The Breakwater - 155 U.S. 252 (1894)

U.S. Supreme Court

The Breakwater, 155 U.S. 252 (1894)

The Breakwater

No. 61

Argued November 9, 1894

Decided December 3, 1894

155 U.S. 252


In view of the large number of ferry boats plying between New York and the opposite shores, steamers running up and down the river should keep a sufficient distance from the socks, and hold themselves under such

Page 155 U. S. 253

control as to enable them to avoid ferry boats leaving their slips upon their usual schedules of time.

Rule 19 (Rev.Stat. § 4233), requiring, in the case of crossing steamers, that the one having the other on her starboard side should keep out of the way of the other is applicable to an ocean steamer meeting a ferry boat in the harbor of New York on her starboard side.

Exceptions to the operation of the rule should be admitted with great caution, and only when imperatively required by the special circumstances mentioned in Rule 24.

The Pavonia was a ferry boat, running at regular intervals between a slip at the foot of Chambers Street, New York, and the Erie Railway Station on the opposite Jersey shore, northwesterly from Chambers Street. As she was leaving her slip on the afternoon of December 16, 1887, the steamer Breakwater, arriving from sea, was proceeding northward along the line of the New York docks and about 400 feet distant therefrom, and had arrived opposite Barclay Street, which is distant about 880 feet to the southward from Chambers Street. The Breakwater was on her way to her clock at the foot of Beach Street, in New York, a short distance northerly from Chambers Street. She was then moving at the rate of

about six miles an hour. The tide was strong ebb, the wind northwest,

and the weather clear. As the Pavonia moved slowly out under a hard-a-port wheel, her bow was swung southerly down the river by the force of wind and tide. She sounded a single whistle, and the Breakwater replied with the same. The Pavonia then put her engine to full speed, and made another single whistle, to which the Breakwater made the same reply. Meanwhile the Pavonia had recovered from her downward swing, and swung up the river on her course. When the Breakwater sounded her first whistle, her engines were immediately stopped; when she sounded the second, they were put full speed astern. Notwithstanding this, the stem of the Breakwater struck the Pavonia on her port side and seriously damaged her. Held:

(1) That when the Pavonia sounded a single whistle, the statutory rules became operative, and it was the duty of the Breakwater to keep out of the way.

(2) That no fault could be imputed to the Pavonia for leaving when she did, or for her failure to stop and reverse.

(3) That the Breakwater was alone in fault.

This was a libel in admiralty for a collision which took place on December 16, 1887, between the steam ferry boat Pavonia, of the Erie Railway Line, as she was leaving her slip at the foot of Chambers Street in the North River, and the steamship Breakwater, of the Old Dominion Line, as she was coming up the river to her berth at the foot of Beach Street above the ferry slip.

Page 155 U. S. 254

The collision occurred a short distance below the ferry slip, the Breakwater striking the Pavonia on her port side a little abaft her wheel and seriously damaging her. The libel charged the Breakwater with having been in fault for not keeping out of the way of the ferry boat, as required by the starboard-hand rule, and for coming up the river too near the shore and at too great speed. The answer attributed the collision either to unavoidable accident or to the negligence of the ferry boat in leaving her slip either without seeing the Breakwater or at a time when, if she had seen her, she must have known there was danger of collision in so leaving.

The district court found the Breakwater to have been wholly in fault (39 F. 511), and upon appeal to the circuit court this decree was affirmed by Mr. Justice Blatchford upon the following finding of facts:

"1. The steam ferry boat Pavonia, owned by the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company, and the steamship Breakwater, owned by the Old Dominion Steamship Company, collided with each other at or about 4:50 o'clock p.m. on the 16th day of December, 1887, in the North River, about abreast of the middle of the slip between pier 28 (old number), known as the 'Fall River Pier,' and pier 29 (old number), known as the 'Providence Pier,' and about 400 feet out in the river from the ends of those piers."

"2. Immediately adjacent to pier 29 (old number), and to the northward thereof, there were two slips of the Pavonia or Erie ferry, which was operated by the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company. The more northerly of those slips was bounded on the north by a pier known as 'No. 20' (new number), which was the first pier to the north of pier 29 (old number), and extended out into the river about 150 feet further than pier 29 (old number) and the piers below it. Those slips were at the foot of Chambers Street."

