In fine, clear weather, on a smooth, open sea, the
an iron passenger steamer, proceeding eastward at
nine knots, rammed the port side of the Svea,
steam schooner, steaming northward at eight knots. They had been
approaching each other in full view for more than half an hour.
Twenty minutes before the collision, the master of the
quitted the bridge, leaving an
Page 276 U. S. 455
inexperienced officer in charge, and, at the trial, he failed to
explain this conduct or to show what, if any, directions he gave or
precautions he took to insure proper navigation. Each vessel held
her course and speed up to the moment of the collision. The
had tried in vain, by repeated blast of her whistle,
to ascertain the Newport's
intention. The Newport
could have averted the collision by porting her helm or reversing
her engines two minutes before it occurred, and there was nothing
to inform the Svea
that this would not be done until too
late for her master to maneuver into safety.
1. That the master of the Newport
negligent and, in the absence of clear exonerating evidence, was
personally liable. P. 276 U. S.
2. The Svea
was not at fault in maintaining her course
and speed pursuant to the fundamental rule of the International
Rule for Navigation at Sea. Her master could not possibly know the
result of departing from it, and, on the facts, could not be held
indiscreet in following it. P. 276 U. S.
15 F.2d 342, reversed in part, affirmed in part.
District court (Am.Mar.Cas.1924, 1285) affirmed.
Certiorari, 273 U.S. 686, 690, to a decree of the circuit court
of appeals which reversed one by the district court in libel
proceedings growing out of a collision at sea. The district court
held the Newport
and her master liable and exonerated the
The circuit court of appeals held both ships at
fault and the master of the Newport
Page 276 U. S. 459
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Twelve miles off the shore of California, 9:53 a.m., November
29, 1922, sky clear, sea smooth and uninterrupted, the
an iron passenger steamer 337 feet long 2,643
tons, drove her prow amidships into the port side of the
a wooden lumber steam schooner of 618 tons and 170
feet long. Both vessels were seriously injured. The owners of the
libeled the Newport,
her owners and master,
in the District Court, Southern District of California. They
charged that the collision resulted from the sole fault of the
and her navigators, and asked for full damages. A
cross-libel admitted fault, but claimed that the other vessel
contributed, and prayed for application of the half damage
The trial court concluded that the collision resulted solely
from the gross negligence and plain fault of the Newport,
and granted a decree against her and the master -- McKinnon -- for
all established damages. The circuit court of appeals held there
was mutual fault, divided the damages, and definitely declared
that, under the approved rule, the master was responsible for the
Page 276 U. S. 460
of subordinates without regard to his personal fault.
Counsel for cross-petitioner McKinnon earnestly maintain that,
considering present conditions of navigation, the master, when free
from fault, ought not to be held liable for the action of others.
But it is unnecessary now to discuss that question.
Here, the record fails to disclose that the master met the
exacting duties voluntarily assumed. An amazing casualty occurred
while he commanded, and presumably, at least, he participated in
the admitted fault of his ship. Certainly, nothing short of very
clear evidence of intelligent care could possibly absolve him.
The day was fine; the horizon ten miles away. The
was proceeding eastward at nine knots with the
off her starboard side steaming northward at eight
knots. They were approaching each other upon crossing courses and
in full view for more than half an hour. Twenty minutes before the
collision, Capt. McKinnon quit the bridge of the Newport,
leaving the third officer in charge. Of this subordinate he
testified: "This young man was just keeping his first watch on
ship; he just shipped the day before, and was making his first
voyage." When upon the witness stand, the captain failed to show
what, if any, directions he gave, or that he took reasonable
precaution to insure proper navigation in circumstances of obvious
danger. He gave no excuse, nor did he indicate any necessity for
leaving the bridge. It is impossible for us to say that he acted
The International Rules for Navigation at Sea (Act 1890, c. 802,
26 Stat. 327, Act 1894, c. 83, 28 Stat. 82; U.S.C. Tit. 33, §§ 104,
106, 112, 121, p. 1055) direct:
"Art. 19. When two steam vessels are crossing, so as to involve
risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on
Page 276 U. S. 461
her own starboard side shall keep out of the way of the
"Art. 21. Where, by any of these rules, one of two vessels is to
keep out of the way, the other shall keep her course and
"Note. -- When, in consequence of thick weather or other causes,
such vessel findings herself so close that collision cannot be
avoided by the action of the giving-way vessel alone, she also
shall take such action as will best aid to avert collision."
"Art. 27. In obeying and construing these rules, due regard
shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision, and to any
special circumstances which may render a departure from the above
rules necessary in order to avoid immediate danger."
"Art. 29. Nothing in these rules shall exonerate any vessel, or
the owner or master or crew thereof, from the consequences of any
neglect to carry lights or signals, or of any neglect to keep a
proper lookout, or of the neglect of any precaution which may be
required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special
circumstances of the case."
kept her course and speed up to the moment
of collision, and it is admitted that, in so doing, she was at
fault. But her counsel claim that the Svea
also was at
fault in holding her course and speed, and that, by acting
differently, she should have avoided the accident. The evidence
does not support that view. Consideration must be given to the
circumstances as they appeared at the time, not as they are now
known. The Svea
adhered to the fundamental rule. If, in
the difficult circumstances forced upon him, her navigator, whose
qualifications are not questioned, exercised his best judgment in
not departing therefrom, the burdened vessel must accept the
consequences. Having driven him into a perplexing
Page 276 U. S. 462
situation, the Newport
cannot complain because he
failed to make the most judicious choice between the hazards
Without stopping to set out the evidence, it is enough to say
that we think there is no clear proof that the Svea
in her duty. She tried in vain by repeated blasts to ascertain the
intention. Her master could not possibly know
the result of departing from the prescribed rule, and we cannot say
that he acted indiscreetly in following it.
Big vessels may not insolently disregard smaller ones; supersize
gives no right to domineer. The Newport
was a handy
vessel. By porting her helm or reversing her engines two minutes or
less before the collision occurred, she could have avoided it
easily. There was nothing to show that she would not do one of
these things until too late for the Svea's
maneuver his vessel into safety.
The applicable doctrine is plainly announced in The
Delaware, 161 U. S. 459
161 U. S.
"The cases of The Britannia, 153 U. S.
, and The Northfield, 154 U. S.
, must be regarded, however, as settling the law that
the preferred steamer will not be held in fault for maintaining her
course and speed so long as it is possible for the other to avoid
her by porting, at least in the absence of some distinct indication
that she is about to fail in her duty. If the master of the
preferred steamer were at liberty to speculate upon the
possibility, or even of the probability, of the approaching
steamer's failing to do her duty and keep out of his way, the
certainty that the former will hold his course, upon which the
latter has a right to rely and which it is the very object of the
rule to insure, would give place to doubts on the part of the
master of the obligated steamer as to whether he would do so or
not, and produce a timidity and feebleness of
Page 276 U. S. 463
action on the part of both, which would bring about more
collisions than it would prevent. Belden v. Chase,
150 U. S.
; The Highgate,
62 L.T.R. 841; S.C. 6
Asp.Mar.Law Cases, 512."
The decree of the circuit court of appeals in 146 is reversed
and that of the district court is affirmed. In 173, the decree of
the circuit court of appeals is affirmed.
No. 146, reversed.
No. 173, affirmed.