The following report reflects a perennial problem for coastal yachting.
What the reporter told us:
Whilst coastal sailing in wind force 4-5 at 6-7 knots an odd noise was heard, similar to a wave slapping the side of the boat. Nothing else unusual was apparent. Approximately two hours later, and after about an hour’s motoring, I was berthing the boat. Upon selecting reverse, I found that there was a lot of vibration and little, if any, thrust.
After berthing safely, I looked underneath and saw something white was fouling the propeller. I then realised what the odd noise had been. It was not possible to clear the object until the boat was lifted out of the water.
The obstruction was caused by a short rope end with a loop that had caught on a propeller blade. The other end of the rope was attached to a small white fender’s rope eye. The fender’s other rope eye had been ripped off. The type of rope and the rope splice indicated that the fender had been used as a float to aid the picking up of a lobster pot. The fender’s small size and profile meant it was inadequate as a visible marker to other craft and was certainly not visible in clear daylight and the prevailing sea conditions at the time of the incident.
Lessons learned (reporter’s words):
As always, keep a sharp lookout. However, in the prevailing conditions, it is unlikely that such a small object could have been seen in good time to take evasive action. I am in the process of fitting a rope cutter which may have mitigated the propeller fouling when the engine was started.
During correspondence, the reporter mentioned a similar incident that occurred last year which required the reporter’s boat to be recovered and towed in by a shore-based rescue boat. The reporter also raised the issue of non-buoyant cordage being used to mark pots etc. in preference to buoyant cordage.
The MAB, which includes members from both the yachting community and the fishing community, engaged in a healthy discussion about the issues raised by this report. Among the many points noted were the following:
- The problem of poorly marked fishing gear has been around for many years. Now, in the UK, there is a working group chaired by the MCA (Maritime Coastguard Agency) under UKSON (UK Safety of Navigation) that is looking at how to address this problem.
- Many entanglement incidents involve inappropriate gear laid out by non-professional (recreational) fishing boats.
- Whilst this is a very emotive topic, a good start would be to ensure that lobster pots and other fishing apparatus are properly secured with floatation devices that are fit for the intended purpose rather than using plastic litter (plastic milk bottles and the like) – which should be banned on environmental grounds.
- A guide to setting fishing gear already exists and can be found via the following link-https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/marking-of-fishing-gear-2008-advice-to-fishermen-and-yachtsmen
- While it is accepted that most sailing and other recreational boating takes place during daylight hours, risks are increased when sailing during darkness. Wherever you are in the world, unlit marks will rarely be seen during the hours of darkness.
- Sailing boats and other recreational craft which sail in areas where there is a high degree of fishing activity should consider fitting rope cutters. Additionally, and in accordance with good seamanship, the sailing plan should be made to either give popular fishing areas a wide passing distance or at least to ensure they are navigated during daylight where buoys can be more readily seen. A good lookout is always required when sailing in these high-risk areas.
- CHIRP Maritime recognises that there is no definitive answer to this problem and both the fishing industry, and the sailing community should try to reach a practical solution. A handbook which highlights the risks and consequences of being fouled by inappropriate fishing gear should be considered with input from both the fishing industry and the PYA.