Maritime History of the Great Lakes
What to Do? What to Do?: Schooner Days DCI (601)
Publication
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 31 Jul 1943
Description
Full Text
What to Do? What to Do?
Schooner Days DCI (601)

by C. H. J. Snider

_______

WELL MAY THE LUBBER ASK, IN SUCH SITUATIONS PICTURED BELOW. ANSWER IS EASY, DAY OR NIGHT, IF EVERY CRAFT KNOWS THE RULE AND CARRIES THE PROPER LIGHTS.

_______

Rule of the Road for Laker, Launch, and Liner

"WHEN YOU SEE TWO LIGHTS AHEAD,

STARBOARD HELM AND SHOW YOUR RED.

  

"GREEN FOR GREEN, RED FOR RED,

PERFECT SAFETY, GO AHEAD.

  

"RED FOR RED OR GREEN FOR GREEN,

GO AHEAD, IT'S ALL SERENE.

  

"IF RED TO STARBOARD SHOULD APPEAR,

IT IS YOUR DUTY TO KEEP CLEAR,

TO ACT AS JUDGMENT SAYS IS PROPER,

TO PORT OR STARBOARD, BACK, OR STOP HER.

  

"BUT IF ON YOUR PORT BOW IS SEEN

A STRANGER'S STARBOARD LAMP OF GREEN,

THERE'S NOT MUCH FOR YOU TO DO,

FOR GREEN TO PORT KEEPS CLEAR OF YOU.

  

"WHEN IN DANGER OR IN DOUBT,

AND ALWAYS—KEEP A GOOD LOOKOUT."

  

THIS, save for one word altered, is the Rule-of-the-Road which was rope's-ended into every boy who aspired to be a wheelsman in every schooner, propeller and paddlewheeler up to the end of the nineteenth century.

In addition the aspiring helmsman had to know that a sailing vessel on the starboard tack had the right of way over one on the port tack. That a sailing vessel close-hauled, whether on port or starboard tack, had the right of way over one running free. That, except when overtaking sail, had the right of way over steam, but it was highly dangerous to rely on this. The Sir C. T. Van Straubenzee and the Oliver Mowat, three-masted schooners, were both run down by steamers and half their crews drowned. In the case of the Oliver Mowat some steamboat men went to jail for this, but that did not give Capt. Tormmy Lake Vandusen back his life or his ship, nor raise Capt. Dolph Corson from his Lake Erie grave. In another instance, where a steam yacht ran over a little C-boat, the professional captain took the rap and the steam yacht owner lost his club membership, but that would not have revived the C-boat boys had they been drowned.


With the coming of the internal combustion engine and the spate of "gasoline launches" as they were first called, and later, motor boats and motor ships, all these rules remained and they are still in force. But the rope's end has been so crowded out by metal-cored tiller cord, remote controls, gyro compasses and automatic steering devices that the new generation of helmsmen may have missed that part of their education, and what they have learned about driving cars, trucks, tanks and jeeps does not help at all. Holiday makers in motor boats are particularly muddled through their familiarity with land traffic rules. What we have to say now is intended to help everybody.


Schooner Days appreciates the interest of F. W. McConnell, dealing in lumber, coke and coal at Lansdowne, Ont., who writes:

"Would you be kind enough, if you thought it of sufficient interest, to give a short, clear and easily understandable write-up, giving Rules of the Road, governing the handling of small motorboats, outboard, etc. Nothing extensive, as the subject has of course many and varied rules.

Just the elementary rules, such as when meeting a boat more or less head-on as it were which side should one take; in passing, which side should one take; in crossing, what is proper procedure. And lights, on which side should one pass, green or red, and so on.

"Am of the opinion that such an article, which could easily be combined with your articles, would be of considerable interest to many such as myself who use occasionally a motor boat of the smaller type. Judging by what I have noticed many of such drivers are more or less a law unto themselves, more probably through ignorance than intent. As yet have not seen or heard of any accident this way but would really like to know a few of the elementary rules governing. If there is any difference may say that I refer, so far as I am concerned, with our inland lakes."


