Collision Regulations – Several near misses.


CHIRP has received several accounts of navigational near misses from both the leisure and commercial sectors. Some of these have a common theme and thus, to avoid repetition, CHIRP comments may be found at the end of the section rather than on an individual basis.

Report No 1:

A report describing a near miss between a yacht and vessel under pilotage highlighting differing perceptions of the same event.

What the Reporter told us (1):

Whilst participating in a local yacht race we were running downwind with the incoming tide toward our next mark. We were flying a large and very brightly coloured cruising chute and doing approximately 6.5 knots over the ground. Visibility was hazy but about 2.5 miles. We suddenly became aware of a large vessel approaching rapidly from our port side. This was unusual as the ship was crossing from South to North outside of the usual shipping channels. Normally the only commercial vessels in this area are the local tugs and pilot boats. It was immediately apparent that we were on a potential collision course and with the wind and tide pushing us, we were closing rapidly. As the relative bearing was not changing and there was no sign of the ship (the give way vessel) taking any action, I called them on VHF Channel 16. I called them three times, asking them to acknowledge and make their intentions clear, but received no answer to any of my calls. We were on the point of doing a crash gybe when one of my crew said the ship’s aspect was changing, that she was turning to port.

The ship passed about 100 yards ahead of us and as we crossed her stern I noticed she was flying a pilot flag.

Lessons Learned:

  • Never assume that the give way vessel will in fact give way. With some 35 years of sailing this is a lesson I have already learnt.
  • Appreciate that VHF is a very poor method of communication because:
    • There is no guarantee that you are transmitting – in fact we were, because I checked with another vessel in the race.
    • There is no guarantee that anyone is listening, or that their VHF is on/working.
    • In the case of ships versus small sailing vessels, sometimes calls may be ignored.
  • That even a vessel carrying a local pilot, who should be well aware that sailing vessels are regularly in this area, may not obey the COLREGS.

Further dialogue:

CHIRP wrote to the Pilot Authority who responded as follows:

We have discussed this report with the pilot who was onboard the vessel, and he has offered the following comments;

  • While approaching three yachts on our starboard bow, bearings were monitored for some time and the vessels tracked on ARPA radar. Two yachts passed well ahead of us and a third passed astern. The bearing of the third yacht was noted to be always opening.
  • We had been steering a steady course since departing port and had a maximum speed of 8 knots. Why the reporter should state that the vessel appeared “suddenly”, is difficult to understand. The visibility was actually in excess of 4 nautical miles that day, so we would have been visible to anyone keeping a lookout from the moment that it left port.
  • We were monitoring VHF Channel 71, which is appropriate as it the VTS channel for that area. Had the reporter been monitoring that channel as per local General Directions, and made his call on that channel, he would have received an immediate response.

The reporter commented as follows;

  • From my position (third yacht) the bearing appeared fairly steady, enough to concern me. All I wanted from the VHF call was confirmation of the vessels intentions and to know that he knew we were there.
  • The vessel appeared “suddenly” to me because it appeared on a most unexpected course for commercial shipping in that area. Not a mistake I will make again.
  • With my eyes about 6 feet above sea level, visibility, for me, was indeed only about two miles. I did not have the benefit of a view from 30 feet above the water.
  • The local General Directions specifically exempt pleasure vessels, and therefore they are extremely unlikely to use VHF Channel 71. It is however, one of the channels we scan, so that we have an idea of what is happening in the area. If they had called us on Channel 71 we would have heard them. I never thought of calling on Channel 71. To me, Channel 16 was the logical channel to call on. I am concerned that the vessel was not apparently monitoring Channel 16. This has come as a real eye opener to me and calls into question, the very point of Channel 16 as a safety channel.

I have learnt a few lessons from this, especially regarding expectations from VHF radio and how different views of the same situation may result in totally different perceptions.

Report No 2:

Differing perceptions as to a safe passing distance between an overtaking vessel and a vessel being overtaken.

What the Reporter told us (2):

My vessel was departing from the port of Rotterdam heading for the Dover Strait. Our speed was about 8.2 knots with a course of 270°. After we passed the pilot cutter I noticed two ships behind me which where both faster than us. Both ships where on my port quarter.

