Non-Compliant Coaster

Report Text:

This was the third week of a summer cruise from the UK with a crew of four aboard a 3 year old Bermudan rigged 35 ft Yacht The owner is an RYA Coastal Skipper with over 5,000 miles logged as skipper over the past 6 years. The navigator is an RYA Offshore Yachtmaster with many years of experience.

On passage from St Peter Port to Carteret . Brief stop at Sark awaiting tide before north about passage. Weather was good. Wind forecast NE – F4. Visibility was 10 to 15 miles, bright sunlight with little or no cloud cover. Tide flowing from NE to SW – close to top of springs at a rate of 3.5 to 1.5 knots over the passage. Sea state moderate.

With the wind and initial tide set from the NE our passage plan calculations identified a need to hold a tight close hauled course enabling us to arrive just up tide at our destination.

We were keen to maintain our planned course and as the stand on vessel on a potential close encounter course with a small and manoeuvrable vessel we fully expected an approaching coaster, as the give way vessel, to alter course.  When it became apparent that they had either not seen or heard us or were ignoring our presence (this was before we eventually established VHF communication) we took a decision to alter our course to make sure that we avoided them.  However our decision to bear away, increase speed and pass well ahead was not as successful as initially calculated as the tidal set and rate was greater than we had estimated from our tidal atlas (based on Cherbourg tides) – setting us down towards the oncoming coaster. It also cost us time as we later had to claw our way back up tide and up wind.

Both the skipper and navigator use traditional methods using paper charts first and then use electronics to back this up. We subsequently learned that the Raymarine C80 plotter has a facility to display the actual rate and direction of tide and current not just COG & SOG. The learning for us was to make sure we have a better understanding of the capabilities and make better use of modern chart plotters – particularly to assist and speed up decision taking on passage and alterations to plan.

The yacht has a mast mounted radar reflector plus a Sea-Me active radar target enhancer (switched on). The sails are white and highly visible. Navigation equipment includes a Raymarine C80 radar and plotter (no AIS receiver link) located at the chart table. We must have been visible to the coaster from at least six miles or more and one can only presume they had decided to ignore both our presence and our initial VHF transmissions or they were not monitoring channel 16 at the time. We knew that our VHF set was performing well as only a few days previously we had been sailing in company with three other sailing yachts and maintained contact on Channel 77 over longer distances than those encountered during this incident.

Hopefully you will be able to contact the owners/operators regarding this occurrence and they in turn will confirm they have taken the necessary action to ensure both their employees and crews are reminded of the need to observe their obligations under COLREGS and not just ignore small craft – and expect them to automatically stay out of their way.

The coaster we encountered carried the name of ### – registered port of AAA .

CHIRP Comment:

In the open waters in which the incident took place, the coaster should have complied with Rule 18 and kept out of the way of the sailing vessel.  We sent a disidentified copy of the report to the manager of the coaster in the Netherlands but as yet have not received acknowledgment.

As a general comment, yachtsmen should not assume that white sails are highly visible.  They can be difficult to see from the bridge of a large vessel, especially if being viewed against a background of breaking waves.  Also, active radar target enhancers generally operate only on X-band.  Large vessels may be equipped with S-band and X-band radars and it is possible that the officer on an approaching vessel  may be monitoring the former.