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paulk 06-02-2001 07:23 AM

First things First
Sailnet''s current Homepage poll shows some results that I hope changes with this post and discussion. Upon seeing lights at night in reduced visibility, 52% of 92 respondents say the first thing to do is to look for (the other boat''s) running lights. This ignores the fact that another boat''s lights may be obscured or difficult to find, causing you to lose time that might be needed to avoid a collision. Floodlights on a fishing boat may drown out the little bulb mounted next to the port bridge door. If you''ve sighted a masthead light, the running lights may be below the horizon. A tanker''s running lights may be 800'' from where their bow hits you. If you have determined that there is another boat out there , the first thing to do is to TAKE A BEARING. You can then take more bearings at short intervals to tell if your paths are converging or not. If your paths are not converging, then they''re going to miss you and their running lights don''t matter. If your paths ARE converging, you can prepare for evasive maneuvers and THEN look for the running lights to give you a better idea of what to do. This is NOT a chicken or egg situation.
You could end up with broken eggs playing chicken with another boat.

SHIMSHON 06-02-2001 08:02 AM

First things First
I would suggest that taking a bearing would be appropriate as a first measure if running lights were not visable or if there was confusion regarding the lights (ie towing @ night).
If running lights were visible,most experienced seaman would (or should)than take a bearing to determine whether or not they were on a collision course.

jack_patricia 06-02-2001 01:32 PM

First things First
Paul, I agree with the priority you''re advising: take a bearing on the contact, first thing. But the reality often is that determining *accurate* bearing drift offshore during an initial period of several minutes - while the small boats we typically sail are bouncing around and changing heading constantly - is difficult. It''s different on a protected lake or bay, but then the navigation puzzle is often different, as well. I find it common, at least offshore, that the potential for collision (or too close an approach) is normally determined either by range lights or running lights (on smaller vessels).

The point of this is not to disagree with taking a bearing, but rather to breathe a little reality into the puzzle of determining bearing drift.


paulk 06-04-2001 06:34 PM

First things First
Wish more people would read this. Poll is now at more than 900 takers, and 45% are still trying to find the running lights. By the time they find them, they may find green 40'' to port of them, red 40'' to starboard, and a bow wave as high as their spreaders. At 18 knots, it shouldn''t take a ship more than about 15 minutes to come up over your visible horizon (and much less in limited visibility) and be on you. Jack makes a good point that you should try to get as much information in as quickly as possible. Looking for running lights after or while taking a bearing can be useful. But it is dangerous to waste time trying to find running lights first.

Perhaps many of the respondents haven''t had the opportunity to cross another vessel in the rain half way through a dark midnight watch. I''ve seen passenger liners at sea at night with strings of multicolored lights rigged from bow to masthead to stack to stern, each lit porthole bigger than what actually turned out to be the running lights. Perhaps while they''re looking for the right-colored lights in their "proper" places, these sailors will recall the tanker off the East Coast that was advised by the Coast Guard that they had what looked to be a dead 40 ton whale caught on their bow. No one on the ship had felt them hit anything.

jack_patricia 06-05-2001 12:53 PM

First things First
Somehow, we''ve slipped into talking about running lights as tho'' they are the key indicator re: potential collision with ships. As was just stated, running lights ''disappear'' on some large ships, especially cruise ships or ships with many working lights.

The key indicator for the potential collision with a ship is its range lights: they are high up, not confused with work lights, and give an immediate indication of approx. direction of travel. OTOH, when you must depend on running lights, the vessel is usually moving more slowly (e.g. sailboat under sail) and time isn''t so critical.

When ALL lights are difficult to see due to decreased viz, we discover the primary reason in this GPS age for having radar: target detection, electronically.


walt123 06-06-2001 10:35 AM

First things First
Take a bearing and if it doesn''t change you are on a collision course. Right of way doesn''t mean anything if your involved in a collision with a ship .... you lose and the court settles with your heirs.

Headman 06-08-2001 07:48 AM

First things First
To all,
Determining if a collision course exist requires compass bearings. Seeing a ship or small boats running lights only tell you their direction of travel. Lights give you no indication of speed or distance off. Since it takes at least two bearings to determine if a collision course exist, when a ship/boat is spotted, take the bearing. Then everyone can discuss which way the sighting is traveling. When the next bearing is taken, you''ll know who was right.
Tom S.

ndsailor 01-01-2002 06:16 PM

First things First
I know this is a reeeelly old post., but I was intrigued. It is an important question, but was fouled up from the start. The first three words of the question seemed to me to be completely overlooked, "upon seeing lights". Seems to me the instant reaction from 99.9% of anyone would be to recognize what color the light is, and take the appropriate action after that.

RichH 01-01-2002 07:09 PM

First things First
The color of light is sometimes altered by temperature variations, mists and fog layers just above the sea surface, apparent refraction of lights at the horizon splitting the color into spectral shifts, the age of the viewer (older people can have difficulty in seeing reds.) For me personally most lights that come up over the horizon, seem red at first ; probably due to refraction ... ships, lighthouses, bouy lights, etc. - my eyes sees them as red first; maybe the red component is easier to see at long distance - dunno. The advice of immediately taking a compass bearing is well warranted.

paulk 01-05-2002 12:10 PM

First things First
In restricted visibility, the first light you see could be the stern light of a 1000 foot tanker making a wide turn to starboard. Since you''ve determined that it''s a white light and you don''t see the running lights, it''s heading away from you, so, no worries, eh? Of course it''s up so high (how high up is it, anyway?) it could be a masthead range light (they''re white too, aren''t they?) So you stick you head below to check Chapman''s to be sure, as their stern swings sideways into you. Please take a bearing, repeatdely, regardless of what color the light is.

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