Obsolete Maritime Rules

Do you know exactly how many regulations and laws govern today’s shipping?
Not me either, but many of these rules are obsolete and better suited for a different time.

BTW; How long since anybody rung the bell and/or hit the gong while at anchor in foggy conditions??

Why back when as second mate of an ULCC anchored in fog we complied with the rules sounding a bell forward and a gong aft. I could hear the seamen doing it through the “ talk back” system but without it I heard nothing.

The one “rule” I look askance at is not really a rule but a custom: the dark-adapted wheelhouse. When every navigator keep his eyes plastered to a glowing screen (much of which is white light) all night, do red lights in the wheelhouse, and all the other precautions to adapt our precious cones-and-rods to night vision make sense?

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All the time. Who cares if you can’t hear it on the bridge. If it’s not on and you get run into, where’s the blame going to lie?

To be fair, nobody is actually doing it, it’s electronic these days.

Most nav programs come with a white light filtered dark mode. Everything is is typically dimmed. The one exception is often alarm system panels which can be managed with a cardboard flap.

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Everytime…the magic of electronics.


Us modern sailors throwing knowledge out at the old folks.

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I’ll agree with the nonsense paperwork, but the fog horn? Come on, you can hear another ships whistle in an enclosed bridge nevermind an open wing. Sound detection system will pick up someone bouncing a bucket on the deck while at anchor. What about small craft? I’ve had a small sailboat call from 8nm away to make sure their class b receiver was right because the whistle sounded significantly closer (imagine the thought process when there are no radar or ais contacts, yet someone calls you by name with a whistle drowning them out).

Now the magnetic compass, also still handy when both gyros decide to fail. All the lights still on, engines turning, both gyros doing slow turns in opposite directions.

Until 2020, all Russian ships were designed to “Sanitary Rules for Seagoing Ships of the USSR” issued in the early 1980s. While the rules had obvious anachronisms such as assuming that meat was brought onboard and stored as whole carcasses hanging from meat hooks, as a naval architect I liked them as I had ready solutions for their quirkiest aspects and knew where they could be bent a bit with some applied interpretation to allow for more modern solutions - a competitive advantage over someone who had never opened that yellowed and funny-smelling booklet that was probably printed alongside a T-72 service manual somewhere beyond the Ural mountains…

The new rules issued in 2020 are very minimalistic and leave too much for interpretation, and not always for the better. I think the ones who have the most to lose are the Russian seamen because the old national rules often went beyond minimum international standards. Of course that made the ships slightly more expensive for the owner…

While that’s a very specific example from a single flag state, I still consider it as an example of how “bringing the rules to the 21st century” didn’t necessarily make things better for the people having to live and work on a ship built according to them. Of course, my view as a designer may not be reflected by the people actually working on those ships. Perhaps they really hated the sauna.


I think UK flagged vessels still have to carry a weather facsimile receiver when other flags did away with them years ago.

Another obsolete quirk sometimes seen on UK flagged vessels is the master posting a copy of the drafts page of official log book on the bulkhead next to their cabin door, not sure this is actually still a legal requirement but some people still do it. It is a thing not really seen with any other flags so it is pretty pointless.

I said “rung the bell or hit the gong”, not “hit a button, or touch a screen”.
You think you are so smart for being able to do the last?

"C:\Users\mikes\Downloads\Sounding the Sumburgh Foghorn1.mp4"type or paste code here
A note to the younger generation: I have never seen an electronic bell or gong but during my time at sea I went from a bridge with a panel for the navigation lights and a DF set to DP2 and 27 displays including two ECDIS units. I wonder how many would cope with returning to a wind up chronometer and a sextant, almanac and log tables.
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Poster for use of a breaches buoy and pyro from surfman waiting on the beach? Hmmm…helo anyone? (Yes, I know not every coastal State has readily available SAR aircraft)


Yes, love this one. I remember seeing those in the 1970s and wondering what century I was in.

Another anachronism: anchor balls. They were once useful in small places with mid-size vessels, like Dutch Harbor, back when it was packed with boats. A good visual signal as you threaded your way through the vessels. But in big ports nowadays? I go into Vancouver BC with all the ships anchored in English Bay, and amuse the lookout by having him just try to spot the anchor balls. The scale of ships is so huge now they are lost in the visual clutter, and the AIS makes them redundant.

Yeah but what am I supposed to yell at the crew about when they’ve done everything right? What am I supposed to rummage through the forepeak for trying to find for an inspection? When will a round buoy be hastily spray painted black? Mere anarchy.

Some men just want to watch the world burn.

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Fun fact, the government of the Bahamas, including the RBDF and Police, have exactly zero helicopters.

True although through their partnership in OPBAT the RBDF and the Royal Bahamas Police Force put officers on Coast Guard helos based in The Bahamas.

Don’t allow women or bananas on board, don’t leave on a Friday and you’ll be fine.


Ah, the Breeches Buoy poster on the bridge (mandatory)
You must have a Dipsy Lead for sounding (which is loaded with WHALE TALLOW to sample the sea floor, marked with strips of leather and rags… this is STILL a AB test question as far as I know)!
Knowing all the parts of a married-fall cargo handling gear…
A lantern for testing explosive or oxygen deficient spaces, (when the flame gets bigger, you are in an explosive space, if it gets smaller, it is oxygen deficient).
Flying the Quebec (Yellow) Flag when your ship is in quarantine.
Posting of the ship’s articles (1 bar of soap per day, 1 box of matches per day, 1/4 cup of lard per day, 1/4 cup of sugar per day etc…)
Sextants, Aldis lamp blinky light…
It was always impressed on me that a magnetic compass, in case of power failure, you always have the trusty magnetic compass, and as helmsman or lookout, box the compass for every watch turnover, calculating compass error. But the ships I sail on now have a flux-gate magnetic compass powered by… electricity?
I wont go into the weird crap in the lifeboat like storm oil etc…

Peanut butter, the smooth kind, works ok in a pinch!