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Crossing, overtaking and rule 19

December 09, 2015     by Capt. Yashwant Chabra

‘Crossing, overtaking and rule 19’ published in Seaways of November 2015 – a continuation.

Captain Vinod Mohindra has analysed and explained the complexities surrounding Rule 19 in his paper very logically and also invited views to the contrary; this is another way to analyse the rules.

International laws or conventions can be very detailed too, for example, the Loadline, MARPOL or SOLAS conventions. The way any law is interpreted is said to be as a common person would read and understand the same, thus even complicated laws can be seen in simple terms. The difference between laws is, some are prescriptive and quantitative while others are descriptive or qualitative or a combination thereof. Section II of part B of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972, as amended, comprising of Rules 11 to 18 would clearly fall in the latter category and thus remain open to varying interpretations and analysis.

Rule 19 applies independently along with or in conjunction with Rules 4 to 10 from section Iof Part B of the Rules, whereas Rules 11 to 18 which fall under section II of Part B do not apply with Rule 19, this is very clear.

Rule 15, crossing, is a Rule which by itself is open to many misunderstandings as pointed out in my survey results published in Seaways of September 2015, a large 21% are unable explain correctly the horizontal sector of a ‘crossing situation’, the term ‘crossing’ is not defined anywhere, neither in Rule 15 nor anywhere else. The horizontal sector applicable to Rule 15 is implied by elimination of ‘overtaking’and ‘head-on-situation’sectors which are clearly defined in Rules 13 and 14 respectively.

However, Rule 15 does not apply with Rule 19, and Rule 19 does not use the term ‘crossing’, as such, the use of the term ‘crossing’ to explain a situation or its analysis in restricted visibility when Rule 19 alone applies does not appear correct. Even though ‘cross’ and ‘crossing’ words feature in Rules 9 and 10 which continue to apply in restricted visibility.

Similarly the use of the word ‘overhauled’ does not seem fit to describe any situation, whether it is for vessels ‘in sight of one another’when Rules 11 to 18 apply or for vessels ‘not in sight of one another when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility’ when Rule 19 applies. Rules 4 to 10 apply at all times, as do many other Rules from Parts A, C, D and E.

Rule 13 on overtaking states ‘any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken’. This Rule does not define, specify or describe ‘give-way’ or ‘stand-on’, these terms are stated separately in Rules 16 and 17 and apply only to vessels ‘in sight of one another’. But all these Rules do not apply with Rule 19.

Rule 19(d), clearly advocates the use of radar, so do Rules 7 and 8 which clearly require the use of Radar and so do the watchkeeping requirements from STCW Code A-VIII/2.

There is no doubt that subparagraphs ‘i’ and ‘ii’ of Rule 19(d) clearly use the beam direction of a vessel as the reference point with respect to determining the location of the other vessel and have to be interpreted basis ‘so far as possible the following shall be avoided’. These subparagraphs get activated if the navigators decide to activate the earlier clause of Rule 19 ‘provided that when such action consists of an alteration of course’, which ideally should be the best choice of action as per Rule 8-c which applies at all times and states that, ‘if there is sufficient sea room, alteration of course alone may be the most effective action…’.

In his conclusion ‘A suggested solution’ Captain Mohindra states ‘but we still need to distinguish between a crossing vessel and a vessel being overtaken’ and ‘the most logical option is to treat any vessel being approached from her beam or abaft her beam as a vessel being overtaken. A vessel approaching from forward of the beam should be treated as a crossing vessel’.

As explained earlier, ‘crossing’ is not defined anywhere, not even in Rule 15, and whatever conclusions we may draw on its exact term or meaning, the use of the term in conjunction with Rule 19(d) can be misleading or create unwanted confusions. We should just use the terms as used in subparagraphs 19(d-i) and 19(d-ii), that is ‘a vessel forward of the beam, other than for a vessel being overtaken’ and ‘a vessel abeam or abaft the beam’.