Firstly, I called the larger vessel to let them know that we would keep the south side of the traffic lane. She confirmed and altered course to starboard to overtake us on our starboard side. Then I noticed that the second vessel (a container feeder with a speed of about 14 knots) was about 1.8 miles away and was on a collision course. She was ahead of and faster than the first vessel. I tried to contact her on VHF Channel 16 without receiving any answer. Then I tried to contact her on VHF Channel 02 (the working channel of Pilot Maas as we were inside their working area). As I still did not receive an answer I contacted Pilot Maas and advised them that the vessel was on collision course and that I was unable to reach them. Also, I requested Pilot Maas to advise them to pass on my starboard side as I was heading for the south side of the traffic lane. Pilot Maas replied that the ship had heard and that they would be altering their course to port (to pass us on our port side).

At 1.2 miles I saw she was altering to port but after a short time it became clear that she was trying to overtake me at 1.5 to 2 cables of distance. At that time, we were north of the Maas-Center light buoy at a distance of about 1.6 miles from the buoy. On the port side of the other vessel there was no other traffic.

Under the circumstances, a passing distance of 1.5 to 2 cables was, in my eyes, not a safe passing distance (if either vessel were to lose steerage there would not be enough time for the other ship to react).

In accordance with Article 2 of COLREGs I altered my course to starboard to make a passing distance of 2 to 3 cables. Still short, but I had the first vessel overtaking on my starboard side. I called the ship on my starboard side to advise them, and they confirmed that they would keep a safe distance.

After the vessel on our port side passed us at 2.4 cables, I turned back on course to give way for the vessel on our starboard side. The xx crossed our bow at about 1.2 nm and proceeded on a track about 1 mile north of ours.

CHIRP contacted the company of the vessel involved and spoke directly with the master concerned. The perception of the master was that he needed to make for the traffic separation scheme and avoid the third vessel. He also knew of the reporter’s intentions. A desired safe passing distance of xx cables/miles is sometimes just not possible in high density traffic areas.

Report No 3:

Disregard for COLREGS approaching a pilot station in the Bungo Suido – Japan

What the Reporter told us (3):

On 10 Apr 2018, we were in the Bungo Suido leaving Seki Saki pilot station outbound, whilst an inbound car carrier was north-west of us and heading to pick up a pilot.

We initially monitored the target at about 10 miles on our port bow, and then called them by VHF when they were 6 miles on our port bow showing a clear green sidelight. We assumed she had seen us as well, showing our red since visibility was good that night. Her distance to the pilot station was around 8 miles. Our OOW asked the inbound vessels’ intentions? The OOW of the car carrier replied that they were approaching the pilot station to pick-up a pilot and requested starboard to starboard. My OOW responded that they, being the “give way” vessel should keep clear of us, not cross our bow and alter their course to starboard so that we pass port to port. He added that there was another ship on our port bow outbound and that we could not alter course to port. There was no reply to this.

We continued to closely monitor them, and we were amazed that they blatantly disregarded the collision regulations. They continued their course, started slowing down and we found ourselves in a collision situation. Just before they were 2 miles distant on our port bow, we requested their intentions again and when they replied they were maintaining course, we immediately went hard-over to port to pass clear.

The unsafe behaviour they displayed was both disgraceful and irritating. Heated exchanges ensued with the master of the car carrier. He was obviously incorrect in disregarding the COLREGS just because he was approaching a pilot station, especially since he was still 8 miles away from the pilot boarding ground. The actual pilot boarding ground was located about 5.0 miles west of the normal traffic lane.

Can you pass this to the company concerned as the vessel exercised exceedingly bad seamanship and blatant disregard of the COLREGS? He is a navigational hazard.

CHIRP wrote to the company involved but they did not respond.

Report No 4:

A blatant disregard of COLREGS in the Aegean Sea – superyacht under power and a general cargo ship.

