Back to Basics


#1

“Ship on my port side, ship on my port side…come in”. Such a familiar cry over the VHF, as 20 or more watch officers in VHF range look up from reading their newspapers (let’s face it, you never had time to read them while in port!), and ask, “is he talking to me?”

In this day and age of greater emphasis on training and more and more sophisticated equipment, are our seas really getting safer? Are collisions dropping? Is AIS helping?

AIS, the savior of VHF assisted collisions! Now you know Dopey’s name on your port side! But why should we care? What is this untold fascination with using VHF?

So how about a campaign to NOT use the VHF when following the Rules of the Road? (Naturally areas under VTS management and such, would not fall into this category). If you know what you are doing and so does the other officer, VHF is a moot point. If you know what you are doing and Dopey clearly does not, then is talking to him really going to instill in you a greater level of confidence in his abilities? I certainly doubt it. Just ignore him and follow the rules.

While it may be amusing for the bored night watch to listen to, (or even participate in), the catcalls and mocking every time someone comes on the VHF, a reduction in this type of abuse may be one of the positive side effects of not using VHF.

As an aside, a couple of anecdotes.

Heard over the VHF is a busy European waterway, “I say old chap, is your steering gear working?” to which the reply was “Oh yes, my steering gear is working fine”…“Well bloody use it then!”

Two ships passing a few miles apart…”Hello, ship on my port side…my satellite is broken, can you give me position”. The 2nd Mate duly obliged and gave him one 60’ behind where he really was. We often wondered what his shock must have been when he reached land before he was supposed to.

About your author… he has not been to sea for a while so may be somewhat out of touch. Feel free to bring him up to date as necessary by leaving your comments below.


#2

It’s been a while since I took the Rule of the Road exam but aren’t whistle signals still mandatory when maneuvering to avoid collision under the COLREGS and only in Inland Rules can bridge to bridge VHF be used in lieu of them?

When in the love of gawd was the last time the COLREGS were updated?


#3

The Rule of the Road

When all three lights I see ahead,
I turn to Starboard and show my Red:
Green to Green, Red to Red,
Perfect Safety – Go Ahead.

But if to Starboard Red appear,
It is my duty to keep clear –
To act as judgment says is proper:
To Port or Starboard, Back or Stop her.

And if upon my Port is seen
A Steamer’s Starboard light of Green,
I hold my course and watch to see
That Green to Port keeps Clear of me.

Both in safety and in doubt
Always keep a good look out.
In Danger, with no room to turn,
Ease her, Stop her, Go Astern .


#4

Bakelite - Ever been in Fourchon, LA? You would never figure out who is blowing what!!!


#5

If you could even hear them in some vessels. Or over the radio traffic!


#6

captmike - No, never been to Fourchon but I should imagine it is pretty congested. I would love to get to the real end of the industry down there but these days it is just New Orelans for the likes of the WorkBoat Show. (and parties!).

I must admit, I do not recall using the ships whistle for manoeuvring signals very often (mostly with the exception of going astern in port and my orals[!]), as I like to think I always took early and substantial action such that any sound signal would not have been heard.

I am no yacht sailor (in my day it was sport to aim for them! [“steam gives way to sail” over the VHF to some bloody great bulk carrier]), but they do remarkably well in their regattas keeping out of each others way (correctly), and usually without the use of sound signals…could we learn something from them?

Chow.


#7

Fiberglass goes into metal [B]ONCE[/B]
Metal goes into fiberglass [B]MANY, MANY TIMES[/B]


#8

Not all commercial vessels have AIS, and I have been on boats were the AIS was pretty much useless with anything more then a few vessels IE the Nauticast stuff. Very few of the oil field boats have a chart plotter much less a chart plotter with the AIS hooked up.

As for not using the VHF at all, have fun explaining to the CG that because you were fallowing the rules of the road you felt no need to make a call to the guy trying to cross your bow from your port side after you have a collision.


#9

Actually. the USCG Marine Incident Investigators will clamp your navigator’s balls in a vice for being in a collision and not having made the required whistle signals. Even in Inland waters the use of VHF only takes the place of whistle signals if agreement is reached…if you do not make that agreement with the other vessel via VHF, then you are obligated to using whistle signals again.

