Feb 21, 2001 9:55 pm
I agree with that many ships do not operate their radar (I even saw the two antennas utterly motionless on a large Spanish passenger ship inside the Canary Archipelago!), as confirmed by my Collision Avoidance Radar Detector (CARD) equipment and observations. Another large (Italian: Maria Vittoria) passenger liner catching up with me during calms (propeller shaft was disengaged throughout my Trades crossing from Cape Verde to St.Martin, as I discovered when lifting anchor in Mindelo) took 12 min to answer on the VHF, and the watch officer was so incompetent I demanded to wake up the skipper, at which point that ship finally maneuvered as I was requesting, having indicated I was totally non-maneuverable, with no wind and no propulsion. But I disagree with on trying to signal "bridge to bridge" unless you are non-maneuverable as I was, or you feel lonely. The first duty of any cruiser to his ship and crew is to plot the apparent course of any "target", and to maneuver early and clearly to avoid any large vessel wherever and whenever it shows a possibility of coming within a couple of miles (5-6 minutes) from the yacht. Then you try to talk to them, explaining what you do. Because CARD may not give warning (too many ships and most fishermen don't operate their radar), and most crew don't look at the screen anymore than at the horizon, it is our duty to avoid them. And that means two kitchen alarm clocks rewound every 20-30 minutes, and much less on a fast catamaran: I saw a half destroyed cat which had bounced off a containership at 20+20kts, which means less than 15 minutes from hull up. The skipper had an alarm clock but had forgot to reduce the time lag when his speed went up! The bell ring is a signal for the deckwatch to scan the horizon immediately, as somnolence, even when the autopilot does not work, can attack the most conscientious helmsman... We should start a lobbying effort with SOLAS for severe penalty for ships which don't observe the law by not running their radar: it cost nothing to run it on a motor vessel, contrary to setting up a watch to look at the screen, which will never be enforceable anyway. When I have time... A passive reflector is also important. The Davis is good (ship captains or watch officers stated they had tracked me from 10+ miles away), and so cheap that I have two up in shipping lanes, one in the raincatch position (manufacturer recommended) and the other in the double raincatch position (recommended by Practical Sailor), so there will be no chance of a "blank" when my ship heels. So, CARD (still much too expensive for what it is), Davis or other reflector (2 is not a luxury), and 2 rugged alarm clocks (one ring as in a kitchen clock is enough, just a signal for the deckwatch), are a must in the ship lanes: the CARD is more a convenience than a guaranty, alas, but the other two are both cheap and necessary insurance. And the rule is: talk is cheap, early active avoidance of any big ship is the name of the game!

Feb 21, 2001 8:55 am

After reading your account of how ships don't use radar or monitor their radio, I feel compelled to add a comment.

As one who has been responsible for operating ships and crossed over 12 different oceans and seas many times my experience has been somewhat different and yet similar to yours.

On the bridge of the ships I've been responsible for our standard crew consisted of one officer in charge, two watchkeepers, and one helmsman. Each watchkeeper was equipped with a pair of binoculars, the Officer in charge gave the steering orders to the helmsman and maintained a continuous radio watch including the usual on hour and half hour silent mayday watch. Our bridge contained 3 radars. One was set for short range (4 miles) and one for long range (16 miles). In this manner we could find small vessels and large as well. However, its worth mentioning that 99% of the time the spotters with binoculars always sighted a small sailboat first long before the radar ever picked it up. During these voyages I had two really close shaves with sailboats (1/10th) of a mile and had two make full 30 degree rudder commands to avoid them. No radio contact was made with these vessels, not that we did not try! When on International waters seamen must always remember that everyone does not speak the English language and many times when I've tried to contact another ship to avoid a close situation the ship does not respond. This does not mean that they are not monitoring, but may mean they do not understand the English language anymore than we many not understand all international languages. Do we answer every Japanese voice we hear on the radio? Likely not. This may explain why sometimes the ship we see does not answer our calls. Sometimes the crews on international ships can not even speak to one another if they are from different countries.


Feb 25, 2001 7:35 pm

Thanks for the interesting email. It does seem that some ships do a wonderful job of keeping a watch, with radar and everything going. As Bert seems to second, though, some are pretty careless. In good weather I see an awful lot of ships with their radar antennas not turning.

And I do agree that too many of us keep poor watches on sailboats as well.

I wish for a radar-like thing that actively searched out ships and set off a bell. Radar takes so much power that it's hard to use all the time on a small boat. One option I'm considering is to get and tow a water generator (which makes lots of power) and use that to operate a radar 24/7. If a ship comes into the guard band it would set off an alarm.


Feb 25, 2001 7:38 pm

Radar's only use is for (a) collision avoidance through alarm (distance adjusted to speed) or going through populated fishing grounds and (b) in foggy areas, obviously. GPS has taken care of the navigatipn function at much less cost, trouble (100% back up cost less than 150$, and most competent crew bring a 3rd one) and power needs.

There is no excuse for immobile radars, and we should work with SOLAS to make it rarissime through very high penalties!