The Rule of the Road is the same on salt water as on fresh, on inland lakes as on the Great Lakes. The principle is the same for the ocean liner and the punt.

1. Meeting head on, keep to the right.

2. Overtaking, keep to the left.

3. Keep clear of any craft on your right hand side.

This sounds simple, and it is not difficult to practice. The rhyme of last century is a help to remember it.

I. MEETING

"When you see two lights ahead" refers to the red light which every craft in motion at night should carry on its port bow, and to the green light required for the starboard bow. (The port side is the left side of the craft when you are looking towards the front end and the starboard side is ihe right side from the same point of view).

To starboard the helm involves turning the wheel, the rudder and the craft's head to the right, and so exposing the red light carried on the port bow, or left side, a clear indication to the approaching vessel that you are going off to the right. The same thing happens by day but there is no day signal corresponding to the colored lights. These must be displayed from sunset to sunrise. The rhyme originally said "Port your helm and show your red," but that was before 1931, when the great change in helm orders was made. Since then, by law, the order to turn the vessel's head to the right or starboard must be given as "Starboard," which order means to turn the wheel, rudder and ship's head in a righthand direction. Similarly, since 1931, "Port" means to turn the wheel, rudder and ship's head in a lefthand direction, obviously now the wrong thing to do if you wish to "show your red" or left side. In days of yore helm orders were given crosswise because vessels were steered by tillers moving the opposite way to the rudder, but for the last 12 years orders have, by law, been given so as to corroborate the direction the vessel is required to go.

In meeting it is not always possible or even desirable to turn out to the right. Sometimes another vessel, anchored or in motion, makes this impossible, sometimes the direction of the character of the channel in which you are navigating forces you to hold your course or even to turn to the left. In such case you should, in plenty of time, signal the approaching vessel and tell her what you can and will do.

WHISTLE SIGNALS

One blast on the horn means "I am directing my course to starboard" and two blasts means "I am directing my course to port." If you cannot do either, blow a series of sharp toots, so that the other man will know how you are fixed, and will be able to stop, or to steam around you. Three short blasts is the signal that your engines are going astern. Three blasts with a following toot means the performer has something in tow.

Some lake steamers use their whistle as a crew signal, usually to the watch to stream the log or read the log. One or two short toots. This is not commended because it may mislead another into the belief that the course is being altered to starboard or port. But it is done. Keep your ears and eyes open so as not to misunderstand it.

And see that you do the same for him if he signals you. It is against the law to give a cross-signal. That is, if he blows for you "I am directing my course to port" you must acknowledge that, not contradict it. it.

II. PASSING

"Green for green or red for red" and "Red for red or green for green" are the same idea repeated to impress upon you that there is no danger of collision, if you both hold your courses, when your red port light is opposite the red port light of the meeting vessel, or your green starboard light is opposite her green starboard light. Of course, if you "starboard your helm and show your red" you cannot also show your green to her green. That is physically impossible. But it is not improper, and it is sometimes necessary, to pass starboard to starboard or green to green, just as sometimes on the sidewalk you have to keep to the left instead of keeping to the right.

While the rule of the road on the water—as on shore—is based upon keeping to the right, the practice is varied by circumstances of traffic and the character of the water you are in. You may be forced to cross over to avoid an obstruction, or for other causes. If you cannot keep to the right in meeting, you should notify an approaching vessel by two blasts meaning "I am directing my course to port," that is to the left.

III. WHO SHOULD USE LIGHTS

We have been speaking of red and green lights and of blasts on the horn as though you owned the Queen Mary, but the tiniest launch or even the pestilent canoe could and should use a horn by day and red and green sidelights. The combination light, red one-half and green the other, is a poor makeshift for the separate red and green lights, one on either bow, required by law. In many instances the combination light is illegal. At its best it is no better than a barn lantern. It only shows that there is a boat or drugstore or Christmas tree, somewhere in the darkness.