What the Reporter told us (4):

M/V xx was detected at an approximate range of 8 miles on our port bow with a CPA of less than 0.35nm. The TCPA was approximately 40 minutes. We monitored her movements until her TCPA was approximately 25 minutes. We attempted to establish radio communication through both voice and DSC on a regular basis, but no response was received. Both our vessel and xx were travelling at about 9 knots, so I maintained my course and speed and continued to try to obtain radio contact. When the range reached 1 mile I began sounding my horn and prepared to take avoiding action. The range closed to around 0.5nm and I continued sounding my horn. We were observing through binoculars and in their deck lights a crew member was visible leaving the crew accommodation and rushing to the bridge. At this point the vessel made a bold alteration of course to port, put her stern towards us, steamed away from our track and slowed down. We maintained course and speed and passed with a CPA of around 0.5nm. I tried to raise the vessel on VHF again but still received no response. We continued on our passage safely, maintaining a proper look out with engines and steering at the ready.

Lessons Learned:
My experience of transiting this part of the Mediterranean has taught me that the standards of watchkeeping on many of the smaller merchant vessels in this area is very poor. They regularly ignore the rules of the road and rarely respond to the VHF when called if a close quarter situation is developing, as they do not wish to have to change course or speed to comply. There seems to be an apparent attitude that yachts should always give way regardless of the circumstances. My vessel is 50 metres and 530GT so not a small craft, but we regularly find ourselves in circumstances such as last night’s events. We had some other traffic around us last night and would have created another close quarters’ situation with other vessels had we slowed down or changed course. M/V xx had unrestricted sea room to pass by our stern, but it appears she had no one on watch in the bridge if our observations through the binoculars of a crew member rushing to the bridge were correct.

Report No 5:

A near miss in the English Channel between a yacht and a power-driven vessel. The actions or inactions of one impact upon the actions of the other.

What the Reporter told us (5):

My sailing vessel was crossing the English Channel, sailing northwards hard on the wind. The vessel xx was heading WSW. Our CPA varied between a couple of hundred feet and zero. This ship failed to respond to three VHF calls on Channel 16 and two DSC calls.

Following a short VHF communication with another ship (which would otherwise have passed behind us) to inform him, we turned to starboard. We were then called by a third vessel asking us to confirm our intentions, and explained that we would turn to port after passing the two ships so as not cause him to take action to avoid us.

Lessons Learned:

Do not assume that a ship has anyone on watch or willing to respond on VHF even when in close proximity with other vessels. Ships wishing not to be inconvenienced by having to change course and thus not answering VHF calls, be aware that in so doing you may cause inconvenience not just to one other vessel but to many.

CHIRP wrote to the managers of the vessel which failed to comply with the COLREGS, but they did not respond.

Report No 6:

A report from a yacht outlining a near miss with a dredger followed by an official complaint where the follow up was considered to be less than satisfactory.

What the Reporter told us (6):

My husband and I were sailing west in our yacht when we saw a dredger astern of us in the main channel. Further back was an inbound tanker. We were just inside the channel, so we immediately changed our heading and moved outside the channel to let both vessels pass – we were under sail and goose winged. My husband then noticed the dredger was changing direction and was heading toward us, out of the main channel. At this point, we were a little confused and quite concerned. There was no communication from the dredger in any way via radio or by sounding of horn and he was approaching very fast. At this point we started our engine and went full throttle to steer hard to port (into the main channel) to get out of his way, which resulted in us gybing the boat. The dredger proceeded past us at full steam and crossed our bow, seemingly completely oblivious to us and then it re-joined the main channel.

As you can appreciate this was a very worrying situation that could quite easily have ended in disaster for us if we had assumed he was going to try to avoid us. It was as though there was no one on watch.

We officially reported this to the local Port Authority as a dangerous near miss, asking them to acknowledge this and advise what further action would be taken and if there was anyone else I should be informing. They responded to say that they had opened an investigation with the vessel concerned (and its company) to establish the facts using their own vessel tracking replay facilities.

We were quite encouraged by this response and iterated that the dredger made no attempt whatsoever to warn or contact us about their intentions. Just before we had to helm to port we were on a downward sail with sails goose winged and had we not turned to port, we would have been in the direct path of the dredger (they were the overtaking vessel).

