its gasoline engine in use, it must be considered as a steam vessel, even with all its sails set and must obey the laws regarding steam vessels, but if the same auxiliary yacht was being used under sail without its gasoline engine, then it would not be guided by the rules laid down for a steam vessel, but would follow the rules of a sailing vessel.

The intention of the act was very plain in this respect, and common sense should teach the masters and mates the interpretation of it. Then again Capt. Donnelly explained that a vessel is under way within the meaning of these rules, when she is not at anchor or made fast to the shore or ground and must govern itself accordingly. The word "visible" in the rules when applied to lights meant visible on a dark night with a clear atmosphere and if it could be shown that the state of the atmosphere interfered with seeing the light a distance away, the side light would be considered inefficient even if not visible two miles away.

The lecturer then took up article 1 and showed that according to the wording of the act the lights must be exhibited from "sunset to sunrise." The question often arose as to when it was necessary to put the lights in place. Take a vessel making the port of Kingston in perhaps half an hour, where the vessel would be moored for the night. Officers might not think it necessary to put the lights in their places for such a short period of time, but if an accident happened in the interval, the vessel disobeying the rule would be considered at fault if the sun had gone down and the lights were not in place. The lecturer showed what a very necessary precaution this was and how carefully it should be followed out. He then explained what lights should be exhibited during the above mentioned time which might in any way be mistaken for the prescribed lights. He took up the question of the using of a searchlight on a steamer, and showed that in the hands of pilots with the ordinary common sense, these lights were of great benefit in navigating narrow waters, in picking up buoys or making landings, but must not be used to flash in the faces of other pilots. He then referred to the decorating of cabin trunk decks with colored lights which with a bright light behind them might easily be mistaken for the side lights of a vessel under way. He stated that confusion of this kind had often arisen, and the only way to prevent it was for inspectors of vessels and masters to pay more attention to the instructions laid down in Article 6.

The lecturer considered Article 2, and went carefully over the provisions in this article explaining where the mast head light was to be carried, showed how it could be exhibited in the forepart of the vessel, if the vessel did not have a foremast, and called attention to the provision regarding the height of the light which must be at a height above the hull of not less than twenty feet and not less than the breadth of the beam of the vessel, but need not be carried at a greater height above the hull than forty feet. He explained by illustration on the blackboard the arc of the horizon over which its light must show and showed how often this provision in the law was broken through the improper hanging or construction of the mast head light itself or the box in which it is placed.

The lecturer also showed why the rays of a light would show two points abaft the beam and also why it is necessary that the mast head light of a steamer should show five miles, while the side light need not be visible over two miles.

Capt. Donnelly having spoken for two hours, informed his hearers that on Friday evening he would take up the question of the side lights referred to in Article 2 of the rules.

Certificate Revoked - The certificate of Captain Byron J. Estes, of Alexandria Bay, has been suspended by United States Steamboat Inspectors Molther and Chestnut, of Oswego, for a period of five months, dating from January 9th. During this time and hereafter his actions will be closely watched, and should the occasion arise he will be more severely dealt with.

p.5 News - The Northern Navigation company have purchased from the executors of the estate of the late John J. Long, the steamer City of Windsor, for $3,500.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Publication:
19 Jan 1906
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
Creative Commons licence:
pd [more details]
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

British Whig (Kingston, ON), 19 Jan 1906