The Free State
91 U.S. 200 (1875)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Free State, 91 U.S. 200 (1875)

The Free State

91 U.S. 200


1. It is the duty of a steamer to keep out of the way of a sailing vessel when they are approaching in such directions as to involve a risk of collision. The correlative obligation rests upon the sailing vessel to keep her course,

and the steamer may be managed upon the assumption that she will do so.

2. Where a sailing vessel, ascending the Detroit River in a direction nearly north, bore two or three points to the west, while an ascending steamer overtook and passed her, to give a wider berth to such steamer, which steamer passed to the east of a descending steamer, held, 1. that the descending steamer had the right to assume that the sailing vessel would hold her westerly course, and that she was in the right in shaping her course to the east for the purpose of passing the sailing vessel; and that a subsequent change of the course of the sailing vessel to the east when within three hundred feet of the descending steamer was unjustifiable, and that the collision resulting therefrom was solely the fault of the sailing vessel; 2. that there was no fault in the descending steamer in not slackening or stopping until such change of course in the sailing vessel rendered a collision probable.

3. It is not the rule of law, under the sixteenth of the articles enacted by Congress to avoid collisions, when a steam vessel is approaching another vessel, and where a collision may be produced by a departure of the latter from the rules of navigation, that the former vessel is bound to slacken her speed, or stop and reverse. Each vessel may assume that the other will reasonably perform its duty under the laws of navigation, and if, upon this assumption, there could be no collision, the case under the sixteenth article does not arise. The steamer is not bound to take measures to avoid a collision until some danger of collision is present.

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