MARITIME | The Five Commandments of Defensive Sailing

At sea, it is not enough to take into account one’s own actions and mental models of a given situation, especially in dense traffic conditions. Still, it is surprising to see how often accidents happen because of a lack of personal, corporate and even governmental commitement to safe navigation.

Several recent investigations, such as the ones on the MSC Napoli and the Maersk Dover/Apollonia/Maersk Vancouver, have made it clear that there is still a widespread demeaning attitude to safety, as if it were someone else’s problem — until, of course, you get involved in an accident.

With this in mind, I am joining the CHIRP’s efforts to promote defensive sailing, presenting what I would call their “Five Commandments”:

  1. Keep A Good All-Round Look-Out: Sounds obvious but is absolutely fundamental. Watch-keepers on commercial vessels need to bear in mind that small craft may not be easy to see either visually or on radar, especially in moderate/rough sea conditions. This may be so even though the craft is showing lights as per the ColRegs and has a radar reflector.
  2. Maintain Situational Awareness: In particular, be aware of how quickly a traffic situation can change. For yachtsmen, it is useful to remember that ships travel a distance equivalent to 10% of their speed in 6 minutes. So a ship proceeding at 15 knots that appears to be some way off at 1.5 miles can be with you in 6 minutes (and less, of course, if you are moving towards it.)
  3. Don’t Assume You Have Been Seen: As per ColReg 36: “If necessary to attract the attention of another vessel any vessel may make light or sound signals that cannot be mistaken for any signal authorized elsewhere in these Rules, or may direct the beam of her searchlight in the direction of the danger in such a way as not to embarrass any vessel.”
  4. Think “What If … “: Think beforehand what you would do to avoid the danger if the other vessel takes unexpected action or does not comply with the ColRegs?
  5. Allow A Prudent Margin of Safety and Respect the Other Vessel’s Safety Margin: Consider the situation as it will be perceived from the bridge or cockpit of the other vessel and endeavour not to cause anxiety to the other mariner.

A final comment: if abiding by the rules is not enough to avert danger, use seaman’s common sense and do what is right: put safety first. Always.

Read about the Five Commandments from the source:



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