Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fishing boats and imaginary lookouts

Dictator in tow by the U.S. Coast Guard—U.S COAST GUARD

In the article Quick Thinking Saves Dictator After Collision at Sea fishing boat captain Rick Curtis, regarding the ship which struck and nearly sank his boat, is quoted as saying "There are supposed to be three guys in the wheelhouse of that ship. And they didn’t see me?”

Capt Curtis supposes or imagines three people in the wheelhouse of the ship which struck his boat. Going a step further, here is what I think a fishing boat crew imagines regarding the watch on the container ship contrasted with what I imagine the wheelhouse of that container ship might really been like.

The fishing boat crew imagines the lookout is well rested and is watching forward, constantly scanning the horizon and will have no problem seeing a 70 foot fishing boat.

I imagine the lookout, if there is one, having worked overtime that morning is nearing the end of his watch and weary of watching forward, he instead has become mesmerized by ship's motion and is daydreaming, seeing nothing past the rolling, pitching rows of containers in front of him.

The fishing boat crew imagines that the mate is competent, motivated, rested and alert, has full situational awareness and has no other duties other then maintain a good watch.

I imagine that the mate, on the mid-watch, is fatigued, he has spend the last hour and a half weaving though fishing vessels in poor visibility while also encountering other large ship traffic. The numerous fishing vessels, most of which do not have proper lookouts, alter course suddenly and without warning, unaware of the presence of the larger, faster vessels.

The crew of the fishing vessel imagines the captain to be at the radar, which is on the optimum range for detection of fishing vessels and that the gain, sea return and rain clutter are all properly adjusted. Furthermore the fishing boat crew imagines that there are no other large vessel about and that their vessel is the only one of concern.

I imagine the captain is in his office. His ship is approaching the United States, the country which has perhaps the most complex entrance requirements and the most draconian penalties for non-compliance . In addition to pre-arrival requirements the captain has payroll, stores and parts orders and so forth.

In general, it is accepted practice to assume that the watch on another vessel is alert and competent, at least to a point. What that point is depends upon the circumstance of course but when the point of "in extremis" is reached both vessels have an obligation to take action. Before that point however it is prudent to call on the VHF and verify that the watch on the other vessel is aware of your presence.

Trust, but verify.


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