USS Fitzgerald Collision: NTSB Investigation Report Highlights Navy Failures,

On those rare occasions, it would pop me out of bed, fully awake and moving. . . . oh, and maybe showing more of myself that folks would want to see. . .but as usual, I digress. . . …

Rule 7 d says that use of a visual bearing for determining risk of collision “…the following considerations shall be among those taken into account:…” Doesn’t sound too specific to me especially when the following paragraphs (i) and (ii) are contradictory: (i) says a steady compass bearing indicates risk of collision and (ii) says if you are too close even a rapidly changing bearing may indicate risk of collision.

I agree with you that we are talking about a navy other than the one of which you were a member. The only interaction I have had with the RAN was convoying with a RAN vessel, along with other coalition ships one of many convoys in the choke points between Gibraltar and Kuwait. I only remember one U.S. Navy ship participating in a convoy.

I grew up and still live in the vicinity of the largest naval base in the world. I can see it across the harbor from the back of my house. In the course of my seagoing career, I had many encounters with U.S. Navy vessels and far too many were less than positive. I can identify with Capt TimD in the use of a spotlight when a USN ship had my ship confused with another ship in the days before AIS. I have been at anchor on a tanker and have been hailed to make a passing arrangement and the bridge watch on the USN ship literally could not tell the bow from the stern. You don’t have to visually see naval vessels to identify them. They are easy to spot as they frequently change course and speed something that merchant ships seldom do. Again more than once I have plotted a USN ship on patrol somewhere on a collision course with my ship and at a range of 5 to 6 miles make a 45 degree turn to the right make it clear that I am getting out of the way only to have them turn into me and shove up my keister where we are back on a zero CPA. I am over it and have been for a long time.

I hope that when you were in the RAN practicing EMCON and other stealth maneuvers while in the vicinity of merchant ships that there was some notice given out of what you were doing. I got used to when in the mid-Atlantic about 50 to 150 nm off the U.S. coast that the radar would start going bat shit: spoking, clusters of targets in various quadrants of the screen, sometimes the whole screen would look like someone had just turned the brilliance up to max. U.S. Navy, I can’t see you but I know you’re there. If the U.S. Navy calls me to do something and the communication is clear and the need is there, I am happy to comply. I have turned left to go under the stern of an aircraft carrier more than once so as not to interfere with their flight operations.

If you want a bone-chilling example of the USN at sea, listen to the audio transcript of the U.S.S. Porter just before it hit a tanker in the Persian Gulf. I imagine pandemonium reigned on the Fitzgerald and the McCain on their day of reckoning as well

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Yea and the US Navy also uses yards to call out their CPAs on the radios…even in places where most have no idea what a yard is. Or why a 18,000 yard CPA would even be necessary…

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As someone who has served on both military ships, and tankers I think there is general lack of respect one to the other. And it stems from both sides not having a very good appreciation of the job the other one is doing. It would be nice if the guys on the grey ships would remember there is probably only one guy on the bridge of that merchant ship and all he really want to do is get away from you. And it would be nice if us merchant guys would remember that those guys on that ship that can’t seem to steer one course for more than 10 minutes are doing or training to do a whole lot more than just collision avoidance.


To true. In a previous post to this site the container vessel I was OOW entered dense fog off Ouessant at night .The twin MAN 12 cylinder slow speed engines normally took about 65 minutes to run through the programme and move from full sea speed to manoeuvring speed of 16 knots from 24 knots.
I didn’t have time for that with a target altering ahead of me and with a brief call to the duty engineer (UMS) I dragged the telegraphs To stop and back to slow ahead. I might as well as pushed the general alarm.


Good God. Thanks for finding the transcript. I would imagine that after the collision and sounding general quarters they would be locked and loaded for anything else that came near.

Actually I though it is. Or was.

The problems today. Who writes the orders?
Is it the masters own words, or the corporate template?
Do they actually makes sense?
or are they written to comply with a requirement and CYA.

Eg, Masters standing orders where I work, Once upon a time were written by each individual Master. All signed by each individual officer.

Along comes ISM auditors ect. Non conformity ect.

