Encounter with Passenger Ship

Report Text:

Our yacht was sailing in the Channel. We had just come through heavy seas and in easing but still confused conditions (in otherwise good visibility). We had tacked onto an easterly course.

I requested my crew to keep a good lookout on a passenger ship travelling north towards us on our starboard beam approximately 2nm distant.

Less than 3 minutes later I instructed the second crew member, who had been navigating at the chart table, to radio the ship on channel 16 identifying our position and his aspect in relation to ours and request “his intentions”. There was no answer and I instructed the message to be sent again. Again there was no response. The message was sent at least 4 and maybe 6 times in very quick succession with no response.

I then immediately instructed the message to be sent “Passenger ship in position………….take immediate avoiding action, say again immediate avoiding action”. After a brief second or so a response came back  “Hold your course and speed” and the ship turned hard to starboard passing ahead of us by no more than 20 metres or two of our boat lengths.

I then asked for the handheld VHF and on channel 16 said “Ship xxxx, this is the sailing vessel that you have just narrowly avoided, you took action too late, I say again too late”. An immediate response was heard to say “Yes, I am sorry”. I then instructed a note to be put in our ship’s log.

Lessons Learned: We were the stand on vessel and had we changed course we could have put ourselves into a collision position if the ship had taken different avoiding action. It is essential in close quarters, even when you are a much smaller vessel to stick strictly to the IRPCS. Lessons learnt is that ships do not always keep a good visual lookout and in heavy seas may have turned the declutter up on their radar and can not identify a small sailing vessel in confused seas, it is therefore essential to contact them by VHF and identify their position clearly and continue repeatedly to contact them until some contact or action is taken – which we did. There is growing pressure on smaller vessels to sail “defensively” but nothing could have been done by us in this situation to sail “defensively”. Had we tacked onto our original course we would have presented a smaller visual target. Had we borne away from the wind and run down parallel, trying to pass port to port with the ship, we would have been under far less control and again presented a less visual image. Gybing in the prevailing conditions would have been dangerous.

CHIRP Comment:

We sent the disidentified report to the manager of the ship. He promptly followed it up with the Master and responded as follows:

Our ship did pass a yacht in the reported area on the reported date and time.  The sea was heavy (wind N/NE 5) and the officer of the watch did not detect the yacht on the radar. The officer and the watchman did not make a visual sighting either in the rough sea even though there was good visibility.

As soon as he realised that he had been called, the officer accurately assessed the situation and asked the yacht to keep its course and speed and he himself steered the vessel wide to the right to avoid a close situation. After that, the officer acknowledged over the VHF radio to have been a little late.

In his defence, our radar had not detected this yacht. Perhaps because its reflector had not been well positioned or was faulty?

The officer of the watch had indicated to me the approaching situation and had reported to me that he acknowledged that he had reacted late.

I therefore offer my apologies to the crew of this yacht for any inconvenience caused by this situation.

We relayed this to the yachtsman who has responded as follows:

I am pleased with the spirit of the response and the apology and am happy for you to include the incident in a future issue of Maritime feedback to aid education of and learning from maritime incidents

In response to an issue raised by the captain of the ship, we have a permanently erected radar reflector at the mast head, a “visiball” double hemisphere (an array of 2 multi dielectric lenses mounted back to back), that was I believe initially developed in conjunction with the Royal Navy

CHIRP thanks the reporter, the ship’s manager, Master and staff for the constructive approach taken with this report. We emphasise the benefit of defensive sailing and the importance of taking early action to avoid collision.