Safety: Be Prepared for These Floating Monsters

Learn to spot and avoid objects at sea with this week’s tip from Captain John of skippertips.com

If you are anything like me, nothing beats standing watch on a sailing vessel or power vessel. Just you the sea, moon, stars and the vast horizon. But there’s a menace out there you might not be aware of.

Not a freighter, tanker or commercial fishing boat. Not a rocky reef beneath the sea. But it can sneak up on you with results just as deadly as a collision at sea. Keep a sharp lookout for these often-forgotten “hazards to navigation”–wherever in the world you sail.

Hundreds of container ships ply the world’s oceans, carrying thousands of containers to countries all over the world. Scan ahead of the boat in a wide arc to locate containers that fell overboard or other debris that could cause serious damage to your boat hull. Increase scans when near shipping routes.

What can lurk just beneath the surface of the water. Or float atop the water like a monster awaiting its prey? These go by many names; deadheads, shipping containers, barrels, drums and flotsam. And they all have the potential to stove a hole in your boat, crack your keel, damage your rudder or bend your propeller or shaft like a twisted piece of linguini.

Next time you are out driving, check out those big trucks that pull trailers behind them. Ever wonder where those come from? They just might have come over to your local area in a container ship. Hundreds of these ships are engaged each day in trade throughout the world. Loaded to the gills with containers. Thousands are shipped across the world’s oceans to bring food, clothing, and supplies to the world’s population.

But not all those empty containers make it across the deep blue sea. Some end up in the drink. Chapman Seamanship and Piloting says this about containers falling overboard at sea: “Every year, literally thousands of them fall from the decks of container ships in rough seas.”

Containers are made so that they flood and sink if they fall overboard, but not all of them will. And that’s not all. Destructive storms, tsunamis and hurricanes toss massive debris into the water too.

Put 4X Scanning Into Play Today!

You may think that radar could pick up these monsters, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Radar beams can skip over objects low in the water, and will miss submerged debris altogether. By all means use radar to scan on low range-scales in addition to higher range scales. But always combine this with a 4X visual scan with binoculars.

4X means Four Times an Hour. Once every 15 minutes. That’s not too much for basic lookout duty in my book. That averages about 3 minutes to scan (visual, radar, etc) and 12 minutes to relax a bit. Not a lot of effort involved, but I believe it’s worth the extra effort.

Increase visual and radar scans when sailing in or near areas of heavy shipping concentration. For example, when sailing in or near the axis of the Gulf Stream, the Straits of Florida, the English Channel or any shipping lanes or routes you see on nautical charts (i.e. entrances to major ports), Pilot Charts or similar references. If container ships use these routes, you can bet that the possibility of floating, partially submerged, or submerged monsters will be high.

But that’s not all…

Debris from weather phenomena described earlier will follow the major wind and current patterns of the world’s oceans. 4X scanning would be wise if sailing near or downwind, down current of any major weather event or recent weather event (several months back). In any event, you cannot be too cautious on watch in today’s oceans. Metal slamming into fiberglass at 6 knots will still do a lot of damage .

Use These Scan Tips for “Hard to See” Objects

Pass onto your sailing partner or crew to make visual scans at least 4X an hour. Scan low and check the water area ahead of the boat. Sweep outward as you move toward the horizon. Move your eyes just above the area of interest. Studies show that this enables you to pick up hard to see objects better.

For example, when you look at the horizon, check the line of the horizon but also just a few degrees above the line. Add a radar scan to the visual scan. Be sure to set the range on the lower scale; watch for a few sweeps. Then change to the next higher range.

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Use easy sailing tips like this to learn to sail like a pro aboard your own small sailboat. This can save you time, effort, and lots of money in replacement costs–wherever in the world you choose to go sailing.

Courtesy of www.skippertips.com

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