Mind you this is not the real world we are talking about but a little white covered book that’s required on every vessel’s bridge. Also remember what very few USCG Marine Incident Investigators have any clue as to the real world of piloting practices. All they know is what they are taught and that is what is in the white book. Normal practices be damned…you have no excuse for not using them either!

vis a vis, nobody uses whistle signals any more but you had better not have any collisions without using them either or your eff’d

isn’t the modern maritime industry a wonderful place to work?!?


#10

Help me out here people…does the USCG condone the use of VHF for collision avoidance? And if so, how?

And I guess I should ask the question for two scenarios.

In NON inland waters and when following the International Colregs.

And in “inland” waters where they have overriding jurisdiction, above and beyond the International Colregs.

From the very beginning, I was always taught, and firmly believed, that if the Colregs are followed, then collision should not occur. When standing in front of the judge and telling him that it was the other chaps fault does not usually work.

I even remember a case from years ago where a ship at anchor was hit. They were still apportioned 10% or so of the blame for not ringing the bell and gong or an anchor light out…something along those lines.


#11

Whenever there has been a court apportionment of blame in any accident, those trying to apportion the blame usually have zero seafaring experience and thus must rely on the Rules as written be they international or inland. When we take out license exams we have to pass the RotR section not as applied in reality but as written. For a court to try to break away from the written rules and render a decision based on the purely subjective rules as applied is a slippery slope which no Judge would ever be willing to go down.

The courts must go with the book regardless of anything else so if there was bridge to bridge communications in international waters and a collision occured without whistles being sounded, then on top of which ever mate screwed up, both will bear blame to some extent for not following from the rules.

Everything is always fine until there an accident but once there is one and the laywers get involved then woe betide he who didn’t follow the book to the letter.

This is why the COLREGS and Inland Rules need to be revised to reflect new technologies and practices but I have heard nothing about this happening anytime soon.


#12

I would use both the Whistle Signals and VHF Radio, and follow the rules as to who has to give way in certain situations such as approaching a vessel under sail or constricted in their ability to maneuver.

Back in my Navy days they used to blow the whistle for everything. We used to test the whistle and onboard alarms every day. Test the nav lights every day.

I listen to VHF whenever I am around in Fort Lauderdale, Florida USA - and I have not heard so much of the bad things on VHF 9, 13, and 16 that are described in this topic. You would perfectly be able to communicate with vessels using VHF radio here all the times I have monitored it. And that’s a lot. There have been stories of small boaters or sailing yachts not paying attention to their radios or having them on. But that’s their fault. And on a lot of smaller boats they are not mandatory anyway - so you gotta watch out for those guys.

I very often hear yachts and other local craft announce what VHF channels they are monitoring and their intentions, e.g. “Motor Yacht Something outbound New River at Andrews Avenue Bridge any concerned traffic - we’ll be on 13 and 16”.

AIS gives a little bit of help, when the vessel approaching you has it installed. Many have only receivers so only may see you but not transmit their information. So it’s another thing added to your tool box. Just like Electronic Navigation and GPS. But you better know how to navigate and communicate without having those things, should they fail for whatever reason. Many yachts have multiple systems … say Furuno NavNet and Nobeltec Software on a PC computer. It’s always good to have redundancy.

Back when I was in the Navy we shot visual bearing fixes and hand plotted them on paper charts. We had two or three bearing shooters when in close quarters such as inland waterways.

But I guess that was almost as far back as wooden ships and iron men! :wink:


#13

Getting back to original question- using VHF.

In the waters my ship trades, talking on the vhf is very similiar to giving English lessons. Deters from the real watch mate duties. While trying to figure out what the other person is saying the ship could be going into extremis. Actions speak louder…

AIS helps identify a target for comms. Before AIS used to hear “ship on my (u pick) starboard or port bow/side” countless times. So AIS reallly helps to alleviate confusion.

Yes the rules say you must sound whistle signals when in sight of another vessel. To be correct, sound the signals if you don’t some portion of the blame will be against you.

Use of the VHF- better use everything available to avert collision or see above paragraph.

