Maintaining a good lookout

Maintaining a good lookout

Report Text:

Location: 34 nm West of Bishop Rock Weather: Wind SE 12 knots, sea 5 feet from South, partly cloudy, sunshine, good visibility. My vessel: Sailing yacht “SY” was close hauled and sailed with mainsail and jib at 3.5 knots on course 070 degrees. Fishing vessel: ““FV”” approached us from port side on a southerly course at about 10 knots. No signals indicating fishing were displayed. No signals received by our AIS. No calls received on VHF channel 16. No action was taken by “FV”, so we started our engine as a safety precaution. The “FV” came closer and closer without giving way. We know by experience that fishing vessels may pass quite close. Finally we gave full throttle ahead and passed about 50 meters in front of her bow. It was too late to take any other action from our side. We saw there was nobody in the wheelhouse. As they were very close to us, we could read the name and number. After 4 ~5 calls on the VHF radio, they answered first that they could not see us. When telling them that they had just passed us, they told us they were unaware of the situation and had not noticed us on their radar. We carry a radar reflector, up in the mast about 10 metres above sea level. We contacted a cargo ship earlier the same day checking the “range” of our radar reflector in rainy conditions. We were then 6 nm apart and they told us we were visible on their radar screen. This indicates that the “FV” had not had a look out for the last half hour. If we had not taken action there would have been a collision.

good_lookout1          good_lookout2

CHIRP contacted the owner of “FV” who knows well the wheel-house arrangement on “FV”, the watch-keeper is positioned on the forward starboard side of the wheelhouse. The vessel works static nets (gill nets) and recovers fishing gear from a net hauler on the starboard side just in front of the wheel house, this forces the design of many boats to place the skipper in a forward starboard corner of the wheel house surrounded by the necessary navigation aids. The skipper is placed very close to the windows, getting all the sunlight and heat. Photographs were submitted to illustrate the improvements made in order to make the boat safer and easier to work, including the removal of a screen that was blocking vision when looking to port.
The owner shared a statement written out by the skipper of “FV” stating: 
Steaming 192o at 9.5 knots between two fishing operations of 8.8 miles apart. Nothing seen on the radar, late afternoon sunshine glaring off the sea on the starboard side. Myself and one other crewman were in the wheelhouse. I passed the watch over with “Nothing to report”, no radar targets or visual targets and went to the engine room to top up the daily service tank and was back in the wheelhouse within 10 minutes. There was nothing to report until a VHF call on channel 16 which was answered by myself, bringing to our attention a close quarter situation, where the yacht was visibly seen astern of us.

Lessons Learned by owner of “FV”: Quite clearly “FV” was the give way vessel and would have given way in good time if he had detected the target by any means visually or electronically. If the call from the yacht was made earlier it could have been avoided.
 Also I question the wisdom of crossing the bow of ”FV”, reducing speed and stopping or paralleling the “FV” course until past and clear may have been better.
 However I very much appreciate from first hand experience, comments after the event are easier to make. We have made an enquiry to a company, I will do my best to improve on the glare situation in the wheelhouse.

The skipper is a very conscientious man with good standards and is clearly upset over this, he has not taken it lightly, he repeatedly told me he couldn’t understand not seeing the target on radar until well astern of him and after the event.

Operating good radars is something most of us in the static net fishery are quite good at because we have to keep a sharp eye on trawler activity to avoid gear conflict.
A trawler can show up in your area within a short space of time and we are obliged to give them the positions of our nets or they could tow them away, usually destroying the nets beyond repair. This situation is avoided by keeping a sharp look out something we are good at, but you are not going to get any man to see through direct sunlight


The root cause of the close quarters situation was the fishing vessel not keeping a vigilant look-out. A contributing cause may have been the yacht not being seen due to the glare from the sun. With a condition of clear visibility, the watch keeper on the fishing vessel probably saw no reason to keep a close radar watch. The fishing vessel owner’s prudent considerations of the ergonomics of bridge design and anti glare precautions taken were noted.
The sailing vessel’s claim there was nobody on the bridge has been denied but the there was no reason for missing the 4 calls on the VHF prior to the yacht passing ahead of the fishing vessel.

The yacht appears to have acted in accordance with COLREGS rule 17B: “When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.”
CHIRP identified guidance from the MCA (i) MGN 313 (F) Keeping a safe navigational watch on fishing vessels, (ii) Fishermen’s Safety Guide.

The following are important factor(s) identified by the MCA in past incident reports:
– Unqualified or inexperienced person in charge of the watch;
– Only one person on watch (regardless of whether a watch alarm was fitted);
– Poor lookout and/or radio watch being kept;
– Distraction by TV in the wheelhouse;
– Divided command, and
– Fatigue, alcohol, or prescription drugs.