What if the Accident Reports are getting it wrong?

The MGN (Marine Guidance Note) 167 from the MAIB (Marine Accident investigation Branch) is the don’t use the VHF just follow the COLREGS notice.

I wonder sometime if their finding are on solid ground or not.

Say for example we find that right before drivers crash into the trees they slam on the brakes and loose control. So a notice goes out, don’t slam on the brakes if you’re near trees. There is some logic to this, it’s somewhat plausible that if you don’t lock up your wheels (pre anti-lock) the driver might have been able to stay in control and avoid.

The Brits have an expression, “the agony of collision”, people frequently make the wrong move moments before a collision but to some extent that inevitably .

How do we know that mariners that are making these stupid VHF calls before colliding just plain don’t have a clue what they are doing?

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The last sentence in paragraph 4 - “Marine Superintendents would be well advised to prohibit such use of VHF radio and to instruct their officers to comply with the Collision Regulations.”

“Prohibit” is a bit ridiculous.

Yes, exactly. That’s strikes me a dumb as shit. Why not tell Marine Superintendents to hire officers that know when a VHF call is appropriate and when it’s not.


What happens for example when ships line up in order to pick up a pilot at Port Said? Port control tells each ship where they are in the line-up to transit the canal. Then the ship heaves anchor and fall into line towards the pilot station.

This is all done via VHF, in this case very little or no comms between ship but the ships are not following COLREGs. The #2 ship waits for the # 1 ship and so forth regardless of give-way/stand on etc.

Same for approaching a pilot station from sea. If one ship has an earlier pilot then another then the first ship is allowed to pass ahead regardless COLREGs, this is normally done with VHF comms between ships.

I don’t think anyone is saying that clear and concise VHF communications can’t be achieved. The approach to port is typically handled by the captain and that should increase the odds that there were a a collective amount of grey matter involved in the equation between the two vessels.

I had a special case situation picking up my pilot at the Sunk outside of the Thames river a month or so back. In true British fashion they like to use a “round about” traffic scheme for 5is heavy traffic area. You know, so you can snicker and tell the cadet “look kids. Big Ben, parliament!” Anyway I was inbound from the north with a tanker leaving the anchorage off my starboard bow and an inbound container ship on crossing from my port bow heading to the same anchorage. The pilots made contact giving me the #1 to board and the tanker as #2. I called the container vessel who should have been give way but was in the roundabout and slowly approaching the anchorage. I informed him I would be altering to port and see him starboard to starboard, green to green. The tanker, listening to my exchange made the same agreement. All of us tap danced around each other with little confusion and I made it very clear with a 50 degree course alteration just what my actual intentions were. In close quarters, if I’m going to depart from the rules, I feel a lot better with a VHF confirmation.

What bothers me most about some junior officers is how they don’t listen to what the other traffic is doing around them. What time whomever is getting their pilot, what side are the other ships rigging their ladders, etc. almost like they are listening only for our vessel to be called, not what is happening all around them. Just another peeve of mine


Yes, you and I have a lot of experience, it’s like going into Yokohama, even though there’s lots of traffic all the ship bridge’s are manned by captains. Any VHF comms are efficient, no unnecessary calls.

It’s all about what we expect. If I encounter a crossing ship on my port side with sea room I expect they will follow COLREGS and alter. On the other hand if another ship agrees to allow me to go first at the pilot station I expect him to follow that agreement.

For junior officers with little experience they don’t know what to expect because they have little experience. That’s the root cause, the stupid VHF calls are a symptom, not a cause.

Captains should provide guidance, not the MAIB or the ship superintendent.


How Survivorship Bias Distorts Reality

We tend to only consider information that’s presented to us and ignore absent information that may be extremely relevant.


**Typical Damage Patterns on Returning Bombers (**needed to look at the ones that didn’t return)

The thing is the MAIB only investigated cases where a VHF call was made AND there was a collision. - conclusion VHF call was a cause.

They also should investigate cases where a VHF call lead to successful avoidance, but they only study collision cases.

How many collision occur where no call was made? Very few I would think. So the MAIB has an easy job, they can follow this flow chart.

Collision occurs - Was a VHF call made?

  1. YES - Cause = use of VHF / recommendation: just follow COLREGS
  2. NO - Cause = Failure to use all available means to avoid collision / recommendation: use VHF if needed to resolve ambiguity in complex situations.

Case 2 is not seen because most mariners will in fact use the VHF if they think that’s their last chance to avoid a collision.

In cases where VHF was used, there was no collision.


