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20 Taker Tips
by Lt/C Larry Golkin, AP  SEO

We must contend with large ships when crossing between Ventura Harbor, Channel Islands Harbor, Santa Barbara Harbor, Port Hueneme, and the Channel Islands. Very large ships transporting everything from cars to coal transit our Channel every day. These ships reach lengths of 1000 feet or more and may weigh as much as 250,000 metric tons when loaded. They move quite rapidly, sometimes as fast as 30 knots. The ships we see may include oil tankers, cargo ships, container vessels, tugs and barges, and Navy war ships.

Generally speaking, we expect that these ships transit within shipping lanes. Virtually every chart of the Santa Barbara Channel displays these shipping lanes. Maritime charts show these lanes colored pink. You must identify the lanes on your chart. Neither signs nor aids to navigation make obvious your relative position. You must know whether you are in or near the lanes. The only way to do this is to maintain a constant state of awareness as to your position.

The shipping lanes are approximately 5 nautical miles wide and consist of two lanes and a separation zone. There is a northbound lane and a southbound lane. Each of the two lanes measures approximately 1 nautical mile wide. The separation zone measures approximately 3 nautical miles in width.

The shipping lanes involve five of the most important, and potentially hair-raising miles of your crossing. Remembering the following tips will greatly improve your chances of a successful, fun, and uneventful Channel crossing.

20 tanker tips

1. Big ships cannot stop on a dime. In fact, these ships may require as much as 5 miles to stop (with gears in full reverse). The solution is simple: stay out of their way.

2. Big ships will not stop. They may slow down to avoid traffic, however, keep in mind that a ship's steering control involves a direct relationship between the force of the propeller's wash against the rudder and their ability to maneuver. Thus, the slower they travel, the less maneuverable they become.

3. Big ships do not turn very well. For example, a 500 foot, 8000-ton ship needs over a third of a mile to turn around. Moreover, once such a ship commits to a turn, it will not waiver. Also, just as a following sea affects a pleasure boat's steering, the same holds true of the effect of a following sea on a big ship. Recall the rule regarding big ships in a narrow channel. The Santa Barbara Channel is a "narrow" channel especially when one considers that really big ships may need 5-10 miles to turn.

4. Although these ships have radar (perhaps more than one), the beam angle comes off from so high up (sometimes 100 feet or more) that you may not be seen. Generally speaking, if you are less than 3 miles ahead of a big ship, you are invisible to her radar. The beam has probably gone right over you - your radar signature will likely be too small to notice.

5. Often, foreign crews that speak little or no English operate these ships. This obviously makes radio communication difficult if not impossible. Furthermore, they rarely respond to recreational boaters. Additionally, they may not be monitoring Channel 16, but rather Channels 9, 13 or 14. Nevertheless, if it looks like you may have a course problem, it is wise to attempt to hail the ship and let her know you are there and what course change you intend to make. For example, "Cargo ship in the southbound lane off Cavern Point, Santa Cruz Island, this is the vessel Road kill standing by on Channel 13, over." Hopefully, the ship's pilot will answer, " Road kill, this is the cargo ship Hanjin South. Go ahead." "Hanjin South, this is Road kill. I am a 41-foot motor vessel with white topsides and blue canvas positioned off platform Gail. I am just entering the shipping lane heading southwest. I can see you and I will pass behind you, over." "Thank you, Hanjin South, out." "Road kill, clear to channel 16." Now the big ship knows you are there and may keep a visual on you. Nevertheless, do not assume anything.

6. The Rules of the Road do not necessarily apply when these ships are in the area. The rule of BIG applies. Simply stated, because they are so much bigger than us, they will always win in the event of a collision. In fact, they may not even realize a collision has occurred. Therefore, stay well clear of big ships in the Channel and always yield the right-of-way, even if you think have it.

7. Assume the big ships cannot see you. If you can see the ship's bridge windows, perhaps the helmsman can see you. If you cannot see the bridge windows, then you might as well be invisible. In fact, if you do not have the biggest radar-reflector your money can buy, most fiberglass vessels do not make good radar targets, rendering you essentially undetectable.

8. Never play "chicken" with a commercial carrier.

9. If you alter course to avoid converging with a big ship, make your maneuver as big and obvious as possible. You should leave no doubt as to your indicated route. Many sailboats seldom achieve 6 knots. Whenever you become aware of a big ship, make a quick 180 degree turn and sail away from her course until you can establish our relationship. Although power-boats move faster, the same rule should be followed.

10. It is possible that a big ship may not be exactly within the lanes. Never believe you are completely safe until you are well clear of the lanes.

11. Watch out for the big ship's wake. We tend to see a bow wave and prepare for it. However, there is another wave - her stern wave. Keep in mind that if a big ship is steaming along at 25 knots, her following wake will also be traveling at 25 knots. It isn't just one wave. Rather, it is a series of equally spaced waves. Sometimes you do not even notice them until the ship is two or three miles passed.

12. Always move through the shipping lanes at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible and as quickly as possible. Do not loiter in the shipping lanes.

13. Watch out for the "pile-up" - a situation referred to when what appears to be only one ship is actually two or more in close proximity to one another and off-set in a line. This happens often. You may think you have cleared one ship only to learn that there is another one right behind it but you could not see it as it was hidden. Note that your radar may only distinguish one target instead of two when they are this close together. Also, beware of overlapping crossings, a situation where two big ships are converging from opposite directions. This situation ought to make you grind your teeth. Timing is everything. You really don't want to be stuck in the separation zone as one ship passes in close proximity in front of you as a second or third ship passes simultaneously in close proximity behind you. This makes for all kinds of "wake fun".

14. Remember, these ships come from at least two directions. Just because you can see the one coming from starboard, does not mean there is not one coming from port. Make sure you post lookouts when crossing the lanes - scan all directions.

15. If you have collision avoidance electronics such as MARPA, use it.

16. If you have radar, use it. These big ships show up as really hot targets - in fact, their radar signature looks similar to that of an oil platform, only they are moving. Even on a clear day when you can see for miles, your radar will tell you how far the ship is from your position. Using bearings, and watching how they change, you can determine how fast the ship is moving and thus, how much time you have to pass or modify your course and how.

17. Once you can see a big ship on the horizon, expect it to be on top of you in a relatively short period of time. Take action early to avoid a close-crossing situation and be consistent. Once you have made a decision, stick to it. The general rule - when in doubt, don't - applies.

18. If you breakdown in a shipping lane, you are in danger. Stay calm and attempt to contact the vessel bearing down so you can transmit all relevant information regarding your position and your situation. If all else fails, get on the horn and call the Coast Guard. Perhaps they can relay a call. Keep in mind, that darkness or bad weather can make the situation really interesting.

19. Always pass behind the big ships if in doubt as to whether or not you will make it in front. However, do not pass to closely. These ships have propellers larger than most single-family homes that create a huge amount of turbulence. Try to clear her stern by a mile or more. Less than a mile of distance between you and the big ship is precarious at best. Give yourself plenty of room, especially in the fog. In that regard, do not expect these ships to use proper fog signals.

20. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER place your vessel within 1000 feet of a Navy warship. As a result of the events of 9-11, the Navy is authorized to use lethal force against any vessel coming within the prescribed safety zone without permission.

The aforementioned "tips" are just that. Always exercise common sense and good judgment, pay attention, and keep track of your surroundings. You have an obligation to your vessel and her accommodation. Take no chances. Be safe!

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