Then I’m really getting tired of hearing how “we did it in the Navy”. Try doing all of the above with just two or three people on the bridge. Then remember one of the people is always at the helm. So what does the Navy way have to do with how civilian mariners perform their jobs day after day? Comparing apples to oranges.


#14

Captmad, [quote=Try doing all of the above with just two or three people on the bridge.] To quote Monty Python…“just two or three people on the bridge? You were lucky!”

Thanks for getting back to the original question though and to ask some further [hypothetical] questions and in a very simple scenario form:

You are on watch and the give-way vessel, do you:

A) Take early and substantial action to keep well clear,

or

B) Call up the other chap to reassure him that you have seen him and will be getting out of the way shortly?

Reverse the scenario and you are on watch and the stand-on vessel. (This might not be so easy if you are a young third mate on a big @*# bulk carrier with some German coaster closing in. The guy on that vessel going “ya ya, I see you and ze half mile is fine to alter ze course.” Naturally not being a mind reader and that relaxed bowel feeling suddenly coming over you, grabbing the VHF seems like the most logical thing to do, other than firing a shot across his bows!).

Do you:

A: Stand on until such time as you realize the other vessel does not look like getting out of the way in a reasonable time, and then get out of the way yourself,

or

B: Call him up and ask what his intentions are?

Now I am not necessarily saying I am against the use of VHF, I am just trying to understand its use within the context of the rules. While they may make no mention of its use, broad interpretation of, for example, 17 (b) “…she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision” could include anything, VHF, paint ball, cannon etc. Although if you are at the stage of 17 (b), there probably is not that much time for social chit chat about who should be getting out of who’s way.

While it seems to me that most of the comments are from people out in the field, it would be interesting to know what the authorities position is on VHF use.

It is all very well for them to tell you after the fact that you should have done this or that, but what about some good old fashioned moral support and sound advice?

OB


#15

[quote=Old Bakelite;9681]Captmad,

A. Early and substantial action if sea room and traffic allows. Then again think about what he sees and the area involved. Is he changing course soon for approach to a port? Lots of different scenarios but try to avoid lengthy English lessons via vhf before it becomes a distraction. Still have to navigate and keep track of other traffic.


#16

This months Seaways from the Nautical Institute had a great feature, “Electronic navigation and the maritime law” by Alan Weigel an attorney with Blank Rome LLP in New York.

As the publication requires subscription I should not want to repeat more than this small paragraph:

“On 21 June 2004, the [I]Hyundai Dominion[/I] collided with the [I]Sky Hope[/I] in the South China Sea. The [I]Hyundai Dominion[/I] was the stand-on vessel in a crossing situation. As the situation developed, it became apparent that the [I]Sky Hope[/I] was not giving way. Instead of taking proper action to avoid the collision, however, the watch officer on the [I]Hyundai Dominion[/I], who had minimal training on the use of AIS, wasted valuable time sending AIS text messages to the [I]Sky Hope[/I], attempting to warn the [I]Sky Hope[/I] to keep out of the way.”


#17

[quote=Old Bakelite;10106]This months Seaways from the Nautical Institute had a great feature, “Electronic navigation and the maritime law” by Alan Weigel an attorney with Blank Rome LLP in New York.

As the publication requires subscription I should not want to repeat more than this small paragraph:

“On 21 June 2004, the [I]Hyundai Dominion[/I] collided with the [I]Sky Hope[/I] in the South China Sea. The [I]Hyundai Dominion[/I] was the stand-on vessel in a crossing situation. As the situation developed, it became apparent that the [I]Sky Hope[/I] was not giving way. Instead of taking proper action to avoid the collision, however, the watch officer on the [I]Hyundai Dominion[/I], who had minimal training on the use of AIS, wasted valuable time sending AIS text messages to the [I]Sky Hope[/I], attempting to warn the [I]Sky Hope[/I] to keep out of the way.”[/quote]

Sending AIS messages?? Just pick up the damn radio!


#18

A good point and reason for my post, but again, I revert to my original [if vague] question in why do we need to talk to the other vessel before carrying out any alteration of course and/or speed?

The Nautical Institute’s “Marine Accident Reporting Scheme” (http://www.nautinst.org/mars), often has a Colregs violation reported, and one that invariably includes the use of VHF. There is a good one coming out this month but not online yet (keep an eye out for MARS 200912).