‘Overtaken’ as used in Rule 19(d-i), this as explained by Captain Mohidrais, ‘that an overtaking vessel would be a vessel coming up from abaft the beam on a course and speed which will make her cross forward of the other vessel’.

None of the definitions in Rule 3 pertain to directions or horizontal sectors, as such any reference to Rule 3 for sector definitions is infructuous.

Is using the beam direction the correct way to determine the ‘overtaken’ sector in Rule 19(d)?

Rule 19(d-i) uses the term ‘other than for a vessel being overtaken’, the term ‘overtaken’ has been used earlier in Rule 13 wherein the horizontal sector has been clearly defined as ‘a direction more than 22.5o abaft her beam’.

Many believe that since Rule 13 has defined ‘overtaking’ and ‘overtaken’, and though Rule 13 does not apply with Rule 19, the definition should continue to apply because Rule 19 neither defines it nor states any waiver or exclusion to the original definition. If the authors of the Rules meant one aspect when using the term ‘overtaken’in Rule 13, it is quite natural that in a latter Rule where the same term is used, its meaning should also remain the same, else this should have been explicitly stated.

In this context, I had queried several authorities in March 2015, of the several addressed only the U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Navigation Systems, Washington, DC 20593-7851, responded to my queries and the extract of the communication is quoted below:

“There is no doubt that rule 13 does not apply in restricted visibility, thanks for re-confirming.

My question below still remains un-answered, to repeat:

"What should be the overtaking sector as applied to the execution of this Rule, 19-d? Should the definition provided in Rule 13 also continue to apply with Rule 19-d or otherwise."?

Rule 19-d-i has a statement 'other than a vessel being overtaken'. Would 'overtaken' still mean as the other vessel is approaching from more than 22.5 degrees abaft the beam?

I will appreciate the same be reviewed and confirmed if found correct and acceptable. I also wish to add that MGN 369 issued by UK-MCA is also silent on this aspect though explains what is 'beam'.”

Answer received:

“Greetings -
It seems that you are correct in the assumption that the definition of overtaking is presented in Rule 13 applies”

In a similar discussion earlier in August 2011, Captain V Gupta, Senior Lecturer/ Webmaster, City of Glasgow College had written back as.

‘Although rule 19 is in section III (in restricted visibility) it makes reference to a rule ie 13 which is in sectionII (in sight of one another).

In the UK, MCA have widely accepted that even in restricted visibility the definition of rule 13 should be picked up from rule 13 ie coming up from an angle more than 22.5o abaft the beam.

I had clarified this from the chief examiner once and he said "that by doing above we are not mixing up the sections but just using the definition of overtaking as per rule 13. If not 13 then where else can u get the definition of overtaking?"

And even earlier in 2007 – 2008 range had read a court judgement with similar reasoning as above.

With this I leave these two varying interpretations of ‘overtaken’ open for further interpretation,analysis anddebate to determine the exact horizontal sector. If Rule 19 is looked at in isolation, then Captain Mohindra’s analysis will surely withstand all scrutiny. However, since the term has been used earlier in Rule 13, then all the above reasoning’s will also seem logically right, and only one of the two should be correct.


A short and simplified explanation of Rule 19:
Conduct of vessels in restricted visibility

Each paragraph quoted and explained in the below chart.


Text from the rule



This rule applies to vessels not in sight of one another when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility.

Defines the application, vessels not in sight of one another’ and ‘when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility’, both conditions must exist together. Note, this rule applies to all vessels. Restricted visibility is as defined in Rule 3(l).


Every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility.  A power-driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate manoeuvre.

Reconfirms the application of Rule 6 on ‘safe speed’, with a cautionary note, ‘adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility’.

Requires that every ‘power-driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate manoeuvre’, which practically would mean kept on standby and ready for immediate use.


Every vessel shall have due regard to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility when complying with the Rules of section I of this part.

This part means Part ‘B’. Section I of Part B contains Rules 4 to 10, which as stated in Rule 4, apply in all conditions of visibility.

This paragraph reconfirms that compliance with these Rules is a must even in restricted visibility but with a caution regarding prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility’.

