Situational Awareness

Report Text:

Own ship: a large sailing ship on a course of North under easy sail, wind on starboard beam, making COG of approximately 030 at 4.5 knots owing to tidal stream.  AIS operating in correct Nav Status, navigation lights (including all-round red over green sailing lights) on, moderate visibility (not less than 4NM throughout this incident).  Other ship first tracked on ARPA radar operating on 12NM range scale with course approx 260, speed 7, small CPA. OOW called me at about 2330 when other ship was at 5NM with CPA of zero. On investigation, the following details were obtained from AIS, vessel’s name XXXXX, a small cargo vessel.

As stand-on vessel, I elected to monitor the other ship and see what action he would take as some vessels take avoiding action much later than others.  At 3.5NM he had taken no action and because he maintained a steady CPA of zero, I decided it appropriate to clarify his intentions.  I called him by name on VHF, he responded and we switched to a working channel. I informed him that I was a sailing vessel, that he had a CPA of zero and enquired as to his intentions.  His response was “OK, I see you”.

I called again, reminded him that he was the give-way vessel and asked what action he would take to comply with Colregs.  He replied that he would slow down and alter course.  He took no further action to avoid me, or respond to further VHF calls or two series of 5 short blasts by both sound and light.  At 2340, I started the engine and came hard round to starboard.  This was into the wind and slowed the ship right down.  An alteration to port, although available in the conditions, would simply have kept me parallel to the cargo ship at about 5 cables whilst she slowly overtook me and I was unable to make a 360 turn to port as the wide swing this required would have put me in a close quarters situation with another approaching vessel. The cargo ship passed down my port side at 3 cables.  Had I not altered, a collision would have been very likely.

Lessons Learned: The primary lesson is once again to keep a sharp eye on what is going on around, a good lookout and a good “seaman’s eye”.  And perhaps more of a reminder than a lesson for many seafarers I expect – sometimes, the other guy just doesn’t care and can’t be bothered to comply with the rules.  I tried light and sound signals and radio, but he just wasn’t interested. I don’t have any simple ideas of how to prevent a similar incident, and unfortunately, nor will I be surprised to discover it happening again sometime.

CHIRP Comment:

We are publishing this report as it provides a good example of the prudent application of “defensive sailing”.  We note, in respect of the sailing ship, that:

  • The Officer of the Watch had called the Master in time for him to assess the situation.
  • There was good situational awareness.
  • The risk of the situation was properly assessed and the possible actions weighed up.
  • Engines were started and then used.
  • The situation was carefully monitored until the other vessel had passed clear.

In contrast, although the watch-keeper on the cargo ship was apparently aware of his obligation to keep clear, he took no action to do so. We have alerted the manager of the cargo ship to the incident.

We also make the general comment that mariners need to be aware of the manoeuvring characteristics of large sailing vessels, and to take this into account when determining a safe closest point of approach.