Originally Posted by kclowe
Downstream crafts ALWAYS have the right of way.
The standard rule of thumb for paddlers is that the boat heading
downstream has the right of way. Until seeing your second post, that's what I thought you meant, but either way there are no absolutes. In many (most?) situations on the river the boat that is downstream of another is the one that should yield. You don't peel out of an eddy or launch in front of oncoming traffic, and surfers (who are basically playing in the road) should yield. It's only when both boats are heading downstream and one is overtaking the other that the boat that is
downstream has the right of way.
In case anyone doesn't know, besides generally accepted rules about paddling, there are real laws about the operation of vessels, and your raft, kayak or canoe is a vessel. For the most part, the general paddling rules conform to those laws. About the only exception I can think of would be surfing (or any other play that has you more or less holding position in the current. Under the law, two boats approaching each other pass to the right.
Additionally, there are generally laws about following distance for boats in channels that are too narrow to allow overtaking. It seems to me that the laws on both following and overtaking would be applicable in the situation described.
Originally Posted by loot87
I'd go farther. If you had a paddle raft and declared ramming speed on a commercial trip, they'd tell the sheriff. I think you should do the same.
Absolutely. If the guide said nothing it would be a simple case of negligence. As the master of her vessel (legally, if not factually), saying "ramming speed" elevated it to assault, and possibly even vehicular assault.
Of course in the real world of paddling we need to be a bit flexible about how we apply the rules, and whether you're in the right or the wrong physics and the law of gross tonnage always apply. I doubt the guide actually intended to accelerate and deliberately ram the other raft, but since she had no way of being sure how every passenger would respond her actions were certainly negligent (in addition to her overall control), and probably criminal.
You don't need to have even the rudimentary skill of a poor raft guide to know that a guided raft full of novices may have very poor control. For other boats that means paying attention and trying to stay out of the way. Still, the rafts have a legal obligation to follow the rules of the road. If they can't maintain control once they're underway, they need to wait longer before getting under way. How bad a guide do you have to be to fail at keeping your raft in an eddy somewhere upstream of the rapid? A few days ago I watched a few guides do that perfectly well with nearly 2 dozen rafts paddled only by their customers on the lower Yough.