Red Sky in the Morning, Sailors Take Warning
Shaw v. Eastern Transportation Co, 1943
Red Sky at Night Sailors Delight
Sailors have long looked to the sky for clues to the impending weather. In the morning, when the sun was low in the sky, a red sky was understood to mean that a storm was likely. Just don't tell it to the judge.
On November 10, 1939, the seagoing barge RUTH SHAW was being towed by the Eastern Transportation Company's tug ROWEN CARD. She was bound for Fire Island Inlet. When the barge arrived at the inlet the tide was too low to safely navigate in. The tug captain decided to slowly circle the harbor in hopes of making a second attempt a few hours later. Toward the end of the day, the captain realized he was not going to be able to make delivery and headed to the Red Hook Flats anchorage for the night.
During this return trip the barge lost its rudder, took on water and sank. The owner of the barge argued that high winds caused the barge to sink, and that the red sky on the morning of the disaster should have been enough to warn the tug captain of the unfavorable weather conditions.
In the law case that followed (Shaw v. Eastern Transportation Co., et al, 1943 A.M.C. 1223), the judge ruled that adage "red sky in the morning, sailors warning" had no standing in law, writing that:
The sun rose red in a clear sky, and it is said that this should have taught the captain of the tug that high winds were to be expected. If that means that he should have turned back to Red Hook Flats because the rising sun was red, the contention is not sustained by evidence in the record, and is opposed to common sense.
The judge concluded that it was far wiser to rely on scientific instruments to predict the weather