Monday, April 21, 2008

What Recreational Boaters Should Know

Commercial vessels, including towboats and tugboats. Operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

The speed of a ship, towboat, or tugboat can be deceptive. A tow can travel one mile in seven minutes,a ship even faster, and it generally takes 3/4 to 1 1/2 miles to stop. For example, if a water skier falls a thousand feet in front of a moving tug or tow, the skier has less than one minute to get out of the way.

Large vessels must maintain speed to steer, and they must stay in the channel it's the only place deep enough for them to operate. Many channels are unmarked. On some waterways, the channel extends bank to bank, so expect vessel traffic on any portion of the waterway.

A pilot's "blind spot" can extend for hundreds of feet in front of deep-draft ships, tugboats and towboats pushing barges.

In narrow canals a tug's or tow's powerful engines can cause a smaller vessel to be pulled toward the tow when passing alongside.

"Wheel Wash" is a strong underwater current caused by towboat or ship engines that can result in severe turbulence hundreds of yards behind a large vessel.

A tug without barges in front could be towing a log raft, barge, or other objects on a long submerged line behind it, which lie low in the water and are difficult to see. Never pass closely behind a tugboat.

Sailboating on inland rivers can be hazardous, and sailboaters and wind surfers should know that a tow or tug can "steal your wind", so you won't have the same Wind you started with when executing a sailing maneuver near a commercial vessel.

Operating in adverse weather or low visibility can prove extremely dangerous. Why take a chance?

Ships, towboats and tugboats use VHF radio channels 13 and 16. If you are unsure of your situation, or their intentions, feel free to contact them. Remember, you are sharing the waterways with vessels operated by highly trained and conscientious professionals. If you have a true emergency, or need information, they can and will help if properly contacted.

Avoid sailing in the commercial ship channels, especially in poor visibility. Obey Rule 9 of the ColRegs for conduct in narrow channels by keeping to the starboard side of the channel and crossing only when this does not impede the passage of a large vessel that can safely navigate only within the narrow channel.

Do not underestimate the speed of ships. If you boat is slow, allow sufficient time to take effective evasive action in the vicinity of large ships.

Be visible. At night make sure your navigation lights can be seen. If you see the navigation lights of a vessel and you think you have not been seen, get out of the way. Use torches, search lights or a spotlight on sails, or fire a white flare to indicate your position. Carry a radar reflector high on your boat. Remember, from the bridge of a loaded container ship or large tanker, the captain or pilot will lose sight of you a third of a mile ahead, although you can see the ship at all times!

Be alert. Look around every so often, especially astern.

Keep watch at night. Even on a clear night you will have difficulty seeing a big ship approach. You might see it first as a black shadow against a background of shore lights, or as a growing shadow – at that point you are not far apart. Remember that your lights will not be easily spotted from the ship.

Watch the ship’s lights. If you see both sidelights, you are dead ahead – MOVE OUT FAST. You must be sure of your position and be aware of other vessels operating around you.

Know whistle signals. Five or more short blasts on the whistle is the “Keep Clear” signal. Check and see if it is for you - and if it is - GIVE WAY. Three short blasts means “My engines are gong astern”.

Know flag signals and shapes. A large ship which displays a cylinder on her yardarm during the day or three red lights in a vertical line at night indicates that the ship is severely restricted in her manoeuvrability. Give her a wide berth.