THE VANDERBILT, 73 U. S. 225 (1867)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Vanderbilt, 73 U.S. 6 Wall. 225 225 (1867)

The Vanderbilt

73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 225


1. Where the usage in navigating a river is that both ascending and descending vessels shall keep to the right of the center of the channel, which is the usage in the River Hudson, the omission to comply seasonably with that regulation, if the omission contributes to the collision, is a fault for which the offending vessel and her owners must be responsible.

Page 73 U. S. 226

2. Compliance with such a usage is required in all cases where the course of a vessel is such that, if continued, there would be danger of collision with other vessels navigating in the opposite direction.

3. Unless precautions are seasonable, they constitute no defense against a charge of collision, although they may be in form such as the rules of navigation require.

4. Objections to the amount of damages, as reported by a commissioner and awarded by the admiralty court, will not be entertained in this Court in a case of collision where it appears that neither party excepted to the report of the. commissioner.

On the morning of May 16th, 1863, the steam tug Hubbard was slowly descending the west side of the Hudson River, here one thousand or more feet wide. She was about one hundred and seventy-five feet from the shore, and had in tow four canal boats, of which the Canisteo was one. She was now opposite the lower part of Troy, a city on the east side of the river. At the same time, the Vanderbilt, a large steamer regularly plying on the stream, was coming up it and was making for her dock about a mile off, in the upper part of Troy. But she was on the west side of the channel also, and had been sailing on that side of it. The morning had been clear, but a fog bank settling itself at that part of the river, both vessels as they entered it were unable to see ahead. Running each on its course, they suddenly discovered one another, the two in immediate proximity. There was apparently no exception to be taken to the maneuvers of navigation of either vessel in the circumstances. But coming thus, unawares, on each other, the Vanderbilt, in spite of all efforts made at so late a moment, struck the Canisteo, and being much the larger vessel, sank her at once. No difficulty had existed as to sea room for the steamer to pass to the right and east of the descending tow. The owner of the Canisteo now libeled the Vanderbilt in the District Court for the Southern District of New York, where a decree was given for the libellant, that court considering that the Vanderbilt was "disproportionately out of the channel toward the west shore." On reference to a commissioner,

Page 73 U. S. 227

the damages were fixed at $7,020. An appeal was taken to the circuit court, no exception being taken in either court to the amount of damages. On the appeal, the following opinion was delivered by

"NELSON, J. The point pressing on the steamer is that she was too far to the west of the channel of the river, and therefore, out of her proper course. This view was taken by the court below, and upon it a decree was rendered for the canal boat. We are inclined to concur in this result. The west side is the natural and ordinary track for descending vessels, and the Vanderbilt, we think, was bound to take notice of this fact and to have kept nearer to the middle of the river. She had no right to act upon the idea that the descending boat would take that course, and expect her to pass to the left or starboard, between her and the west shore. What makes the case more marked in this respect is the fact that the steamer's dock was on the east shore, some mile above the place of collision."


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