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
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,
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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