I wonder if I could ask fellow members what they think about the collision avoidance aspects of making passages in small boats. In particular when it is sometimes unavoidable to cross into very busy shipping lanes and other vessel traffic management areas. The approches to busy ports being a good example.
Although I'm reasonably experienced cruising in larger boats (30 -50ft) having somehow managed to avoid getting myself in to too much trouble on Englsih Channel crossings, trips to Spain, Portugal and (just once) across the pond to Florida, dinghy cruising is a relatively new experience for me having only "got the bug" a year ago when I had the opportunity to buy a 16ft Rover class centre-boarder, so as a would-be dinghy cruiser I have a lot to learn.
Now that I've been getting to know my little craft for a while I'm thinking about possibly going a bit further afield in her than my local patch (Norfolk Broads) and I'm freshening up on the RYA Coastal Skipper qualification gained in my younger years.
But times have changed a little since the last time I took to the open sea. Much Mmore commercial shipping being one problem, and that commercial shipping being much more automated and "hands-off" than it used to be.
On larger yachts AIS is gradually becoming considered as the "sensible skipper's choice", or radar, or even both if you've got money to burn, but what can be done in a small open boat which doesn't have the benfit of a permanently rigged mast bristling with antennas for the lastest and greatest in collision avoidance?
Are there any small boat alternatives? I have nothing against a good old fahioned foghorn of course (used one many times in the past), but we all know that the latest semi-automated VLCCs ploughing along the North Sea TSS at 30 knots isn't going hear that.
What to do?
I know there are some VERY experienced dinghy cruisers here and I'd really value your thoughts.
Thanks very much.
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I doubt you will find many busier places to sail than the Solent for vessels of all sizes up the largest container ships afloat. South coast sailors regularly negotiate this traffic with few if any issues.
Avoid trouble by treating all large vessels as constrained by draught and sail in shallow water to avoid them. Crossing shipping lanes is going to be no different from your experience in a yacht, anticipation of speed and distance is required. This is generally done successfully without the aid of electronic aids and shipping in our area are used to the presence of numerous small craft and you could expect watchkeeping to be far better than in open water, this is not to say they will be able to avoid running you down if you sail in front of them!
Crossing shipping lanes in poor visibility is obviously best avoided but if in any doubt communicating by VHF with VTS Southampton or QHM Portsmouth is a good idea and always appreciated. Know your position in relation to buoyage etc before calling! Use the term “permission to cross” if you are in their defined areas of responsibility.
Worth knowing is that there is a 1000 metre exclusion zone to small craft in front of vessels over 150 metres length in the sea area passing Calshot. Similar restrictions may apply to other ports and sea areas.
I'd only consider cross a shipping lane in good visibility. Nighttime is fine (assuming you carry a navigation light) as you can still see the ships. In fog or heavy rain I sail immediately out of the shipping lane and ideally into shallow water. Remember you don’t just have to worry about ships but also fast powerboats, which are probably more of a danger, as they don’t necessarily have crew keeping a proper lookout. I carry a radar reflector (one of the folding octahedral ones) but I would not like to guarantee a large ship’s radar can see me. I have considered an AIS receiver, (which would mean having a fixed VHF and aerial), and this might be worthwhile if you plan to cross the Channel for instance, where poor visibility might catch you unawares and you cannot avoid crossing a shipping lane to get back to safety. In that situation some sort of active radar reflector would also be worthwhile - like Sea-Me - which needs electrical power. But I think it is best to use a dinghy to do the sort of sailing you can’t do in a yacht, in intricate inshore waters, rather than replicate yacht passages. I go across the Channel in a ferry!
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43 Witham Friary
Dinghy Cruising Association
Thank you both for your thoughts and experiences on this.
My aim is very much to sail where the bigger boats can't go (even the bigger yachts like I used to sail in). That's the appeal for me. So I understand and agree that the type of sailing that really "defines" dinghy cruising hopefully tends to involve staying away from the deep sea big ship areas anyway.
