Why do naval vessels suffer accidents?

I can assure everyone here that there’s no such thing as a warship simply transitting ie cruising from a to b. Every moment underway is a training opportunity and junior people on the bridge, operations room and machinery spaces are being put through their paces. If there are two or more ships the opportunities are multiplied.

But even in single ship steaming, junior officers might be given a task to pass a merchant ship at a specified range thus involving a relative velocity problem combined with opportunities to alter course and speed within specified limits. They might even do a zigzag plan and you’ll have no idea why. The experienced OOW would task the junior understudy and the manoeuvring limits would be such that the captain doesn’t need to be called.

We used to annoy merchant ships by flashing light (again by junior officers) asking what ship, where bound. Their responses reflected the degree of old-school-ness of their companies. Some were meticulous and prompt, welcoming the break in a boring night watch, others less so. If they could flash at all, they said ‘VHF’. I’m sure some didn’t notice or didn’t want to see.

So, in summary, there’s training happening all day every day at sea.

I speak from my long naval experience can assure you that there are NEVER ‘many people in authority’ on the bridge. It is a strictly formal procedure to transfer the con. Normally the OOW has the con. Only the captain can take it from the OOW which he does by issuing a direct wheel or engine order or by stating ‘I have the ship’. If there is any doubt the OOW is obliged to ask, ‘Do you have the ship, sir?’ In pilotage waters the navigator often takes the con and assumes navigational responsibility.

Hope that helps.

The very first sentence of my comment was, "…when a combat vessel is NOT engaged in military exercises… "

I could not have been more clear.

Many modern civilian bridge designs have a forward bulkhead that protrudes forward giving the pilot/watch officer a better view towards the sides of the ship. It’s becoming quite common now. Note the configuration in my second photo.

I use the centerline repeater and bearing circle regularly to confirm a position while I’m anchoring vessels offshore. Yes, bending over to use it. Not that challenging really.

The ‘trek’ out to the wing is not that exhausting to use the repeater out there and take bearings.

FYI…that any navy ship is able to have an encounter with a civilian ship out there that can manage the time to respond to your flashing light signals that you uniformed fellas have the people and time to ‘train’ with, amazes me.

The single licensed deck officer on the bridge of a civilian ship standing watch by himself with maybe just a helmsman/lookout is likely not responding NOT because he’s being rude. But he doesn’t have the luxury of ample time and people to distract from his primary duty of close quarter ship traffic maneuvering and timely position keeping and route maneuvering. If you’re within range to play with your blinking light towards another non-Navy vessel, you might consider he doesn’t (shouldn’t) have the ability to play along. He better pay attention to traffic. Yes, the VHF is a wonderful thing … when necessary.

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To clarify; when I stated

I did NOT mean those standing on the bridge of any ship. My bad for not making that more clear. I specifically meant those in “authority” at the Pentagon and in upper level administrative positions who HAVE the ability to initiate quickly a new policy or procedure to STOP the practice of turning off a Naval vessel’s own AIS transponder and not use it’s transmit ability in areas of high civilian vessel traffic. You are placing others at risk in NOT transmitting a signal as EVERYONE ELSE IS REQUIRED TO DO BY LAW.

The Navy carving out an exception for itself…UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES… is a fundamentally stupid idea. The evidence to underscore my opinion is obvious. Three recent collisions involving three different Navy ships and three different civilian cargo ships, in an area of heavy vessel traffic. These collisions involved injury, death, and monumentally expensive destruction of high value military assets.

I also understand the protocol of military command on the bridge and taking the conn either routinely or under exceptional circumstances. I’ve personally witnessed this evolution first hand more times than I can to remember.

I’ve noted this welcome trend, but it’s still a minority.

I was talking about years gone by. Not now. BTW naval ships when I started were never fitted with VHF. We had to communicate via other means eg via naval circuits to naval authorities ashore to be relayed to port authorities. Something to do with communications security. We were dragged reluctantly to conform.

As for responding to flashing light, I suggest two ships passing mid-ocean with no others during the watch was not an imposition on anyone’s time. Ships routinely exchanged identities and enjoyed the break in monotonous routine. Again, this was years ago. I haven’t seen it done for 40 years.

If minuscule merchant ship bridge teams today are overworked, it’s pretty obvious to me what the answer might be.

I also just give the reminder that I have spent many years on both sides and am simply commenting about differences. No system is perfect. We can learn from each other.

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I must not understand why warships on transit are not allowed to transmit their AIS data.
I cannot understand why warships do not use an AIS-receiver.

A slow commercial vessel cannot do much, if a fast warship suddenly seems to cross her bow.

On the other side, it seems a simple, but observed AIS-receiver on the Fitzgerald, the McCain and the Ingstad would have ‘illuminated’ the lost bridge teams.

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In which case I agree totally but bear in mind that naval ships transiting still don’t necessarily want their identities broadcast to the world via AIS.

It would be my view that warships with AIS off must be far more vigilant to avoid close quarters situations especially in busy traffic. In other words, act early, stay clear even if the stand on vessel. Submarines for example know full well that they are unique and even when surfaced their lights seldom comply and they are hard to see etc so they just assume that and act accordingly. They don’t assume other ships have seen them. Others should do likewise.

Yes, that was the actual situation then. OTOH most mates in those days called up the sparks to help them out. A navy ship often signaled much too fast, they had no idea about the signaling level of the average merchant mariner. We signaled then SLOWER PSE.

The Aldis lamp was usually equipped with a mechanism which moved the large round mirror up and down when signaling. With a little bit rough weather it was hard to keep the light bundle steady and focused on the other ship. Because of the heavy mirror it was also heavy on the finger. An improvement was the kind where a rather small, black metal screen around the bulb was moving back and forth. Much lighter and therefore faster.


The Navy uses this kind of signaling lamp with professionally trained personnel.

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Yes. The USS GREENVILLE comes to mind. One of my partners had just disembarked the EHIME MARU just minutes before the GREENVILLE surfaced and forever changed the lives of dozens of people, including the CO of that sub.

The memorial for the dead Japanese students and crew is at a park near Honolulu Harbor where I work every day.

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US Navy started transmitting AIS after Fitzgerald/McCain. I’m pretty sure they have standalone receivers, not integrated into other displays.

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No mention of a chap or two who can send and receive using that method? Otherwise it’s just a spotlight.

Just use the app on your smartphone?

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do US navy ships crash because they are dry??

Mmmmmmm. Could be … if we could account for previous wet ship/dry ship crashes such as HMAS MELBOURNE and USS FRANK E EVANS. But that was many years ago.

We used to do it in style back then though. Very convivial were officers drinks in the aircraft carrier served by white-jacketed stewards on the teak laid quarterdeck at sea with the band playing pleasantly, sun setting, before meandering down to the wardroom for dinner.


The argument about the big bridge teams might be legit if the big teams are seen as a symptom rather than a cause.

In other words if officers are having to shift tasks onto the ratings to compensate from their lack of skills, experience and training. It’s similar to merchant officers being dependent upon ECIDS and ARPA to compensate for lack of more traditional skills.

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