One from 2007 (http://www.nautinst.org/mars/mars07/200726.htm) is another that is quite interesting, but I like the feedback comment as well:


[I]The acronym ‘Colregs’ should be changed to read as ‘Acolregs’ (Anti-Collision Regulations), otherwise it appears that one is fostering collisions and not being sufficiently proactive to avoid them…

The Acolregs do not advocate the use of VHF but on the other hand, they do not ban its proper use. There is no doubt that use of VHF is a useful tool provided the communications are understood by both parties (ship to ship or ship to shore).

I would not associate VHF with Rule 6 but rather with Rule 7 a) and eventually with a modification with Rule 36 and explicit mentioning of VHF under Annex IV.[/I]


[I]“provided the communications are understood by both parties[/I]” is going to be the hard part, as both cases above appear to illustrate. If the OOWs are not familiar with the rules, what confidence should you place with anything they say over the VHF? And that is assuming you are talking to the vessel on your port side and not some joker over the horizon pretending to be him…but that must be another story.


#19

Following the COLREGS must take precedent over trying to use VHF for collision avoidance. In the UK, their coast guard (MCA) warns against the use of VHF for collision avoidance, and their maritime courts have found the VHF use has actually been a contributory factor in collisions.

By contrast, in US waters (out to 12 miles), the Bridge-to-Bridge Radiotelephone Act REQUIRES mariners to monitor VHF 13 and “when necessary, transmit and confirm, on the designated frequency, the intentions of his vessel and any other information necessary for the safe navigation of vessels.” US admiralty courts have found mariners negligent for NOT using VHF for collision avoidance!

Practical Advice:

In US waters, I have found it best to make passing agreements via 13 when in doubt or within one-half mile, since doing so relieves you of the otherwise mandatory obligation of using the whistle. You could not survive in a busy harbor like New York without VHF 13. The good thing is that in US waters, lack of English language skills is not usually a problem. The AIS can be a big help, especially at night, in identifying the other ship. The only place where you really have a problem is in San Francisco Bay, where the pilots have this ridiculous convention of not answering if you call them by ship name (you have to take notes during the VTS traffic update and call them by their designated unit number).

If a foreign flag ship is approaching US waters, technically they are required to be on VHF 13 within 12 miles, but I wouldn’t count on it. I would give them a wide berth and rely strictly on the COLREGS. If you need to call them before the pilot boards use VHF 16 and have them switch to 13.

Overseas you have to be very careful when using VHF for collision avoidance due to language issues and poor watchkeeping practices. Unfortunately, the poor sea manners of the upcoming generation of deck officers tempts one to use the VHF to clarify their intentions. Most of the newer crowd seem to rely unquestioningly on their ARPAs and think crossing your bow at around a 1 mile CPA is fine. If they are the give-way vessel, they wait until the last minute to alter course in accordance with the COLREGS. As the stand-on vessel, you are sweating bullets wondering if they are going to follow the rules or not. In the gold ol’ days, we use to alter course enough to show our port lights at night, etc.; this was considered good sea manners. Nowadays, you find yourself on the VHF trying to confirm that the other guy is awake and aware of the fact that he is the give way vessel.

When making passing agreements overseas, you need to speak very clearly and slowly, and confirm that the other party has understood the agreement. I always stress both the manuever and the passing manner (e.g., "confirm that you will alter your course to starboard and pass astern of me).


#20

From the very beginning, I was always taught, and firmly believed, that if the Colregs are followed, then collision should not occur. When standing in front of the judge and telling him that it was the other chaps fault does not usually work.


Ok, but the real problem is: you may know Colregs, and follow them, but on the bridge of the other ship may well be an idiot who -for various reasons- does not know nor follow.

Better to paly it on the conservative side, and “drive defensively”.

Personally: VHF has its place in collision avoidance, but use of VHF should follow a strict protocol of identification-communication-mutual agreement, and VHF should be used [I]timely[/I].

I tell the mates that any VHF-communication raising doubts should be terminated at once, to return strictly to Colregs.

Caps
www.theartofdredging.com