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A collision at sea can ruin your whole day.
With no attempt at flippancy intended, the best thing to do is not have a collision. The level of awareness to achieve this in a congested port with widely varying vessel speeds is substantial. Not for nothing do merchant ships have the ship's Master, the Mate on Watch, and the harbor pilot all on the Bridge at the same time navigating the vessel in such cases. If visibility is at all a concern, another Mate will be called out just to observe the radar. And these vessels are moving at slow speeds in these cases, too.
Not many recreational boaters give much thought to having a lookout. after all, the helmsman can see everything can he not? bubb2's tragic story illustrates just how quickly benign conditions can change, through no fault of one's own-other than not having perhaps an additional pair of available eyes working as lookout. This does not imply that this was an issue in that specific collision, the exact details of which I am unfamiliar. What it does mean is that the value of a lookout, unencumbered by duties that distract him from looking out, is inestimable. Most collisions can be avoided by the actions of a single vessel providing, in Colregese, the action is early and substantial.
The results of collision are so varied that the plan of action must suit each individual situation. The advise given above is all sound. I would emphasize that once the absence of immediate life threatening injuries has been ascertained, the seaworthiness of the vessel takes preeminence. Mere broken arms take a back seat to remaining afloat or fire. And for those serious injuries such as arterial bleeding, the first aid gear must be ready to hand, as the rest of what crew there is, may well be involved in ship saving. As with so many things, planning ahead the availability of medical gear and damage control equipment may make the difference between survival or greater than necessary losses. Another thread just recently discussed having tether releases on the human end of the tether; there may be no time to release the tether from the afixed end! Bolt cutters for cutting away rigging that may be responsible for holding the ship down as she fills with water, do little good if they are stowed in the bilge which already has three feet of water in it. If you are in confined and congested waters, will your life rings or buoys float free from the ship as she sinks? If they are lashed securely to their racks they'll sink with the ship to what effect? Stripping off a velcro strap, only to replace it an hour later seems like needless work, until you're in the water watching the boat sink alongside you.
Most likely what will save you in a collision is the preperation work you did anticipating a collision. Robert Ganier posts here frequently and he emphasizes the use of the imagination. Imagine, ahead of time, "circumstance X", and what you would do, what you have, and what can serve a dual purpose in extremis. Thusly employed, the human imagination coupled with common sense can anticipate worst possible scenarios without having experienced them previously, and plan accordingly.
I'll conclude with what I consider to be a seemingly trivial example of seamanship. The time to make the coffee is well in advance of the fog and fatigue rolling in. Every boat should have a thermos of hot coffee or tea available when sailing keeping watches. Two hours after the fog has rolled in and the helmsman is feeling fatigued is not the time to send the only other lookout below to make the coffee. You will have just reduced your lookout by fifty percent just when you need it most. If the thermos is restocked with the change of watch there is less chance that there will be no coffee when all hands are needed on deck. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. The alternative is God's answer to a reluctant Noah; "how long can you tread water?"
“Scientists are people who build the Brooklyn Bridge and then buy it.”
Wm. F. Buckley, Jr.
Last edited by sailaway21; 10-05-2007 at 11:37 PM.