"3. Shortly before the collision, the Pavonia left her upper or northerly slip, on the New York City side, on one of her regular trips, bound to her slip across the river in New Jersey, which latter slip was to the northward of Chambers Street."

"4. The distance from the upper or northerly rack of the

Page 155 U. S. 255

slips at Chambers Street to the upper or northerly side of the pier at Barclay Street, which was the fourth street south of Chambers Street, was 881 1/4 feet. The upper slip at Chambers Street was 87 1/2 feet wide. The whole slip was 200 feet wide."

"5. At the time the Pavonia left her bridge, the Breakwater was about off Barclay Street, coming in from sea on one of her regular trips to her berth at the foot of Beach Street, which was to the north of Chambers Street."

"6. The tide was strong ebb, the wind was northwest, and the weather was clear."

"7. The Pavonia started to move slowly out of her slip under a hard-a-port wheel, which was fastened in the becket, and so remained until the collision. As her bow emerged, the effect of the wind and tide was to swing her bow somewhat down the river, but this swing was overcome before the collision, at which time her bow was on a swing up the river. The wind and tide had the effect also to set her bodily down the river. Her course, from the time of her starting until the collision, was the usual course of ferry boats on leaving their slips under like circumstances. The course of the Breakwater from the vicinity of the Battery was along the New York docks. As she neared the Cortlandt Street ferry slip, she approached closer to the docks, and from that time continued on a course about 400 feet therefrom."

"8. The Pavonia sounded the usual long, single whistle to warn approaching vessels as she commenced to move. Shortly thereafter, the Breakwater sounded in reply a single whistle at which time the Pavonia was moving slowly, her bow having reached about the outer end of pier 20 (new number). The Pavonia immediately replied by a single whistle, which was answered by a single whistle from the Breakwater. The Pavonia, when her stern was about as far out as the outer end of pier 20 (new number), sounded another single whistle to the Breakwater, which was answered by the Breakwater by a single whistle. Before the collision, the Pavonia sounded alarm whistles."

"8. As soon as the Pavonia received the first whistle from the Breakwater, her engine was put to full speed ahead, and

Page 155 U. S. 256

so continued until the collision. As soon as the Breakwater sounded her first whistle, her engine was immediately stopped, and when the Pavonia sounded her second whistle, the engine of the Breakwater was immediately put full speed astern."

"9. The speed of the Breakwater at the time she sounded her first whistle was about six miles an hour, but at the time of the collision her headway by the land was almost entirely, if not quite, stopped."

"10. The stem of the Breakwater struck the Pavonia on the port side of the latter a little abaft her wheel, cut through her guard into her hull, and the Pavonia was thereby seriously damaged."

"11. If the engine of the Breakwater had been promptly reversed when she blew her first whistle, her headway could have been entirely stopped in going her length of 212 feet, and the collision would have been avoided."

"12. The New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company suffered damages by reason of the collision as follows, viz.: repairs to the Pavonia, $4,770.02, with interest from February 1, 1888; demurrage, $2,800, with interest from June 18, 1889."

"On the foregoing facts I find the following conclusions of law:"

"1. The Breakwater was in fault because, having the Pavonia on her own starboard side and being on a crossing course, she did not keep out of the way of the Pavonia, and in not taking into consideration the probable and usual course of the Pavonia under the circumstances of the tide and the wind, and in not reversing her engine at the time she gave her first whistle."

"2. The Pavonia was without fault."

"3, In the suit brought by the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company, it is entitled to a decree for $4,770.02, with interest from February 1, 1888, and for $2,800, with interest from June 18, 1889, and for its costs in the district court, taxed at $159.75, and for its costs in this Court, to be taxed."

"4. In the suit brought by the Old Dominion Steamship

Page 155 U. S. 257

Company, a decree must be entered dismissing the libel and awarding to the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Company its costs in the district court, taxed at $41.95, and its costs in this Court, to be taxed."

Subsequently, and upon motion of the claimant, the court made the following additional finding:

"The Breakwater is an iron steamer or 1,100 tons' burden and 212 feet long. Before and at the time of the collision, her master, chief officer, quartermaster, and a Sandy Hook pilot, who was only a passenger, were in her pilot house. The second officer was on the forward deck, in front of the wheel house."

From the decree of the circuit court, the owners of the Breakwater appealed to this Court.

Page 155 U. S. 261

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