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SAFETY ALERT HMRMS 04-07 -- Navigation in Restricted Visibility

The attached Safety Alert was developed by the Investigations Office, United States Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads. Questions regarding its content may be directed to (757)668-5540.

December 13, 2007 Sector Hampton Roads Expires December 31, 2008

A ship strikes a highway bridge, causing damage to the fender system and a 53,000 gallon oil spill. A barge strikes a U.S. Navy facility, causing extensive damage. Two tugs, one pushing a loaded gasoline barge, collide, narrowly avoiding a disaster. What do these recent marine casualties have in common? All of the vessels were navigating in restricted visibility.

Although the investigation of these incidents is ongoing, they provide an opportunity to remind mariners of the hazards of navigation in restricted visibility, and the procedures required to do so safely. Of course, the best way to avoid an accident in restricted visibility is to not get underway, or to seek a safe haven if conditions change while underway. But that is not always practical, so every vessel must be well prepared for navigation in restricted visibility every time the vessel gets underway. Companies should adopt written polices emphasizing that a delay to the vessel is preferable to the undesirable consequences of an accident. Those policies should place the responsibility for sailing a vessel with the vessel’s master, and prohibit interference or second-guessing by shoreside managers. If a vessel must navigate in restricted visibility certain procedures must be followed:

SOUND FOG SIGNALS. Fog signals are required when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility.

REDUCE SPEED. The state of visibility is one of the most important factors in determining safe speed. Speed should be reduced - to bare steerage if necessary. Slowing the vessel reduces the likelihood of a casualty because it gives more time for the operator to assess the situation, and keeps power in reserve if emergency maneuvers become necessary.

POST LOOKOUTS. Additional lookouts must be posted, at least one as far forward as safely possible. Lookouts should be well rested, have no other duties, and receive periodic training on proper lookout procedures. Lookouts should be relieved regularly to ensure they remain alert. At a minimum, a lookout should have binoculars and a means of communicating with the operator. Most importantly, lookouts should wear a personal floatation device and non-slip shoes. The Coast Guard also recommends that crewmembers working on deck carry a personal locator device to help find them if they fall overboard.

TAKE FREQUENT POSITION FIXES. Too often mariners fail to appreciate the importance of frequent fixes while navigating in restricted visibility. Over reliance on radar and electronic navigation systems can cause a mariner to lose situational awareness, in part because of time delays while the image is refreshed. A vessel can travel several hundred yards, especially if the operator fails to reduce speed, in the time it takes for the track line to update on an electronic chart. In some cases it may be necessary to take fixes as often as every three minutes.

MONITOR OTHER VESSELS. The bearing, range and closest point of approach (CPA) of other vessels should be closely monitored. Communications should be established early to determine the intentions of other vessels. Short and long range scanning by radar should be used to identify targets before they get too close.

SUMMON HELP TO THE BRIDGE. A one-person watch cannot safely navigate in restricted visibility. One person cannot man the helm, monitor the radar, serve as lookout, plot fixes, communicate with other vessels and the bow lookout, and so on.

And finally:

TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN. Most well-managed vessels conduct regular fire, abandon ship, and man overboard drills, but very few practice restricted visibility procedures. Every vessel should have a written restricted visibility procedure and hold regular training. This training should include practicing taking and plotting fixes by all methods available, in case of a failure of one of the position fixing devices occurs.

RELEASED BY - USCG Sector Hampton Roads.