An inward bound yacht was almost swamped at a narrow harbour entrance by the wake from another vessel.
What the reporter told us
My 31 feet long yacht was proceeding under engine into the small boat channel at xx harbour entrance. There was approximately 2.5 knots of ebb tide against us as we neared the entrance. Our speed over the ground at the time was 3.5 knots. There were no boats coming out of the harbour through the small boat channel, but there was a small yacht (approximately 26 feet long) ahead of us. We had been sailing close to this vessel for some time and it was observed to be single-handed. At the time of the incident, the other yacht was approximately 25 metres ahead of us. There was no commercial traffic in the entrance either inbound or outbound.
As we entered the small boat channel, a pilot launch approached us on our port quarter, i.e. between us and the western shore, at high speed. The launch had her bows up in a semi-planing attitude and I estimate her speed at 15-18 knots. The launch proceeded to overtake us about one third of the way into the channel, without slowing down. Her wake, when it hit us, knocked us over to starboard by at least 50 degrees. My yacht recovered but rolled to port and then starboard three of four times before regaining equilibrium.
At the time I first heard and then saw the pilot launch, my crew was on the starboard side deck adjacent to the main hatch, returning to the cockpit. I shouted a warning a second or two before the wake hit us. He reported afterwards that he only just stopped himself being thrown overboard. At the time, both my crew and I were wearing life jackets but were not hooked on, it being a calm day. I was at the helm.
After the pilot launch passed us, it was seen to slow down to displacement speed and turn to port into the xx marina vicinity. Unfortunately, we were unable to see the launch’s number, which is displayed on the hull at the bow.
I believe that the pilot vessel in this instance was exceeding the harbour speed limit of 10 knots. I also suggest that, in choosing to overtake us on our port side, the pilot vessel could have caused another serious incident if an outbound vessel had appeared from the xx area and entered the channel. Had the wake which hit us also hit the small yacht ahead of us, there could have been even more dire consequences.
What the Third Party told us
CHIRP contacted the local Harbour Master who advised that the incident was indeed acted upon. The pilot boat speed was deemed to be excessive so operators were informed and remedial action agreed. The harbour has speed controls, with the speed referred to being speed through the water. The Harbour Master also mentioned that the harbour does have wash regulations in addition to speed controls. It was deemed that these were also breached on this occasion and remedial action was agreed with the operators.
CHIRP queried the approach of the yacht under a strong ebb. The Harbour Master did not offer advice but stated that the harbour is open 24/7 and the timing of approach is up to individual skippers.
The Maritime Advisory Board, having discussed the report, commented upon the danger from the wash of high-speed craft, observance of good seamanlike practices, and the need for compliance with harbour bye laws at all times. Both CHIRP and the MAIB have historical wake wash near misses and incidents that may be referenced on their respective web sites.