Liability in motor vehicle accidents is frequently determined based on application of the "rules of the road". Determining liability inclusions between vessels (for collisions between vessels and personal watercraft, water skiers, swimmers) is also determined by applying standardized rules. These standardized rules have been around for a lot longer than the rules of the road.
Between 1,000 BC and 600 BC, the people of Rhodes developed a strong commercial fleet and they were soon everywhere in the Mediterranean. The people of Rhodes developed rules of law to deal with occasional shipping disputes including, especially, a code of maritime law. It’s referred to as the lex Rhodia.
Many of these rules – thousands of years old – have been codified by both Washington State and the United States Coast Guard.
When trying a case involving a collision between vessels or between a vessel and personal watercraft, water skier, swimmer or diver, it is important to ensure that the court gives the jury instructions about each of the applicable rules. While there is a pattern set of Washington jury instructions that include special instructions for the rules of the road, the pattern set does not include rules applicable to boating accidents. Therefore, it makes sense in these cases to start early in terms of educating the court so it can then, at trial, educate the jury about what law applies and give the jury a sound basis for citing the case.