Close Quarters – Avoiding Action Required

Outline:  A report of a near miss between a yacht and a large car carrier. This report appears to relate to a speed management issue, arriving too early for a pilot.

What did the reporter tell us?

Own vessel (yacht) was on passage just south west of the Isle of Wight under sail on course to enter the Needles Passage.  Visibility was very good with a light SW wind calm to slight sea.  My course over the ground was 334 Magnetic and my speed over the ground was 6.6 knots.  Over the course of approximately 45 minutes we became aware of and monitored the progress of a large car carrier.  Soon after first noting his presence he altered course from approx. NE to approximately NNW.  This put him on a parallel course to us with him approximately 5 miles astern and on our port side.  We continued to monitor the ship, which also appeared to be shaping a course for the Needles. We were not unduly concerned, as it appeared that he would pass clear down our port side. At approximately 1740, the ship began a turn to starboard, which meant that he was now on a converging course with an estimated closest point of approach of less than 200 metres. I called the ship and identified myself as the yacht on his starboard bow and asked what his intentions were.  The response was to continue on his course to Nab Tower.  He did not seem to appreciate our position relative to his own, as he came back and asked if we were the yacht ahead of him.  I replied that we were and were unhappy with his course of action.  He responded that he was continuing his turn.  At this point my crew decided to take avoiding action started the engine and turned hard to starboard and completed a 360 degree turn, taking us first away from the car carrier and then around his stern. I called again and informed him that I was extremely unhappy with his actions and his failure to keep a clear lookout.   I informed him that I had a full AIS track recorded and that I intended to file a report. We continued to track his progress by AIS and observed him carrying out a series of unusual changes of course. My concerns are that visibility was extremely good and he should have been able to see us for at least 10 miles.  We were under full sail, carried a radar reflector and so should have been easily visible to him.  He was overtaking and made no effort to communicate with me or alter course.  No sound signals, or any attempt to call me by radio, were made.  His attitude on the radio did not give me any confidence that he had seen me or taken any account of my progress when beginning his turn.  Had we not been keeping a good lookout and monitoring the progress, the potential for a collision was significant.

Screen shots of our track and his track are produced below.


needles-1         needles-2

   Tracks of car carrier and own yacht.                                      Tracks of car carrier.


The lessons to be learnt

Reporter stated; Main lesson learned was to make contact with a vessel with unclear intentions earlier. CHIRP regrets that despite phone calls made and emails sent, the ship managers failed to respond. The car carrier’s OOW response to the VHF call is indicative of a poor safety culture onboard.  The report is a good example of where the use of VHF might not have worked earlier, because since the OOW’s response was poor when the vessels were close to each other, it is likely to have been poor when the ships were several miles apart.

CHIRP Suggests

CHIRP does not accept the reporter’s lesson learned relating to the use of VHF and does not encourage the use of VHF for collision avoidance purposes. CHIRP believes the yacht would have benefited from the use of an AIS transponder.

This appears to be a speed management issue for the car carrier arriving too early for the pilot. The ship was most likely in a ‘holding pattern’ and would have benefited from enhanced Bridge Resource Management, thereby avoiding the apparent loss of situation awareness.

See also the MAIB report into the grounding of the Pride of Canterbury “The Downs” – off Deal, Kent 31 January 2008.