Two separate lights, screened from view from behind—this is very important— are necessary to indicate clearly where you are and which way you are going. Of course, if you think your boat and your life are not worth the price of two separate bits of red and green glass you are the best judge.

Never rely solely on electric lights. If you use them have a complete set of coal oil or candle lamps ready to replace them. Your life may depend on this. And never anchor at night without having a riding light burning. In the quietest cove an unlighted boat is a great danger to herself and everyone else.

And you don't need an electric klaxon or an air raid siren for a horn. The tin fish-horn which we used to get for 25 cents before the war is good enough for any craft which has no power plant to bray with. It may save you in a fog. Unless you make yourself heard the other fellow may not be able to avoid running you down.

In fog sail craft must blow one blast if on the starboard tack, two if on the port, three if running free. All others blow one only at 3-minute intervals.

Most collisions occur in the day time, through ignorance or confusion of visual or audible signals or through thick weather. The red and green lights are so simple to understand that they reduce the number of collisions at night.

IV. OVERTAKING AND OVERTAKEN

In overtaking another boat you should always indicate which side you desire to pass, one blast if you are going to port, two if to starboard. While it is the overtaking vessel's duty to keep clear, and she should normally port her helm and turn left to do so, if it is impossible to go to the left, she may go to the right if there is room for her. But it is most imperative that she signal her intentions either with one blast, meaning "I am directing my course to starboard," or two, meaning "I am directing my course to port."

Sail craft are required to carry the red and green sidelights only. Steamers—and everything propelled by mechanical means other than sail is a "steamer" to the law — must carry the red and green sidelights and white range-lights, the after one 15 feet higher than the forward one. In small launches one after light is accepted. Sail craft with auxiliary engines are "steamers" under the law and have to carry the after range light as well as the red and green sidelights when they are using their power.

The boat on your right hand side has the right of way, so mind what you do when she signals you, or even if she doesn't.

"If red to starboard should appear it is YOUR duty to keep clear . . . to port or starboard, back or stop her."

V. RIGHTS OF WAY

As for your own rights-of-way, the best thing to do is to know them and ignore them. It may save your life to know them, but it may cost your life and others' lives to rely on them and no court judgment or insurance policy will make up that loss. The best "right" you have is, when in danger or in doubt and in every other circumstance—to keep a good lookout.

Launch drivers who "can't see for the spray on the windshield" or for any other cause ought to be locked up in a stable on a bran mash diet. Paddlers and windjammers who loll about babbling that "big boats look out for little ones" or "sail and handpower have the right-of-way over steam" should be gently taken by the hand and placed high and dry and out of mischief. They are wrong, and if they were right they wouldn't be right long, for, like the late lamented William Jay who met a truck with the right-of-way-

"He was right, dead right, as he went along,

But he's just as dead as if he was wrong."

Whatever the "rights" of sailing craft, launches, canoes and rowboats, pleasure craft have no right, moral or legal, to clutter up the water where the merchant navy or war craft are using it in the service of the country. By law mail steamers and craft on war service do not have to give way to sail or steam, and how are you to tell that the oncoming steamer hasn't an unposted letter aboard? Docking an Island ferry on time is much more important service to the country than paddling a rented canoe or taking a girl for a sail in a borrowed dinghy. Keep out of the working man's way and always give the other fellow a break is a Golden Rule, law or no law.

Don't ever forget to—

"ACT AS JUDGMENT SAYS IS PROPER,

TO PORT OR STARBOARD, BACK OR STOP HER.

WHEN IN DANGER OR IN DOUBT, AND

ALWAYS, KEEP A GOOD LOOKOUT."


Creator
Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Clippings
Date of Publication
31 Jul 1943
Subject(s)
Language of Item
English
Donor
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Contact
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Email:walter@maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca
Website:
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What to Do? What to Do?: Schooner Days DCI (601)