Are Your Intentions Clear?
Over the course of a month I do a fair amount of new boat owner hands on training. These trainings provide me an opportunity to enjoy many different yachts, new and old, large and small. The new owners also come with varying levels of experience, from practically zero, “I owned a ski boat 25 years ago,” to very experienced, “I have been boating in the Bay and Delta for 25 years.” Some wisely seek me out for boat handling tune ups simply because they are moving into a larger boat. Of the many subjects we discuss and practice, using the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea and the U.S. Inland Navigation Rules we commonly refer to as the COLREG’s or “Rules of the Road” is high on the list.
Recently I worked with a client who has owned and operated mid-size boats on and off for 40 years and needed some refresher time on his new to him 52-foot yacht. Our first time together we were making our way from Alameda to San Francisco Bay transiting the Estuary on a somewhat busy Saturday morning. We were maneuvering among the dozens of power and sail vessels that were overtaking us, crossing in front of us (tacking) and meeting us head on. This voyage and its varying traffic provided an excellent opportunity to delve into Navigation Rules 12 thru 18, Conduct of Vessels in Sight of One Another. If you cannot get enough of the rules or want to refresh your memory, take a look at my articles in the January 2018 (http://www.yachtsmanmagazine.com/articles/lesson_jan2018.html) and May 2018 (http://www.yachtsmanmaga zine.com/articles/lesson_may2018.html) issues of the Bay and Delta Yachtsman.
On January 23, 2018 at approximately 0015, the fishing vessel Saxon Onward collided with the 970-foot container ship Beijing Bridge. In the minutes following the collision, the crew of the Saxon Onward inspected the 105-foot vessel for damage and finding no water intrusion advised the Beijing Bridge they did not require assistance. The master of the Beijing Bridge then made contact with the company’s Designated Person Ashore to brief him on the situation. At approximately 0035, the Beijing Bridge resumed her original course and the Saxon Onward turned back on a northeasterly heading and resumed her passage. The events leading up to the collision are a good case study on how not following the rules results in a collision at sea.
At approximately 2030 the prior evening, the Beijing Bridge was on a southwesterly course approximately 29 miles offshore and due to arrive at her destination the next evening. The ship’s master had retired to his cabin for the night and the third mate was the Officer of the Watch and the sole crew on the bridge. The ship was on auto pilot maintaining a heading of 206 degrees. With calm seas, good visibility and a light southwest wind of 10 knots she was making a good speed over ground of 17 knots. The Saxon Onward was northbound heading for port with her holds full after several days of fishing. Her auto pilot was maintaining a heading of 038 degrees and she had a speed over ground of 8.5 knots. At 2200 the skipper handed over the watch to the crew assigned the 2200 - 2400 watch. The fishing vessel Rubicon was on a parallel course three nautical miles on the Saxon Onward’s starboard bow and slowly being overtaken.
At about 2330 the watch keeper on the Saxon Onward sighted the masthead lights and green sidelight of the approaching Beijing Bridge on her starboard bow. He also detected the ship on RADAR but did not use the ARPA function (Automatic RADAR Plotting Aid) to acquire the target for tracking.
At approximately 2335 the third mate on the Beijing Bridge sighted two approaching vessels, the Rubicon and the Saxon Onward on her starboard bow. Both vessels were detected on RADAR and both vessels were acquired on ARPA for tracking. For the next eighteen minutes the third mate continued to monitor both vessels both visually and by RADAR; however during this time, he made small adjustments to the ships heading and was now steering 216 degrees. At approximately 2353 the vessels had less than 10 miles of separation and over the following ten minutes the small heading adjustments to the right continued.
Around midnight the crew member with the 0000 - 0200 watch headed to the wheelhouse of the Saxon Onward to take over the watch. The previous watch keeper stayed on for a few minutes to handover duties prior to retiring to quarters. After taking the watch the new watch keeper immediately acquired the Beijing Bridge on the ships ARPA and noted that the approaching ship on the starboard bow was approximately 6.5 nautical miles and on a southwesterly course at a speed of 17.5 knots. He also noted the Rubicon was now two miles off his starboard beam.
At about 0005 the crew on the Saxon Onward sighted the Beijing Bridge’s two masthead lights in line with each other, her green sidelight, and her deck lights. The crew maintained course and speed.
At about 0008 the mate on board Beijing Bridge, now on a heading of 241 degrees, noted the Saxon Onward fine on her port bow. The mate altered the ships heading to the left setting the auto pilot to 228 degrees with the intention of passing between the Rubicon and the Saxon Onward. Four minutes later at 0012 the mate sighted the Saxon Onward fine on her starboard bow. At nearly the same time, and with the two vessels just one nautical mile from each other, the watch keeper on the Saxon Onward commenced a rapid turn to starboard. Seeing the Saxon Onward coming to the right, the Beijing Bridge continued coming to port, flashed her Aldis lamp, and sounded one prolonged blast of the ship’s whistle. The master of the Beijing Bridge was awakened by the whistle signal and after calling the mate on the bridge phone, made way to the bridge arriving two minutes later.
