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The 1972 Convention was designed to update and replace the Collision Regulations of 1960 which were adopted at the same time as the 1960 SOLAS Convention.
The COLREGs include 38 rules divided into five sections:
There are also four Annexes containing technical requirements concerning lights and shapes and their positioning; sound signaling appliances; additional signals for fishing vessels when operating in close proximity, and international distress signals.
Part A – General (Rules 1-3)
Rule 1 : Application
state that the rules apply to all vessels upon the high seas and all waters connected to the high seas and navigable by seagoing vessels.
Rule 2 : Responsibility
covers the responsibility of the master, owner and crew to comply with the rules.
Rule 3 : General Definitions
Part B- Steering and Sailing (Rules 4-19)
Section 1 – Conduct of vessels in any condition of visibility (Rules 4-10)
Rule 4 : Application – says the section applies in any condition of visibility.
Rule 5 : Look-out
requires that “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.
Rule 6 : Safe Speed
deals with safe speed. It requires that: “Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed…”. The Rule describes the factors which should be taken into account in determining safe speed. Several of these refer specifically to vessels equipped with radar. The importance of using “all available means”
Rule 7 : Risk of collision
covering the risk of collision, which warns that “assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information, especially scanty radar information”
Rule 8 : Action to avoid collision
covers action to be taken to avoid a collision.
Rule 9 : Narrow Channels
Rule 10 : Traffic separation schemes
Section II – Conduct of vessels in sight of one another (Rules 11-18)
Rule 11 : Application – says the section applies to vessels in sight of one another.
Rule 12 : Sailing vessels
states action to be taken when two sailing vessels are approaching one another.
Rule 13 : Overtaking
covers overtaking – the overtaking vessel should keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.
Rule 14 : Head-on situation
deals with head-on situations. Crossing situations are covered by Rule 15 and action to be taken by the give-way vessel is laid down in Rule 16.
Rule 15 : Crossing situation
Rule 16 : Action by give-way vessel
Rule 17 : Action by stand-on vessel
deals with the action of the stand-on vessel, including the provision that the stand-on vessel may “take action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action.
Rule 18 : Responsibilities between vessels
deals with responsibilities between vessels and includes requirements for vessels which shall keep out of the way of others.
Section III – conduct of vessels in restricted visibility (Rule 19)
Rule 19 : Conduct of vessels in restricted visibility
states every vessel should proceed at a safe speed adapted to prevailing circumstances and restricted visibility. A vessel detecting by radar another vessel should determine if there is a risk of collision and if so take avoiding action. A vessel hearing fog signal of another vessel should reduce speed to a minimum.
Part C Lights and Shapes (Rules 20-31)
Rule 20 : Application
states rules concerning lights apply from sunset to sunrise.
Rule 21 : Definitions.
Rule 22 : Visibility of lights
covers visibility of lights – indicating that lights should be visible at minimum ranges (in nautical miles) determined according to the type of vessel.
Rule 23 : covers lights to be carried by power-driven vessels underway.
Rule 24 : covers lights for vessels towing and pushing.
Rule 25 : covers light requirements for sailing vessels underway and vessels under oars.
Rule 26 : covers light requirements for fishing vessels.
Rule 27 : covers light requirements for vessels not under command or restricted in their ability to manoeuvre.
Rule 28 : covers light requirements for vessels constrained by their draught.
Rule 29 : covers light requirements for pilot vessels.
Rule 30 : covers light requirements for vessels anchored and aground.
Rule 31 : covers light requirements for seaplanes
Part D – Sound and Light Signals (Rules 32-37)
Rule 32 : Definitions
gives definitions of the whistle, short blast, and prolonged blast.
Rule 33 : Equipment for sound signals
Rule 34 : covers manoeuvring and warning signals, using whistle or lights.
Rule 35 : covers sound signals to be used in restricted visibility.
Rule 36 : covers signals to be used to attract attention.
Rule 37 : covers distress signals.
Part E – Exemptions (Rule 38)
Rule 38 says ships which comply with the 1960 Collision Regulations and were built or already under construction when the 1972 Collision Regulations entered into force may be exempted from some requirements for light and sound signals for specified periods.
Part F – Verification of compliance with the provisions of the Convention (Rules 39-41)
Rule 39 – Definitions
Rule 40 – Application
Rule 41 – Verification of compliance
The COLREGs include four annexes:
Annex I – Positioning and technical details of lights and shapes
Annex II – Additional signals for fishing vessels fishing in close proximity
Annex III – Technical details of sounds signal appliances
Annex IV – Distress signals, which lists the signals indicating distress and need of assistance.