This requirement also implies that section II Rules 11 to 18 do not apply with Rule 19.


A vessel which detects by radar alone the presence of another vessel shall determine if a close-quarters situation is developing and/or risk of collision exists.  If so, she shall take avoiding action in ample time, provided that when such action consists of an alteration of course, so far as possible the following shall be avoided: 

The first sentence is essentially a repeat of the requirements stated in Rule 7 which apply ‘in any condition of visibility’, except that observations shall be done ‘by radar alone’. A major difference is, that the determination also includes if ‘a close-quarters situation is developing’ and not just ‘risk of collision’ as stated in Rule 7.

‘If so’ means that the answer to the determination is yes.‘She shall take avoiding action in ample time’, is a repeat from Rule 8(a) and clearly implies both vessels ‘shall take avoiding action’, it may be noted that Rules 16 and 17 (give-way / stand-on) do not apply with Rule 19.

The Rule allows freedom of action without saying so and can be linked back to Rule 8(b) clause ‘any alteration of course and/or speed to avoid collision’. It is thus for an OOW / navigator to make a choice and execute the same such that it is ‘large enough to be readily apparent to another vessel observing (visually or) by radar’, also from Rule 8(b), but the ‘visually’ element will automatically not apply in restricted visibility conditions.

‘Provided that when such action consists of an alteration of course’, should be linked back to Rule 8(c) clause, ‘if there is sufficient sea-room, alteration of course alone may be the most effective action’, which should always be the preferred choice because changes of speed may not be ‘readily apparent to another vessel’.

So far as possible the following shall be avoided’ –is to avoid the actions stated in subparagraphs ‘d-i’ and ‘d-ii’. This clearly implies action opposite to which ‘shall be avoided’. ‘So far as possible’, is the usual escape clause which feature with many Rules which should ideally be disregarded unless the circumstances and conditions impose such restrictions that the normal stipulated action is impossible to execute. Best actions under both sub paragraphs are shown in the below diagrams.


An alteration of course to port for a vessel forward of the beam, other than for a vessel being overtaken;           


An alteration of course towards a vessel abeam or abaft the beam.


Except where it has been determined that risk of collision does not exist, every vessel which hears apparently forward of her beam the fog signal of another vessel, or which cannot avoid a close-quarters situation with another vessel forward of her beam, shall reduce her speed to the minimum at which she can be kept on her course.  She shall if necessary take all her way off and in any event navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over.

Is applicable in situations where an OOW on a vessel hears the fog signal of another vessel forward of the beam, and it is not known or has not been determined if the other vessel is passing clear without any ‘risk of collision’, or ‘a close-quarters situation’ cannot be avoided with this vessel forward of the beam, irrespective if her fog signal has been heard or not.

This paragraph ‘e’ actually does not specify and clear action, all it says shall reduce her speed to the minimum at which she can be kept on her course’ or heading, or stop the vessel dead in water. And ‘navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over’.

It is left to the prudent judgement of navigators to decide between these two options and continue to do so till they feel that the ‘danger of collision is over’. It is interesting to note that the word used here is danger.

Rule 35 prescribes ‘sound signals in restricted visibility’, these are generally called ‘fog signals’.

Watchkeeing requirements are covered in sections VIII/2 of the STCW Convention, Code-A states the following which should be taken into account and complied with when a vessel encounters restricted visibility:

“Restricted visibility

45        When restricted visibility is encountered or expected, the first responsibility of the officer in charge of the navigational watch is to comply with the relevant rules of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972, as amended with particular regard to the sounding of fog signals, proceeding at a safe speed and having the engines ready for immediate manoeuvre. In addition, the officer in charge of the navigational watch shall:

.1         inform the master;

.2         post a proper lookout;

.3         exhibit navigation lights; and

.4        operate and use the radar.” 


Capt. Yashwant Chhabra
Author, ‘A Mariners Guide to Preventing Collisions’
Senior Manager – Training & Development, MSI Ship Management Pte Ltd, Singapore.



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