General Question

jazzticity's avatar

How do ships play nicely in the sandbox?

Asked by jazzticity (510points) January 29th, 2011

From where I live, I like to watch the ships on the Mississippi. I see how difficult it must be to pilot these big vessels, and I wonder what rules of the road they follow to avoid collisions (other than having horns loud enough to scare the pants off you). Sure, I can look up the maritime rules, but how does this actually play out, especially on a river? Have any of you actually done this? Worked on a tug boat or river boat or something? I mean, when stopping takes more like 20 minutes, not 2 seconds, and the other driver can’t even see your middle finger, what’s a body to do?

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3 Answers

Aethelwine's avatar

I’ve listened to these horns from ships along the Illiniois River for the past 16 years. I recently moved and miss it very much! I would say communication between the ships and the US Army Corps of Engineers plays a key role in keeping everyone safe.

WasCy's avatar

Let’s start by saying that there are recognized “rules of the road” in shipping, same as in driving. (You can google them and read them quicker than I can write them. Here is a good place to start.)

With that said, once you know the rules, then you have to learn to practice them. (Small boats have rules, too, and prudent mariners know what they are and sail defensively in case the other guy doesn’t. This is one of many reasons why a lot of sailors don’t like jet-skiers, because often, having just gotten the thing, they have no idea of how to co-exist with kayakers, rowers, sailors, fishermen and tugboat operators, to name just a few of the people who have to watch out for them. But anyone can be a horse’s ass on the water, so you have to watch for nearly everyone.)

As the link above describes, even though you might “know” the rules, you also have to be aware that things happen: winds shift, currents and tides change, storms blow up out of nowhere, and mechanical (and for sailors “wind”) failure happens all too frequently. So you learn to make allowances, too.

After you know the rules and know your own craft, then you have to learn from experience when to break them, too. And you always, always have to watch for those changes in circumstance that mean you’d better change your plans.

Nullo's avatar

The Mississippi has been divided into lanes, I believe, at least for commercial shipping.

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