Corporate policy here is your Masters Standing Orders. They will all say this sign it and hand it out.
Or more precisely since we have several Masters per ship who’s tours of duty rotate.
One poor sod is designated as the senior master. So he writes in some Ship specific bits and pieces cut and pasted form other vessels.

End result. every on Board signs them, in the appropriate box, the auditors come along and tick thier box.
However nobody actually bothers to read them.
Corporate buts are covered, everyone is happy. And the whole point of the orders is completely undermined.

Of course this changed when I declined to sign the standard, standing orders.
Or intentionally signed them in the wrong place, As having read and understood.
When asked by auditors why I had signed in them in the wrong place.
I informed him, I didn’t write them and I didn’t agree with them so there is no way I’m am going to sign that I do.
I had however read and understood them.
Non conformity issued.
Did the corporate bosses ever get the point. Unfortunately not yet.

My objection included writing stupid stuff in the standing orders which were not expected to be followed.
Which of course completely undermines the point.

This particular incident included standing orders which The Officer in charge believed the commanding officer accepted did not have to be followed.
So which orders are orders and which ones aren’t?

When it comes to the visual bearings. I am just old and grumpy.

Back to the point if it what you expect, it’s what you expect.

Not having been in the RAN or RN. I might wonder why. Even so, You will get reports on the bearings unnless you get pissed off.
Which of course leads to me thinking what else will he get pissed off by.

Having come from a different tradition or world.

When do you call, for me was quite different,
Eg call me 1 hour before we get to the Pilot station.
It’s a specific normal reason, Do I expect him to show up, Yes at his leisure in a reasonable time.

Normal routine stuff, eg a steady bearing. What’s the big deal comply with rules.
I am stand on give way ship causing me concern?
Depends on how well we know each other?
I find know the Capt I call him. I ain’t asking for help, I’m just letting him know I will call him, I am also testing his response. How will the Capt react.
What do I expect?

If I call the Capt. I expect him to get his ass out his bunk and come up to the bridge. In his slippers and dressing gown.

By the time he turns up on the bridge, I will have resolved the situation and report it to him what I have done and am doing about.

if he doesn’t bother, next time, the first he knows about it will be hearing me sound 5 short.

Working on a passenger ship do you you call the Capt. when the fire alarm panel goes off.
As an ex tanker guy to dam right I did.
Having worked on passenger vessels for a while, I checked the panel, read the alarm, called the duty rounds an and initial response officer to check the cabin where the detector activated.

So no I don’t wake the Capt. and the whole ship for someone having a hot shower which set the smoke detector off.

As a Master if I’m called I show up.
I don’t expect to be called for routine problems, I expect routine problems to be dealt with.
If the 3rd officer is on the bridge and I hear 5 short. I will probably go check out what’s happening. Or I might just call and ask.

Like an earlier post said adjusting the telegraph, You might as well be sounding the General Alarm.
I will go up to the bridge for sure. Primarily to tell the Chef Engineer to F off and leave the 3rd officer alone.
As officer of the watch he had my approval do so any time he felt the need.

Ok, I finished reading this and am underwhelmed but there is one thing that really bothers me that I was really hoping to see in this report.

According to the Navy investigation report “ A sailor had to call Destroyer Squadron 15 on a personal cell phone at about 2:15 a.m. to notify them of the catastrophe, according to the report.”

Nobody has answered the question as to why all communication, backup communication, and emergency communication gear failed on the USS Fitzgerald after the collision?? Why did they have to wait till they hobbled close to shore to call in the mayday via cell phone?

Or am I missing something?

I agree that’s silly. But why discuss any of this on a radio? I seldom discuss such stuff on the VHF. Just follow the rules. If you need to discuss anything discuss your intentions specifically.

I’m disappointed to hear that the USN behaviour is seen to be overly imperious by merchant mariners. Our culture was to be utterly respectful and in general to keep clear of other shipping.

I’m sorry to say we didn’t always chat to an unsuspecting merchantman when we hid in his shadow. I recall once we were close enough to say something nice by loud hailer as a chap appeared on the bridge wing. But you have to take opportunities as they arise and any chatter on VHF would have blown our cover. Such cover doesn’t last long.


