What Can You Do?

KEEP A CONSTANT LOOKOUT   Astern as well as forward, and be aware of your relation to all boats, buoys, or other features. Pilots refer to this as  “situation awareness.”

BE AWARE OF THE SPECIFIC AREAS WHERE SHIPS, TUGS AND BARGES OPERATE   Plan your trip and expect to encounter these vessels.

BE ON THE LOOKOUT AT ALL TIMES FOR SUCH VESSELS    Early detection will ensure you take the correct course of action.

IDENTIFY WHAT TYPE OF VESSEL YOU ARE SEEING AND ANTICIPATE IT’S MOVEMENTS IN ADVANCE.   Inbound container ships will probably veer towards the container terminal in the Inner Harbour. Outbound vessels clearing from the Inner Harbour will turn to starboard when entering Gage Roads. Southbound bulk carriers and oil tankers in Gage Roads will probably head towards the entrance of Success Channel.

STAY OUT OF THE WAY  Avoid sailing or motoring in ship channels, especially if visibility is poor because of fog, rain or darkness. Large vessels must stay in the shipping channels, and most smaller vessels don’t need to. Remember Rule 9 of the Collision Regulations specifically states that small craft “shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.” Additionally, within all Port of Fremantle waters all recreational vessels are to keep well clear of and not impede the passage of commercial vessels in Gage Roads and the Inner Harbour. No matter how fast your boat, do not try to “beat’ the ship and pass across in front of it’s bow,  it is best to pass well astern of a ship or barge. Remember, no boat has ever sunk by passing behind a moving ship.

KEEP WELL CLEAR OF A VESSEL MANOEUVRING ON OR OFF A BERTH   Powerful engines, bow thrusters and tug propulsion can have a devastating effect on small vessels that venture too close causing them to possibly capsize. Additionally, large vessels may swing on arrival or departure and this can take up much of the width across the Inner Harbour.  Do not attempt to move between the ship and the berth. Stand off and wait until it is obvious all is clear.

DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE SPEED OF A LARGE VESSEL    If your boat is slow, a yacht for example, you might not be able to take effective evasive action if you find yourself on a collision course with a large ship in visibility of a 400m or less……the speed differential is simply too great.

BE VISIBLE      At night, make sure that your navigation lights are bright and are not obscured by sails, flags or dinghies in davits. If you see the navigation lights of a vessel and you don’t think you have been seen, begin to get out of the way, using flashlights on sails, a spot-light, flash bulbs, or a white flare to indicate your position (a strobe light should be reserved as a distress signal only). Carry a radar reflector as high on the boat as you can.

INSTALL AN AIS   AIS (Automatic Identification System) is an automatic tracking system used on ships for transmitting and receiving vessel position, course and speed. AIS information supplements radar which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance, however the Pilot will be able to detect your position, often well before visual confirmation. Do not rely on using the AIS to avoid a close encounter with a ship, if in doubt get out of the way fast.

KEEP WATCH AT NIGHT     Even on a clear night you will have difficulty seeing a big ship approach. You might see it first as a black shadow against a background of shore lights, or as a shadow moving rapidly across still water…..at that point you are not far apart. Remember that your lights will not be easily spotted from the ship.

WATCH THE SHIP”S LIGHTS     Pay attention to the sidelights as well as to masthead and range lights. On a large ship the white mast lights, with the aft light being higher than the forward light, will help you determine the ship’s direction. If you see both red and green sidelights, you’re dead ahead……move away fast. Also learn to recognise the mast lights of a tug towing a barge.


KNOW WHISTLE SIGNALS    Used only when vessels are in sight of one another. If you hear five or more short blasts on the whistle, it is the “danger” signal. Check and see if it is for you — and if it is, make way fast. If a vessel is dangerously close the Pilot may also issue a very long blast (at least 8 seconds). This is not an official signal but is used as a final resort to warn you to move out of the way immediately.

CONSIDER YOUR VHF    If you have a VHF radio aboard, remember that while channel 16 is the calling and distress frequency, channel 12 is the port working frequency. Only use this frequency in an emergency to contact the Pilot if you are unsure of their intentions or have urgent and relevant information you wish to relay about your vessel (eg. mechanical difficulties). If you do have to hail a ship, identify yourself relative to a numbered buoy or some other reference point. Do not use these channels for chatter, and keep radio use to a responsible minimum. Use approved marine rescue frequencies for contact among other small craft. Do not rely on using the VHF to avoid a close encounter with a ship, if in doubt get out of the way fast.

CHOOSE SAFE ANCHORAGES    Never anchor or drift in a shipping channel, and never secure to a channel marker or buoy. It is illegal, as well as unsafe.

USE BINOCULARS      They are particularly beneficial at night as they can help you determine a ship’s lights and direction with greater accuracy. Get into the habit of sweeping the horizon 360 degrees at least every 10 minutes, more frequently in poor conditions.

CARRY A RADAR REFLECTOR    Though there is no guarantee that a ship will spot you, a radar reflector at least improves your chances.

REMEMBER SHIPS DISPLACE MANY THOUSANDS OF TONNES OF WATER  This creates surges and wakes, which may be amplified in shallow water adjacent to channels.

DO NOT ENTER RESTRICTED AREAS  These include the Navy waters off Garden Island, the BP Oil Refinery and clearance distances indicated off various berths, there are safety zones through which recreational boats are forbidden to pass.

Fremantle Pilots Small Vessel checklist