At about 0014 the master arrived on the bridge and saw the navigation lights of the trawler on her starboard side rapidly closing in on the ship. He immediately ordered hand steering, rudder hard left and continued sounding of the ships whistle. He then made his way to the starboard bridge wing.
At about 0015 the watch keeper on the Saxon Onward realized the vessel was in danger and alerted the captain and the crew. Just as the Saxon Onward’s captain arrived on the bridge, her port bow impacted the starboard side of the Beijing Bridge approximately 310-feet aft of her bow. As the trawler scraped down the side of the ship, the captain stopped her engine and mustered the crew in the wheelhouse. The trawler then heeled hard over to starboard taking on water before righting herself and drifting past the stern of the Beijing Bridge towards the northeast. At the time of the collision the master on the Beijing Bridge ordered hard right rudder and stop engine.
At about 0017 the master of the Beijing Bridge hailed the Saxon Onward on the VHF radio requesting a damage report. Within a few minutes the crew of the Saxon Onward inspected the vessel for damage and determined that they did not require assistance. The vessel Rubicon passed clear to port of the Beijing Bridge at less than one half a nautical miles and continued on her passage.
The COLREG’s provide rules detailing the actions required of vessels in specific situations involving risk of collision such as head on (Rule 14), crossing (Rule 15) and overtaking (Rule 13). Rule 14 applies to vessels in sight of one another and requires vessels in a head on situation involving risk of collision to each alter their course to the right unless other arrangements have been made. The rule also makes it clear that in the event a vessel has any doubt as to whether a head on situation exists, they are to assume that it does and to act accordingly. Further, the rule states that a head on situation with risk of collision shall be deemed to exist when a vessel sees the other ahead and by night she can see the masthead lights of the other in a line, or nearly in a line, and/or one or both sidelights.
The rules also state that any action to avoid collision should, among other things, be positive, be large enough to be apparent to the other vessel and be made in ample time. Specifically the rules require that any alteration of course to avoid a close quarter situation should be made in good time, be substantial and not result in another close quarter situation. The Beijing Bridge’s company procedures specified that the Officer of the Watch could be the sole lookout on the bridge during daylight hours only.
At the time of the collision, the third mate was the only person assigned to be on the bridge and no other lookout was posted. The absence of the bridge lookout during hours of darkness increased risk and was in contravention of company procedures. Although Rule 5, proper lookout, does not require additional lookouts and it is purposely vague in this regard, it does state “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”
Beijing Bridge’s company policy and the standing orders from the ship’s master required that effective action be taken to avoid collision in accordance with the COLREG’s. The company procedure and standing orders from the ship’s master specified that course alterations were to be clear and made in sufficient time that would leave no doubt as to the ship’s intentions. The company procedures and the standing orders also required the action to result in the ship keeping a minimum closest point of approach, CPA, of at least one nautical mile from other vessels and if the Officer of the Watch’s course changes could not meet the minimum CPA requirement the master was to be notified. Beijing Bridge’s planned alteration of course to starboard placed the ship in a developing close quarter situation involving risk of collision. Her subsequent alteration of course was neither substantial nor made in good time and was inconsistent with the master’s standing orders and the COLREG’s. His action failed to remove the ship from the existing close quarter situation and ultimately increased the risk of collision.
Saxon Onward’s alteration of course to starboard was made in response to the head on situation that the watch keeper assessed the vessel to be in. The alteration, while substantial, was not made in sufficient time to have a positive effect on the situation and resulted in the collision.
It surprises me how often I meet experienced boat owners that have a limited understanding of the Rules of the Road. We can expect new boat owners with little operating experience to not know the rules, but skippers with years of boat ownership and operation in the Bay and Delta should know them, all of them. Even professional mariners make mistakes as demonstrated by the crew onboard the Beijing Bridge and the Saxon Onward. Keep this example in mind the next time you look ahead and see a vessel approaching on a near reciprocal course and make your intentions clear!
The Beijing Bridge arrived in port the next evening at which time the surveyors determined her damage was minor with indentions to the hull and scratch marks down the starboard side.
The Saxon Onward arrived safely in port six hours after the collision and was surveyed later in the day. The trawler sustained substantial damage to the port bow, structural cracks and displacement of the port side framing and structural damage to deck fittings. She also sustained damage to an auxiliary engine and generator from seawater intrusion.
Time for me to sit back, enjoy a good glass of port and light up a fine cigar while I plan for my next coastal voyage with the events of the Beijing Bridge and the FV Saxon Onward still fresh in my mind. Until next month, please keep those letters coming. Have a good story to tell, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I love a good story. H