I have returned to this thread a few times because the subject is of interest, but some contributors are so enthusiastic in their support of the use of VHF that others might be put off. To start with the MGN about the use of the communication system contains words spoken by judges not by the MAIB, and the guidance probably relates to the level of risk. The use or not of VHF is not a binary choice; in some circumstances, like those described, here you might choose to use it. And though I have no experience of working in US waterways I’m pretty sure that if I was on the bridge of a pusher tug with eighteen barges ahead of me, I’d want to talk to someone similarly employed coming the other way. You know the sort of person you’re going to talk to and more importantly you will know exactly where you both are. Hence there is virtually no risk involved. However I do have experience of the need to communicate with other ships in both the North Sea and the Atlantic, when I was captain of a seismic ship. I found that it was very difficult to talk to other ships, but it became easier if the broadcasts were extremely carefully composed, and that everything worked better if, instead of requesting an answer, I just told the other ship what to do. It was also my experience that when I was working in the North Sea no-one every bothered with VHF communications to discuss collision avoidance, they just followed the COLREGS, but when I was working in the Arabian Gulf there were constantly people with poor English on the VHF trying to make arrangements with others. That must tell you something.

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It’s safe to say that arrangements made well before there is risk of collision by VHF have far less risk than arrangements made when risk of collision exist.

Putting out notices saying everyone just follow the COLRES is likely a waste of time and money. Such notices are not going to affect the behaviour of watch officers. Use of VHF is not the root cause.

It’s likely frequently the case that watch officers who, after a collision, are have found to have violated COLREGs did in fact pick what, at the time, seemed to them the less risky option.

Nowhere is mentioned the #1 reason I use the VHF… to get an idea who I am talking to.

Is the mate tired?
Is he competent?
Is he anxious and uncertain?
What country is he from?
How old is he?
How well does he speak english?
Is he polite or an asshole?

These are just a few questions I can usually answer based soley on the tone of his voice.

Sometimes I don’t feel that making crossing arangments is a wise choice but I’ll call and just ask a few questions to hear his voice and make sure he is awake on the bridge.

My goto question is “MV Columbia this is the MV gCaptain can you verify your course and speed?” I already know his course and speed but I want to hear his response and need an excuse to call him.

What I don’t like is another ship calling to make arrangements that require me to tke a certain action because that likita my optiins and I may have information that the other vessel is not privy to. But I usually welcome when a ship calls to tell me what he is intenting to do (think of it as an personal sécurité call) or when the other ship just asks questions.

Maybe VHF calls should be limited to stating your intentions and asking questions?

Yes, I occasionally will call I ship if I think I might have to call him later. For example a ship with the same pilot time. That way if a call is needed later the ship’s names, voices will be recognized quickly.

The key point is if risk of collision exists, calls made cold with risk of collision are risky.


Back to the original question… I’d love to put together a civilian review board that specificly looks at the things that are being overlooked in official investigations.

If said board was setup within the umbrella of gCaptain, and our findings were published, we could also provide 1st admendment protection for sources who were reluctant to speak at public hearings.

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Great idea, but difficult to implement I should think. The official investigators of all maritime nations seem to fail to grasp the essentials of some accidents. Having been involved in offshore activities for many years both as a mariner and then as a technical author I have noted failings in most investigations into towing and OSV accidents. The Australian investigation into the death on the Skandi Pacific was lamentably off base, as was that by the NTSB into the loss of life on the tug Specialist, and those of us with an interest in these things could hardly fathom the diffrences in view between the US Coast Guard and the NTSB over the Kulluk accident. What the hell was going on there? Anyway both investigations missed some essential points. I admit to being a bit partisan about the loss of the Bourbon Dolphin back in 2007, since I was employed by Chevron to assist with their investigation, but in my view the Norwegian Royal Commission either missed the root causes entirely or else muddied the waters to protect their government organisations. I have been writing a monthly newsletter for years, and admit to looking at who is discussing what on this forum for inspiration. There is a lot of wisdom in these threads which is worthy of an even wider readership.


I’ve been called to the bridge by a mate in a three vessel (two big, one F/V) situation. The mate had every feature on both radars turned on and he franticly button pushing on the one, then moving to the other radar, in a loop.

The mate just could not solve the problem. Now when I got to the bridge I could have just yelled at the mate “FOLLOW COLREGS” but that, if anything, would have just rattled the mate further.

This is essentially the point of MGN 167. Seems like the use of the VHF in a tight spot is often a symptom of the bridge in meltdown.

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Good idea. I nominate @Kennebec_Captain to lead the endevour since he’s clearly ahead of the rest of us on this stuff!

I’ve posted my requirements here a couple times, all I ever asked for was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.

More seriously, I really like Nippin Anand’s stuff:

A licensed master mariner and a social scientist with more than two decades of work experience that spans across hands on operations, academic research, consultancy and certification and regulation in the maritime, oil and gas sector.

That’s what needed, more connection between theory and practice, I like the back and forth with real mariners here.

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“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”

(Sorry, couldn’t resist :-))




With regards to the VHF / COLREGS problem, if captains believe that it is an issue then standing orders should be written to reflect that. For example if maneuvering is required with TCP less then 18 minutes, call the captain.