Fog Signals – An Optional Extra???

Fog Signals – An Optional Extra???

Report Text:

My yacht was off the South coast of England during daylight but in reduced visibility, estimated 25 yards.  Signal horn (manual) being sounded. Large engine noise astern heard.  Within 20 minutes the windows of a ferry could just be made out abeam.  No sound signals were heard.  No VHF contact.  Yacht carried radar reflector from lower spreaders.

CHIRP Comment:

Here are some unjustifiable excuses for not sounding fog signals:

  1. As we have radar, sound signals are superfluous.
  2. Some of the ColRegs are mandatory, others are optional extras.
  3. The noise disturbs the passengers and/or crew.
  4. The signals won’t be heard in the enclosed wheelhouses of other ships.

None of the foregoing will stand you in good stead at an inquiry!

Sound signals are mandatory, as per Rule 35 of the ColRegs. They do serve a practical purpose, for example in alerting small craft to approaching vessels.  The whistle is a useful tool and its use is prescribed in the ColRegs – so use it!

The report also mentions that the yacht was carrying a radar reflector. On this subject, whilst the loss of the yacht “Ouzo” and her crew in August 2006 did not occur in fog, it nevertheless highlighted the potentially fatal consequences of poor radar visibility of small vessels. Detailed guidance is given by the MCA in MGN349 – Carriage and Use of Radar Reflectors on Small Vessels. (Marine Guidance Notes can be accessed on the MCA website by clicking onto “Legislation and Guidance”.)

In general:

  • There is a wide variation in the performance of different types of radar reflectors. Some do not meet ISO standard. For information on the comparative performance, consult the report by QinetiQ comparing various types of reflectors. This can be found on the MAIB website
  • Care must be taken to mount the reflector as directed by the manufacturer. This sounds obvious but we have seen reflectors designed for mounting vertically but installed horizontally.
  • The higher the reflector is mounted, the more effective it will be.
  • Be aware that, notwithstanding the type of radar reflector fitted, in certain circumstances their craft may not be readily visible on ships’ radars.