The following is a precis of the response from the Port Authority;

The Master of the dredger came in for interview last week and we ran through the events as he recalled them.

• It was established that the bridge team of two were aware of yourselves and all the other yachts in the area and tried to carry out the difficult passage through you all as safely as possible, however, things didn’t go as planned, which resulted in your report being raised. It was also confirmed by the Master that they were monitoring VHF Ch.12 and 16 throughout their transit but did not hear your calls.
• The Master was on the bridge with the Second Officer at the time you report the incident occurred, both were fully qualified with the appropriate certificates,
• The Master recalled there were quite a few yachts in the area but stated that he was maintaining a safe speed at the time and tried to carry out the difficult passage through the yachts as safely as possible,
• In the Masters’ opinion there were no yachts that he passed in the area that he considered to be a near-miss situation.
• Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain a replay of the radar and AIS data from our own Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) system due to a technical issue and therefore did not have the opportunity to see for ourselves what actually happened that day.

We are satisfied that the matter has now been thoroughly analysed with the Master and also raised with the owners, therefore no further action will be taken by ourselves.

Further comment from Reporter 6:

This was quite nearly a disaster and could have resulted in loss of life and boat and it was through our actions alone that this was averted. In fact it was so close that if for any reason our engine had not started we would have been in serious trouble. It is bad enough when leisure boats disregard or don’t know the COLREGS, but when those supposedly “trained professionals” in charge of vessels that could cause devastation flout the COLREGS, it just makes an absolute farce of them.

We wanted to bring this to your attention as we really feel this should be brought out into the open as we are sure we are not the only ones who have had to take evasive action. We all understand that the locality is a very busy area with lots of hidden dangers which makes it quite fraught at times. We all need to respect each other, after all it is supposed to be pleasurable and we enjoy being on our boats on the water.

CHIRP Comments:

The Maritime Advisory Board discussed each report in turn and noted that there were several themes running through some of the reports.

Firstly, VHF. It was highlighted that the collision regulations are specifically designed to operate without the need for any VHF intervention. If you are the stand-on vessel then as soon as you think you are in doubt, then you actually are in doubt, and that is the time to take your own avoiding action or to reduce speed. It was also noted that a VHF conversation “requesting intentions” gives the other vessel the chance to say “No!”. With respect to the third report, whilst “heated discussion” might make you feel better, it is certainly not advisable and concentrating upon the collision regulations rather than the VHF is by far the better option.

With the advent of GMDSS there is no legal requirement to monitor VHF Channel 16, although it remains a safety and distress frequency. It is important to note any specific working channel you should monitor in your operational area, and also to appreciate whether it is on a Simplex or Duplex frequency – for the latter, other vessels can hear you, but you can only communicate with the transmitting station. The MCA MGN324(M+F) Navigation – Watchkeeping Safety notice provides useful information.

Several of the reports allude to situational awareness. The perception of a safe passing distance has been described, and CHIRP highlights the need to always put yourself in the position of the other vessel(s). Any action taken should be early and substantial – full situational awareness would ensure that in the fifth report it would not be necessary to check the intentions of the other vessel. The perceptions of one person may not be the same as another, as illustrated in the visibility and risk of collision comments of the first report.

CHIRP notes that in an overtaking situation, where practicable, it is good practice to overtake to starboard keeping your own starboard side open.

In all of the reports, it is easy to simply look at the actions or inactions of the parties involved and apportion blame, but this does not identify the root cause(s) – which may lie in the qualifications and experience of personnel. In the case of the unmanned bridge, somebody had a certificate of competency, but that does not mean he was competent. Who went to the bridge in the fourth report? A deck officer or somebody less qualified? Hours worked in the past 24 hours, week, or month may also be factors as could commercial or time pressures, whether perceived or otherwise. Finally, several of the reports demonstrate a complete failing in human element aspects and safety culture.

CHIRP encourages reports of this nature – they come from many areas of the world and amply demonstrate that, in terms of best or good practice, we still have a lot to do.

Report Ends