Bulletin No.: 06/1999

Date (Y-M-D): 1999-05-12

Subject: Avoiding a Close Quarters Situation in Narrow Channels and in the Vicinity of Berths

This Bulletin replaces Bulletin No. 11/1988.

This Ship Safety Bulletin should be read in conjunction with Ship Safety Bulletin 10/1987.

There have been several serious incidents in the past, in which small fishing vessels and pleasure craft, while navigating in narrow channels and in the vicinity of berths, have impeded the passage of ferries and other large vessels. Some of these incidents have resulted in the loss of life. Recent growth in traffic density and congestion, in some locations, has increased the risk of closed quarter incidents.

In recent years, in various locations across Canada, the type and number of passenger vessels in service has increased considerably. The high operating speed of some of these vessels; which include catamarans, hydrofoils, air cushion vehicles, etc., has allowed operators in certain areas to increase the frequency of services. This has resulted in intensification of the traffic density in the navigational channels in these locations. Therefore, all vessels including small vessels are advised to exercise great caution when navigating in these channels.

Rules 9 (b) and 9 (c) of the Collision Regulations ( COLREG S) state that vessels of less than 20 metres in length or sailing vessels and vessels engaged in fishing, shall not impede the passage of vessels which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway. Owing to their construction and handling characteristics, large vessels may be severely limited in their ability to maneuver in narrow channels. Strong cross currents or winds could create a dangerous situation if such vessels are to stop or reduce speed. Operators of small vessels must similarly navigate with extreme caution, in the vicinity of a berth, where a larger vessel may be maneuvering.

The following precautions should be taken by small craft operators while navigating in a narrow channel used by large vessels or while navigating near berths where such vessels may be maneuvering:

  1. Maintain a proper lookout in all directions, both by sight and sound, and utilize all available means, including radar and radio to make a full appraisal of the situation. (Rule 7 COLREG )
  2. Use every available means to ensure that day and night signals displayed by other craft are correctly identified, prior to taking any action to avoid a close quarters situation.
  3. Be aware of the departure and arrival times of ferries using the channel in which the small craft intends to navigate. Certain ferry operations may be so frequent and routine that they may be considered as continuous.
  4. If necessary, wait until large vessels have cleared the channel or have berthed.
  5. When underway, keep to the starboard side of the channel. Consideration may need to be given, in order to avoid a close quarters situation, for a small craft to leave the channel when it is safe to do so.
  6. Proceed at a safe speed. If necessary, reduce speed or stop the vessel to avoid a close quarters situation.
  7. Avoid erratic maneuvers. Any alteration of course should be deliberate and made in sufficient time. Having altered, maintain a steady course until the other vessel is finally past and clear.
  8. If in doubt as to another vessel's actions, make a bridge-to-bridge call on the appropriate VHF channel or a radio SÉCURITÉ call on VHF channel 16, notifying other vessels of the small craft's position and requesting other vessels to respond.
  9. Use the appropriate sound signals in accordance with Rule 34 and 35 of the Collision Regulations.

Due to debris in the water, mariners and operators should be aware that high speed craft vessels may be forced to suddenly reduce speed or change direction, therefore, the intentions of these vessels may sometimes be unpredictable.

Notwithstanding the above, all vessels must continue to observe the requirements of the Collision Regulations.

Keywords:                                  Questions concerning this bulletin should be addressed to:

1. Collision Regulations
2. Close quarters situation
3. Traffic density
4. Navigational channel
5. High speed
Transport Canada
Marine Safety
Tower C, Place de Ville
11th Floor, 330 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N8

To add or change your address, contact us at: marinesafety@tc.gc.ca

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