Sailing Trivia



Prior to 1848 there were no rules governing the navigation lights to be exhibited either by steam or sailing vessels. However with introduction of steam vessels the numbers of collisions accelerated rapidly. In the period 1848-9 there were 3,064 collisions involving British ships, in which 9 steamships and 270 sailing vessels were lost


New member
16 May 2001
Radlett, Herts
You may be interested in knowing what the rules said. The following extract gives some of the history, and is followed by the rules.

[Taken from "A Guide to the Collision Avoidance Rules" by A. N. Cockcroft and J. N. F. Lameijer, Stanford Maritime, 2nd edition, 1976]

"For several hundred years there have been rules in existence for the purpose of preventing collisions at sea, but there were no rules of statutory force until the last century. In 1840 the London Trinitv House drew up a set of regulations which were enacted by Parliament in 1846. One of these required a steam vessel passing another vessel in a narrow channel to leave the other on her own port hand. The other regulation relating to steam ships required steam vessels on different courses, crossing so as to involve risk of collision, to alter course to starboard so as to pass on the port side of each other. There were also regulations for vessels under sail including a rule, established in the eighteenth century, requiring a sailing vessel on the port tack to give way to a sailing vessel on the starboard tack.

"The two Trinity House rules for steam vessels were combined into a single rule and included in the Steam Navigation Act of 1846. Admiralty regulations concerning lights were included in this statute two years later. Steam ships were required to carry green and red sidelights as well as a white masthead light. In 1858 coloured sidelights were prescribed for sailing vessels and fog signals were required to be given, by steam vessels on the whistle and by sailing vessels on the fog horn or bell.

"A completely new set of rules drawn up by the British Board of Trade, in consultation with the French Government, came into operation in 1863. By the end of 1864 these regulations. known as Articles, had been adopted by over thirty maritime countries including the United States and Germany."

The steering and sailing rules established in 1840 by Trinity House, and the Admiralty regulations for lights, were enacted by Parliament in the Steam Navigation Act in 1846 and are given below.




1.-Those vessels having the wind fair, shall "give way" to those on a wind.

2.-That when both are going by the wind, the vessel on the starboard tack shall keep her wind, and the one on the port tack bear up; thereby passing each other on the port hand.

3.-That when both vessels have the wind free, large, or abeam, and meet, they shall pass each other in the same way, by putting the helm to port.

4.-Any vessel passing another steering a similar course, must always leave the vessel she is passing, on her port side.


are considered in the light of sailing-vessels navigating with a fair wind, and should give way to sailing vessels on a wind, on either tack.

Steam-vessels navigating any river or narrow channel, shall keep, as far as is practicable, to that side of the fair-way, or mid-channel, of such river or channel, which lies on the starboard side of such vessel; due regard being had to the tide, and to the position of each vessel in such tide.

The End


When under Weigh: 1 Bright white light at fore-mast head.
2 Green light on the starboard side.
3 Red light on the port side.

When at Anchor (steamers and all other vessels):- A common bright light.*


1. The mast-head light to be visible at a distance of at least five miles in a clear dark night, and the lantern to be so constructed as to show a uniform and unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 20 points of the compass, viz., from right ahead to two points abaft the beam on each side of the ship.

2. The coloured side lights to be visible at a distance of at least two miles in a clear dark night, and the lanterns to be so constructed as to show a uniform and unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 10 points of the compass, viz., from right ahead to two points abaft the beam on their respective sides.

3. The side lights to be moreover fitted with inboard screens, of at least 3 feet long, to prevent them from being seen across the bow. The screens to be placed in a fore-and-aft line with the inner edge of the side lights.

4 The lantern used when at anchor, to be so constructed, as to show a good light all round the horizon.