Yachts collide after give-way failure

Lookout! Issue 31, August 2014

A fleet of yachts in a race leaving the harbour on a port tack encountered a cruising catamaran approaching on starboard tack.
Damaged catamaran
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
Both vessels were damaged in the collision and the catamaran’s nose cone was sheared off.

One of the racing yachts failed to give way as required and collided with the non-racing catamaran.

The catamaran was on a starboard tack when its skipper noticed two yachts in the distance, both on a port tack, sailing towards his vessel. He thought they might be on a collision path with him but, as the stand-on vessel, he maintained course.

After just passing astern of the first boat, the catamaran skipper noticed that the second yacht had made no attempt to alter course.

Finally, as they bore down on him without altering course, creating a close quarters situation, the skipper dipped slightly to port to avoid colliding with the first vessel, watching out to make sure it didn’t change course to starboard.

The skipper said if he had turned to starboard at that point, his vessel would have stalled by going into the wind, exposing the side of his vessel to impact from the other yacht. There was also a risk of fouling the tow line of the dinghy he was trailing 15m astern.

After just passing astern of the first boat, the catamaran skipper noticed that the second yacht had made no attempt to alter course.

The racing yacht hit his vessel’s port pontoon, shearing off the nose cone, and then carried on to the main hull, coming to a stop at the port-side cross member.

The racing yacht’s skipper said he had tried to bear away to starboard but, ‘hard on the wind’ and fully loaded for racing, he was reluctant to lose speed, despite being the give-way vessel. He said he was lined up to pass port-to-port with the catamaran, but it altered course about five seconds before they collided. He said he took the option to take a collision head-on because he had nowhere to go. Both vessels sustained damage.


  • Vessels involved in racing need to be aware that the water space is shared with other boaties and abide by the rules of the road even if it means sacrificing a racing position.
  • All vessels need to be aware of, and meet, their responsibilities under the rules for the prevention of collisions at sea. Maritime rules require all vessels to keep a proper lookout by sight and hearing in order to fully assess their situation and the risk of collision.
  • When two sailing vessels are approaching one another with the risk of colliding, the vessel with the wind on the port side must keep out of the way of the other. If both have the wind on the same side, the vessel that is to windward must keep out of the way of the leeward vessel. A vessel with the wind on the port side that sees a vessel to windward but can’t tell whether it has the wind on the port or starboard side must keep out of its way.
  • The collision rules require that if one of the vessels is keeping out of the way, the other must hold its course and speed. As soon as it becomes apparent to the stand-on vessel that the vessel required to give way is not doing so, it may take action to avoid collision by manoeuvring itself out of the way.
    • If the stand-on vessel is so close that collision can’t be avoided by the give-way vessel’s actions alone, it must take whatever action will best avoid collision.
  • Vessel skippers need to make their intentions clear by making early and bold moves to avoid the risk of collision. As the give-way vessel in this situation, the racing yacht’s skipper should have taken early and decisive action to avoid the collision.
  • The catamaran could not tell whether the yacht was moving out of its path and did not have confidence that the vessels would not intersect. He opted to take action himself, in keeping with the collision rules, by veering away and then turning back.
    • Unfortunately, this resulted in a collision that could have been avoided, had the give-way vessel clearly indicated, early on, that it was keeping out of the catamaran’s way.

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