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Do professionals ignore the rules?

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #112 March/April 2001

From Ocean Navigator #112 March/April 2001

Don Dykstra's recent article ("A View from the Bridge" Issue No. 110, Nov./Dec. 2000) appears to be playing the role of apologist for what is, in fact, unacceptable behavior by large vessel officers. The scariest thing is that he apparently does not know, or deliberately mis-states the COLREGS.

How about starting with Rule 5? "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 so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision."

Is there some clause in there that says, "except when the containers are in the way?" If Dykstra cannot see forward he had no business proceeding without a lookout in the bow capable of filling in his missing view.

Note that Dykstra singles out the likely violation of Rule 5 by the singlehander while sliding smoothly past his own probably worse violation. Is it better to miss all of the sea 20% of the time or 20% of the sea all of the time?

How about Rule 6? "Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions."

The rules then list the factors to be considered, including the use of radar and its limitations. Would it not appear that perhaps Dykstra, et al., are willing to put those of us in small boats at risk by proceeding at a speed that compromises their ability to avoid collision?

Then there is Rule 7(a & b): "(a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist. (b) Proper use shall be made of radar equipment if fitted and operational, including long-range scanning to obtain early warning of risk of collision and radar plotting or equivalent systematic observation of detected objects."

Again Dykstra finds an exception clause that states "except when the owner decides that using the radar is too expensive." So it's clear that saving money is seen as a valid reason for dropping parts of the COLREGS.

As to monitoring Channel 16 (from the USCG web site): "Ships 300 tons and over and passenger ships on international voyages must maintain, where practicable, a continuous listening watch on VHF channel 16 until 1 February 2005. This watch shall be kept at the position from which the ship is normally navigated. After 1 February 1999 these ships will be required to carry digital selective calling-capable VHF radios and maintain a continuous watch on channel 70. Military warships, most fishing vessels and sailing ships are exempt from this requirement."

IMO, SOLAS IV/12: "All ships should, where practicable, maintain watch on channel 16 when within the service area of a VHF maritime coast station. Ships fitted only with VHF marine radios should also maintain watch on channel 16 while at sea. Ships with digital selective calling-equipped VHF marine radios should keep watch on channel 70." ITU: RR 38-16, RR N38.

Thus it would appear that again Dykstra defends a practice that is clearly contrary to the international regulations governing commercial shipping.

Dykstra is further in error on such things as the visibility range of normal sailboat navigation lights. He states the limited legal range required but fails to note the vastly better performance achieved. It is pretty rare to have another sailboat get within five miles without visual detection - even in reasonably good-sized wind and seas.

Dykstra points out that rule 17(b) requires a stand-on vessel to take action if the other vessel is unable to avoid the collision. But he fails to mention the directives of rules 7 and 8 requiring a vessel to identify the possibility of collision and to take clear and decisive action to prevent it. If the large vessels identify the problem at six miles and fix it by four miles, it would not even be necessary for the small vessel to notice the crossing.

The article does leave me with some concerns about the knowledge level and operating rules of those who staff the bridges of large ships.

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