Approaching port in my yacht with one other person on board, wind East force 4, we observed a ferry outbound in the buoyed channel. I was under full sail, directly downwind, with the genoa goose-winged out. We were on starboard tack, doing 5 knots speed over ground.
By the time the ferry left the end of the channel, the distance between us was, I estimate, 2 miles. My course was 270T, his appeared to be the reciprocal. (I have no radar or AIS capability on board). We watched intently for him to alter course. At one stage he appeared to alter slightly to starboard, as if to pass behind us and on our port side, but within a few seconds resumed a course directly towards us, on a steady bearing. By this time I was very concerned, and called him twice on VHF Ch 16 (using “XXXX company Ferry just departed (name of port)”), there was no reply to either call.
With the range now less than 1 mile, I elected to get out of the way. A rapid change to starboard was out of the question with the genoa poled out – I therefore gybed the yacht and altered course 90 deg to port, onto 180 degrees. T. When I did this I believe the ferry altered slightly to port, and she passed about 200m. on our starboard side.
- I would now have second thoughts about rigging the spinnaker pole in circumstances where I might encounter shipping. Nevertheless, I was clearly the stand-on vessel and there was no navigational constraints that I know of that might have prevented the ferry from altering course in plenty of time. Why did he not apply ColReg. 16?
- I will seriously consider fitting an AIS receiver so that I can identify a ship and call it directly.
- Your Spring 2008 editorial is very appropriate! “Please respect the safety margin of the other vessel!!”
We sent a copy of the report to the manager of the ferry. He responded, in summary, as follows:
- The manager had discussed the incident with the Master.
- The ferry had left the berth approximately two hours after low water. The wind was recorded NE-ly 1-3 knots.
- With no restrictions in open sea, the power driven vessel with a reciprocal course towards a sailing vessel should give way to the sailing vessel.
- The ferry maintained her Easterly course in the channel, adjusted to counter the offset of tidal stream.
- Ferries leaving this port are restricted by their draught both in the buoyed channel and beyond it as they have to avoid a shoal area to the South. Until clear of this area, a ferry is to be considered as “vessel constrained by her draught” Art 3 – h.
- Leaving the buoyed channel, the sea bottom configuration restricts ferries in altering course. The passage in between the buoyed channel and the 10 m depth line to the East is to be considered as “Narrow Channel”. (Refer to rule 9, b.)
- Yachts approaching this port are often not sufficiently aware of the third dimension (draught) of ferries from and to the Port. There is a local instruction that frequent movements of large vessels take place and small crafts are advised to keep well clear of such traffic.
- The lack of communication in this case is acknowledged. Vessels approaching or leaving this port are keeping watch on VHF CH 14 but should maintain watch on Ch 16 as well.
In commenting on this report, we are conscious that we are doing so from the comfort and safety of the CHIRP office and not from the cockpit of a yacht or the bridge of a ferry!
Often CHIRP receives reports in which the perception of the situation from the cockpit of a yacht is different from that from the bridge of a commercial vessel. In this case, the yachtsman believes he has right of way but becomes understandably anxious as the ferry comes towards him. On the bridge of the ferry, the navigator is constrained by the shoal area from altering course to starboard and may be reluctant to alter course to port in case the yacht alters to starboard (which she might do if she was using its motor as well as sails.) Perhaps the navigator of the ferry keeps on, hoping that the yacht will get out of the way, which in this case she does.
It is useful in such cases to remind ourselves of the relevant International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (the ColRegs).
Rule 18 (d) says:
“(i) Any vessel other than a vessel not under command or restricted in her ability to manoeuvre shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid impeding the safe passage of a vessel constrained by her draught, exhibiting the signals in Rule 28.” (These signals are three red lights in a vertical line, or a black cylinder.)
“(ii) A vessel constrained by her draught shall navigate with particular caution having regards to her special condition.”
If this were a case in an Admiralty Court (which it is not!) and if the Editor were a judge (which he is not), he would interpret the application of the ColRegs to this report as follows:
- If the ferry is constrained by her draft, she should communicate that to other vessels. The ColRegs stipulate the signals for this. She could also have communicated this by VHF.
- It would have been prudent for the ferry to have slowed down.
- Although there is shoal water to the South, there is open water to the North. It is therefore contentious to argue that the area to seaward of the buoyed channel is still a “narrow channel or fairway.”
The yacht acted prudently in taking action to avoid a collision. As he points out in the lessons learned, consideration needs to be given to the safety of running with the genoa poled out if the single crew member, perhaps inexperienced, may have to bring the pole in quickly. Had the wind been stronger, there may also have been a reluctance to gybe. In such a situation (and referring back to the Editorial), ask yourself well beforehand “what if I need to alter course quickly…..”