The Art of Dredging

Dredging and shipping

Kayaks and the Collision Regulations


There has been some commotion recently in the New York kayak community about the legal status of kayaks versus other ships.  

 Do kayaks have right of way over other vessels ?



Firstly, what regulations apply ?

There are local regulations in New York Harbour, but let's keep it more general: the “Unified Inland Rules” apply in inland waters of the U.S.

These are not so different from the international rules; “International Regulations for preventing collisions at sea” (COLREGS)



Let's dive into the dry stuff: 

“Part A  - General- Rule 1 – Application- : (a) These rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.”


“Rule 3 – General definitions -: (a) The word “vessel” includes every description of watercraft, (…), used for or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.”

Ok, you’re in a kayak and see "ships" around you ? The Rules apply to you !

“Rule 3 – General definitions -: (b)

The term “power-driven vessel” means any vessel propelled by machinery.”

Clearly: a kayak is not propelled by machinery, but by and human power.

There may be the odd cheater with a little battery-powered propeller under his kayak, but I had the classic kayaker in mind.


A close quarter sitation, in dense traffic, in Bolinao Bay, Philippines .... What Rules apply ?  



Up to Part B of the Rules !

“Part B –Steering and sailing rules-  Section I –  Rule 9 –Narrow Channels- : (b) A vessel of less than 20 metres in length (…) shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.”

And the same song is sung in:

“Rule 10 Traffic Separation Schemes- (j)  Small fry shall stay out of the way of Big Boys on a Highway.”

"Section II – Conduct of vessels in sight of one another-" looks more promising

Rule 13 –Overtaking-  is an absolute rule: “… any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken”

This opens fantastic perspectives: you may be paddling your little kayak everywhere, and every kind-of-ship-overtaking you MUST go out of its way.




And we talk here: EVERY kind of ship; that may be  a supertanker, a US Navy aircraft carrier, one of them submarines, or another kayak, it doesn’t matter ! 

Rule 13 is kayak heaven !






Rule 18 – Responsibilities between vessels (a) 

A power driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of  …  a sailing vessel.

Now, the rules never specifically refer to kayaks…. but often to sailing vessels. And sailing vessels have right of way over power driven vessels.

In our favorite sport we find a lot of possibilities.

Some people enjoy day-long trips with their kayaks, other go surfing with kayaks, personally I like the combination of kayaking and snorkeling, or fishing.

 With this I want to introduce you to a new and exciting thing in kayaking: kayak-sailing.


Just put a little sail on your kayak, it takes a lot out of your hands: that dreaded paddling becomes a thing of the past, and your little sail is your new passport to carefree trotting around New York harbour…

And the first time you force a tanker out of its course, you make a hell of  a statement towards a new and green economy. 








My personal favourite; Rule 2(b):

In (…)  complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to (…)  to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, whch make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.” 

Translated into English: "Use your own brains !"

The bloody truth is: on the bridge of a large ship, we may not notice a kayak, from  the comfort of a totally glass encased bridge, some forty metres above sea level.  

And if we see you, we may not be able to stop the ship in time... as we are always on a schedule, pushing 100.000 ton trough the waves at 20 knots...

We will –however-  try to scare the living daylights out of that kayaker

“by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on he whistle. Such signal maybe supplemented by a light signal of at least five short and rapid flashes.” (Rule 34 –(d)). 

After that we may drink another coffee, and shake our worried heads, to mark the occasion …

  If things go wrong,  the kayaker may find comfort in

Annex IV of the COLREG “Distress Signals”.


  If he is still alive, that is.



Marc Van de Velde





Although great care has been taken writing this article,  the author cannot accept any responsibility or liability for the views expressed here. I wish you understand that.






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