That's all good sense. But sometimes you have to go through busy places to get to another country's quiet bits
One idea I've been kicking around is a North sea passage to Holland at the right time of year, with a good weather window etc etc. That's not to say I'm definitely going to do it, but it's a tempatation in my more adventurous moments.
However, that route is a good example of the problem. Much of the area to seaward of the Dutch coast contains large areas of traffic management zones of varying types. Crossing them in good viz (timed for daylight of course), with great care, should be ok, but if fog falls, even heavy rain is enough.... no good turning back to shallow water because I'd be approaching them from seaward, and they're big areas to cross and to get away from. Once I'm across I can do all the shallow water sailing that so much appeals to me these days and so probably hardly see any big ships at all, but first I have to get across.
Steve I absolutely take your point about the Solent. Last time I sailed there was several decades ago and it was busy enough then. I imagine it must be far more so by now.Certainly a good training ground for learning to be observant of other craft and to judge proximities/relative courses etc.
The 1km exclusion is new to me. Last time I was there it was more of an informal "just use your sense and keep well clear". Thanks for the info. I'd love to get back to do some solent sailing again sometime and that is useful info.
Roger, thanks for the active reflecter idea, I hadn't thought of that at all and is ounds like something worth trying. I'll definitely look into that.
Now, a battery powered, palm-sized AIS receiver/screen that connects to a handheld DSC VHF and we'd really be talking. Just anough power to run for a couple of hours at a time then recharge via solar.
In the meantime thanks again for your replies. I appreciate it.
There don’t seem to be any handheld AIS sets that you can use at sea (smartphone apps don’t count). The only way I can see that you could achieve it is by fitting an AIS-enabled fixed VHF.
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Dinghy Cruising Association
I often cross shipping areas in the Solent. Ships do not necessarily stay in lanes, by the way, as happens near Bembridge!
Two of us found ourselves crossing in fog on one occasion, but we soon became skilled in listening for the various ship's whistles and could identify the direction, whether it was a ferry and whether the ship was receding or approaching. This sound technique is often rubbished but I found it very good, like a radar. One of the pilot launches must have seen us on radar and came over to see what we were.
I have been on a large gaffer in fog when jet skies and power boats have blasted out of the fog creating a near miss, even though we saw them on radar, so that is a real problem. This is because they have no imagination (Mankind's firmware was designed for cave dwelling).
I have also had problems in two large sailing vessels crossing the Casquets TSS; in both cases no answer on VHF, even though we called using the ship's name and used DSC, so it rang a bell on the bridge. Generally speaking, however, although the shipping lanes look packed on the AIS, there is often a lot of sea and they are very widely spaced. Night time is especially useful as the ships' lights give a great deal of information.
If you encounter an entire racing fleet coming towards you broadside-on and you are the give way vessel (or even if you are the stand-on vessel), that is serious issue. I think a good standard technique is to turn early and sail in the same direction, so they have to overtake you. Then they are the give way vessel and you have created thinking time for them.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
A few hair raising moments there!
Perhaps I'm just getting more of a worrier as I get older. It's possible.
I grew up sailing in the solent and like you I didn't worry too much about the shipping areas there. Just kept a good lookout and stayed well clear of what we saw. I think what helped the was that the shipping "lanes' as such are quite a small area so crossing is very quick by comparison to say the wider western approaches or the north Dutch coast.
Also in the solent whichever direction you're crossing in you have a safe shore to turn back to relatively close by if visibility becomes a problem. You're rarely more than an for hour or two from safety.
400 miles of busy open North Sea worries me more. Or like I say maybe it's just a case of getting back into it again after a bit of an absence. All my "trickier" passages were some time ago now and everywhere was quieter back then, plus big ships didn't have the level of automation available that they have now so bridges HAD to be manned instead of now where they SHOULD be manned. Big difference as your experience proved.
Anyway after hearing about the force 9s and a 10 out there last night and today I'm certainly glad I'm not out there now. I just hope no other small craft have got caught out there either.
Oh well ..... back to applying more varnish ready for the next season wherever I end up going.
Have a good xmas and fingers crossed for a good sailing season for us all next year.
All the best
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