The Ottawa
70 U.S. 268 (1865)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Ottawa, 70 U.S. 3 Wall. 268 268 (1865)

The Ottawa

70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 268

Syllabus

1. The Court, admitting that within reasonable limits cross-examination is a right, and on many accounts of great value, reflects upon an exercise of it as excessive in a case where there were between four and five hundred cross-interrogatories.

2. Lookouts must be persons of suitable experience, properly stationed on the vessel and actually and vigilantly employed in the performance of their duty.

3. When acting as officer of the deck and having charge of the navigation of the vessel, the master of a steamer is not a proper lookout, nor is the helmsman.

4. Lookouts should be stationed on the forward part of the vessel where the view is not in any way obstructed. The wheel-house is not a proper place, especially if it is very dark and the view is obstructed.

5. Elevated positions, such as the hurricane deck, are said by the Court to be not in general as favorable in a dark night as those usually selected on the forward part of the vessel, where the lookout stands nearer the waterline, and is less likely to overlook small vessels deeply laden.

6. These principles applied, and a steamer condemned in a collision case, for want of a proper lookout, the case being one also where the lights of the steamer were badly attended to and gave imperfect warning.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for

Page 70 U. S. 269

the Northern District of Illinois in a question of collision at night on Lake Huron between the steam propeller Ottawa and the schooner Caledonia, and by which the schooner was sunk, the decree in the circuit as in the district court having been against the steamer as in fault.

The controversy was one chiefly of fact -- whether, for example, there was anyone at all on the steamer's deck about the time of the collision besides the wheelsman then steering the vessel; whether the steamer showed lights as required; what the courses of the two vessels had been, and how far they properly or improperly held them on their approach to each other, and some others not necessary, in view of the decision, to be mentioned. The testimony was conflicting and prolix, the cross-examination of one witness alone having extended to four hundred and thirty-two inquiries. The chief point of law disputed in the controversy and the matter therefore to which the reporter more particularly directs attention was apparently this: whether, assuming that the master was on the steamer's deck after the vessels came into such proximity as required precautions, until the moment before the collision occurred -- a matter about which there were doubts -- he was a competent lookout within the decisions of this Court, he having been, at the time, the officer of the deck, in charge of navigating her, and having been standing with the wheelsman in the wheel-house, a place which, on this steamer, the mate swore was the best place for a lookout to be, well forward, and giving an unobstructed view, and which the counsel for the owners of the steamer, exhibiting to the court a photograph, stated was less than twenty feet from the bow.

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