|I grew up indoctrinated in the notion that there were only two proper ways to power a boat, by hand and by sail. Yeah, it’s possible to put an engine in a boat, but only at considerable risk to one’s soul. The elevated status of paddlers, rowers and sailors, or so I thought, was codified in the international rules for navigation: Power yields to sail and everybody skirts around the virtuous boater with calloused hands and a sweat-beaded forehead. When I was editing an article on the Rules of the Road for our February 2009 issue, I was a bit surprised to find out that when it comes to rights of way on the water, kayakers should consider themselves powerboaters. Sure, I knew that it was proper to yield to working vessels— it was the gracious thing to do and more a matter of noblesse oblige than a requirement of maritime law—but being legally lumped with stink-potters was an affront.
Why the privilege for sail and not for human power? It’s pretty simple. Sailing vessels can’t go in any direction they want and they can’t stop. When they change direction, they have to change the set of the sails and, in a jibe, risk denting skulls. Kayakers, like powerboaters, can go forward, stop and go backward at will. We’re not always restricted by the direction of the wind. We may be slow in comparison to other vessels, but we’re maneuverable. Usually all it takes to avoid a collision is foresight.
I recommend you take a look at Craig Junger’s article on the Rules. A good way to gain the respect of the maritime community is to know the rules that apply to all vessels on the water and abide by them. If you have any comments on the Rules of the Road (also known as the International Regulations for Avoiding Collisions at Sea or ColRegs) please join our online forum.