Hahahaha what??? That is LITERALLY what the radio is for. To discuss passing arrangements. Especially when you want a NINE MILE CPA. Where is that in the rules?

This is why we have a saying…see gray, stay away.

No it’s not. I survived decades at sea in the most modern warships available and we never had VHF. We didn’t discuss such things. We just complied with the rules. We’ve all seen mixups on radio in which a discussion takes place and later the two ships involved find out they were talking to someone else.

My point in my recent comments has been that mariners have forgotten how to take visual bearings to determine risk of collision. I accept it’s nice to have lots of automated gadgets that do it for you, but not all ships have them and going and taking a bearing orients the officer as to something visible which gives additional information (lights, aspect, speed etc).

I’ve chatted to merchant ships about the funny coloured lights I got displayed on my sailing ship. They didn’t know. Which means they didn’t know I had right of way. Which means something, doesn’t it.

Anyway, whilst there are good legitimate things to talk about, I’m an advocate of less chatter on VHF, more silent compliance and bold indications of intentions.


Well first off all it’s pretty hard nowadays to talk to the wrong ship considering you have the name of the vessel right there on your ais and radar.

Second, there is a lot you can learn besides passing arrangements. Does the other guy sound sleepy or alert? Does he sound confident or unsure? What is his nationality? How old or young does he sound?

Most of this “other” information gets processed subconsciously but it’s still important.

I don’t know what that means but it sounds totally anathema to good BRM practices.x

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We can chat about everything or somethings or nothing. I simply said I spent decades at sea discussing absolutely nothing with merchant ships and we didn’t collide. How is that “anathema to good BRM”?

It simply means things like taking an early action (course alteration) to avoid close quarters - why chat about that? That is the very essence of the rules - a standard practise of good seamanship.

And how do you chat with a foreign fishing fleet of traditional boats etc etc.

I’ve said there’s much to legitimately do on VHF. But still suggest less is better in many instances. I’ve also suggested taking visual bearings but almost nobody here ever has. Is that good BRM?



I don’t even know where to go with this.

Go sail off the coast of Virginia when the Navy is out and about and you almost have to shut off the radio due to all of the non-stop gibberish between the Navy and the commercial traffic crossing. They called up one night and wanted a 20 mile CPA. TWENTY MILES. That’s across the fucking horizon.

Or go sail in the Gulf of Mexico. In or out of the fairways. Have the Captain (I guess you) come up to the bridge and see a ship <3 miles away with a CPA of 1.0nm and have the Captain ask “You talk to that guy?” Then answer nah, I trust the rules of the road. Doesn’t matter that you’re approaching Malfunction Junction and you have no idea where he’s going, and he has no idea where you’re going. As long as you see that red light, right? See what kind of response you get out of that. Or what would your response be?

Or just put up your funny lights on your sailing rig and hope that everybody stays the hell out of your way. I’ms sure you’ve never called anybody and been like “hey dude, clearly my sails are up and you have to move for me?”

But we’re talking about close quarters. You know, a collision. Doesn’t get much closer than that by definition. Maybe the radio would have helped in this situation?

In nearly every commercial instance, this is correct. But @john, you know as well as I do that the Navy hardly plays by those rules…

Perhaps you should have stopped there.

The “funny lights” quote was what a passing merchantman asked me. And, yes, I expect ships will comply with the rules. Why would talking to them work when they are ignoring their own lyin’ eyes?

Or maybe everyone should have simply complied with the rules, not had a debate about them.

No hand held sat phone? No VoIP capability?

I don’t know. I mean they could have also used the vhf to ask a nearby ship to relay a distress message.

Yea which works about 99.9% of the time - but that other .1 % is what generates cool posts on websites, income for lawyers, and sleepless nights for Masters.

In my experience, bridge to bridge communication is usually helpful and should be encouraged.


I never said such communication wasn’t sometimes helpful. It can be, but talking to every ship around just gets superfluous, clogs up the channels for essential stuff and distracts from the actual job of driving your own ship and avoiding your own collisions. it isn’t always essential for simply complying with the rules.