Positive Action in Ample Time

By MarEx 2016-03-26 19:52:43

The latest issue of U.K. charitable trust CHIRP’s magazine covers a wide spread of incidents including the dangers of enclosed spaces, risks in traffic separation schemes, a faulty fire suppression system and risks to exposed crewman on deck.

Failures of safety culture are, as usual, at the center of our reports, says editor and maritime adviser Charles Style, who emphasizes an aspect of the Collision Regulations (COLREGS) that several incident reports highlight. Style’s editorial for the magazine states:

In Rule 8, they charge us with the responsibility to take actions to avoid collision which are ‘positive and made in ample time,’ ‘if the circumstances of the case permit.’ Our actions should also be taken ‘with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.’ 

However, all too often, we hear of circumstances in which action to avoid collision is ‘too little, too late.’ Positive action in ample time is at the heart of the COLREGS because it is a crucial means by which we avoid causing doubt in the mind of the Officer of the Watch of the ‘other ship.’

Think of it the other way round: you see a ship you judge to be the give way vessel getting closer, but you cannot see what she intends to do. Has she seen you; does she intend to get out of your way? Doubt and anxiety develop; should you stand on? Do these circumstances now necessitate action by you? Maybe the other ship has altered for you, but not by much; it’s going to be a close Closest Point of Approach. Will this constitute a safe distance?

Officers of the Watch have all experienced moments like this; and there are suggestions they are becoming more common. This may be associated with lack of training, supervision, experience or concentration amongst many factors. It may also result from too much focus on electronic displays; these can dampen the visceral sense of peril which the sight of a ship on a steady bearing gives us.

Ask yourself, in a closing situation, whether your own intentions are completely obvious to the other ship? Actions which are positive and in ample time remove doubt. When doubt is removed, collisions are much less likely.

Where you encounter the opposite behavior, please let us know. We can help disseminate the lessons.

Confidentially submit dangerous occurrence reports to CHIRP here.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.