What Merchant Mariners See In You

I don’t recall if there’s a standard for passing arrangements or not.

There are three common ways. I intend to alter course to stbd; I intend to pass you port to port; I intend to pass you red to red.

Of the three “red to red” is the least ambiguous as the first two the same arrangement can be described using the word port OR stbd. You never hear anyone say they intend to alter course to red.

I’ve heard guys on the radio that mix up 1 and 2 so now I usually say port to port to remove ambiguity, including when they propose “one whistle” replying with “Roger, port to port”.

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It is standard Maritime terminology in US inland waters as the US inland rules are different.

That’s part of why foreign ships are required to take pilots in pretty much every countries’ inland waters, so they can talk to the local traffic with their local knowledge.

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This is part of the problem: “I intend to alter,” and “I intend to pass.” Stop with the verbal diarrhea.

“Captain port to port one mile okay?” Quick, clear, no dictionary required.

My third mates always want to turn a simple exchange into an unintelligible spew of college-words. Then they can’t figure out why the other ship won’t respond. Keep it simple stupid.


In my experience it’s common to query another ship “what are your intentions”. I don’t think the answer" I intend to… is verbal diarrhea. If anything using the same phraseology as the query is good practice. YMMV

My point is that using the terms port and stbd have greater ambiguity than red to red. .


I like to cover all the bases by saying both. “I’ll see you port to port, red to red.” Keeping it as short and simple as possible means there should be little room for confusion. I agree that questioning or receiving a question as to intent should be easy enough to understand as the start of a short and concise answer.


Well, if the mates need a dictionary to understand the " I intend" language that’s a problem:

(i) shall indicate that maneuver by the following signals on her whistle:

one short blast to mean "I intend to leave you on my port side";
two short blasts to mean "I intend to leave you on my starboard side";

Where I work the guy on the other end of the radio might know fifty words of English if I’m lucky. Those words are rarely ‘intend’ ‘propose’ ‘shall’ or any of the other legal-spew we Americans use. I don’t expect the other guy to break out his translation dictionary to understand me. Therefore I use common terms in short phrases.

Interesting comment in the article about navy vessels making small course and/or speed changes.

When I was trained on the bridge in the early 1970’s, it was made clear that speed change was not the way to alter CPA, and that the MINIMUM course change should be 20 degrees, as that was usually discernible day or night.

Why are the rules for US Inland waters and international interpreted different?
International: I am altering my course to Stbd.
US Inland: I intend to leave you on my Port.
Actually the two action result in the same, only the terminology is different:

If you have sufficient sea room and no other issues then yes, a significant course change is normally the first option I consider.

In some places, a twenty degree course change will place you in another hazardous situation.

My operating experience is all open ocean and dynamic positioning in the oil field, but most of the radar students I work with are on the rivers. I think the “intent” rules work best there on the river after many conversations and reading about the subject (Inland Rules vs International). There are many stretches with minimal straight line courses, a vessel may be altering course to port and yet still intend to meet you on your port side.


Not quite.
International: “I am altering” is a statement ie ’ this is what I am doing’.
Inland: “I intend to” is a statement of intention ie “I propose to” and a response is expected. The vessel you are addressing is expected to either agree or propose an alternate arrangement.


I sail almost exclusively foreign. I believe “what are your intentions” and “I intend to…” are standard and have the highest chance of being understood. It may sound a bit stilted to an American ear.


I believe that standard “English” English is the Maritime language, not the American variety of English, especially not loaded with slang words, or pronounced in local dialects.

PS> I have not had much problems with Masters and Mates in international trade that does not understand and speak reasonably good English in the last few years. (Even on Chinese ships)

1.4.2 SMCP Message Markers
The message marker is the word pronounced before the message to signal and introduce
the purpose and content of the message to be communicated. The following eight message markers are recommended:
What is your course?
What is your position?
How many tugs are required?
What is your ETA: Fairway Buoy?
Is buoy Number 1-4 in the correct position?
What are your intentions
My course is 1-3-2 degrees true
My position is: NE of Buoy Number 1.5
I require two tugs
My ETA Fairway Buoy is:
time: 1-5-4-5 hours local
Negative. Buoy Number 1-4 in not the correct position
Immediate tug assistance
Please arrange for the berth on arrival
Permission to enter the Fairway
Please confirm your dwt
Please send a doctor
Wind backing and increasing
The tanker XEROX is next
My ETA at Outer Pilot Station is …
at receiver’s option)
(Advise you) Stand by on channel 6 – 8
Steer course: 2-53-3 degrees true
Anchor in position: bearing: one-two-five degrees true, from
Punta Stella, distance two miles
You must alter course
Go to berth No. 15
Stop your engine immediately
Alter course to: new course 1-2-3 true
Push on starboard bow
Vessel not under command in …
Obstruction in the fairway.
Tanker aground in position …
Gale force winds in area …
Buoy number: one-five unlit / off position
Pilotage services suspended
I intend to alter course to starboard and pass astern of you.
I will reduce speed.
I will pass astern of you
I intend to be underway within period: two hours

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The next time a goat boat out of Berbera repeatedly tells me, “my friend my friend you go port now,” I’ll be sure to answer with, “I intend to alter course to starboard and pass astern if you.”

They’re not “interpreted” different, they are worded different.

That’s the meaning of the whistle signals, not “standard English” for use on the radio. You should now look into exactly WHEN the whistle signals are supposed to be sounded under each set of rules.

If we are discussing the use of the term; “1 whistle” in radio communication, which is a peculiar American thing, I agree.

When actually using the whistle to communicate action or intention there are normally no dialogue, although it is not impossible that the whistle signal could trigger radio communication, especially if one side doesn’t agree.

BTW; When it says Inland rules, does that ONLY apply in rivers, canals and inside the baseline, or out to the territorial limit?? (12 n.miles from BL)

On charts for ships in international trade coming in to the US, look for the COLREGS demarcation line. Also, that’s another reason to have the local knowledge you get from a pilot being on board.

In the Inland Rules themselves it gives you the areas as well.

Yes, “See you on the one” is shorthand that can cause confusion for those not used to it, but you can always ask them to clarify if your faced with a term your not used to.