Duhaime's Law Dictionary


COLREGS 1972 Definition:

Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972; an international set of standard navigation rules to prevent collisions at sea.

An awkward looking - and sounding - legal term but one typical of international law where acronyms are everywhere.

In 1972, maritime law enjoyed a significant breakthrough with, again, with necessity being the mother of invention. The final version of Regulations for Avoiding Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) was published; "rules of the road" for the sea.

And not just the ocean as the regulations also apply:

"... to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels."

Almost all nations and states have adopted the COLREGS, with some changes on points of detail. In maritime law, where a coastal state has modified the COLREGS or have different requirements, those local requirements prevail. The COLREGS state that:

"Nothing in these Rules shall interfere with the operation of special rules made by an appropriate authority for roadsteads, harbours, rivers, lakes or inland waterways connected with the high seas and navigable by seagoing vessels...."

Canada, for example, has adopted the COLREGS as a regulation (Collision Regulations) but with some minor adjustments.

Some extracts:

small pleasure vessel• "Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master or crew thereof, from ... the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

  •"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.

 • "Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

• "A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable.

• "When two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other.

 • "A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel not under command, a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre, a vessel engaged in fishing, (or) a sailing vessel."

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