Navigating safely. Do you maintain safe navigation practices?

If you’re navigating in the same waters regularly it’s easy to become complacent! Too many Master’s simply don’t take it seriously enough which results in incidents resulting in damage to or loss of the vessel and/or minor to critical injuries to loss of life or damage to infrastructure.

Navigating safely is something we all should do every time we or our crew operate our vessels!

Unfortunately, it’s not always the case and that can be for a number of reasons, one of which there is no set procedure for safe operation.

While on commercial vessels, Masters have been trained in the COLREGS.  There are a few that seem to disregard their responsibility in navigating safely.

On recreational vessels, owners or Masters do not go through the same level of training as commercial Masters which has been a common cause of marine incidents over the years.

Fatigue is also a major contributor to marine incidents around navigation. Long working hours, a lack of water intake and limited sleep are contributors to incidents when navigating your vessel.

Here’s an example a crew member was on watch whilst steaming home from around 180NM off the coast. The First Mate came up from his cabin to use the head at around 0230 hours and as he walked through the wheelhouse he looked out the front window.

What he saw scared the hell out of him, there was a large trawler less than 200 metres directly ahead and if he had not came up they would have had a major collision. The crew member on watch was “zoned out” and just staring ahead and failed to register anything.

There’s two issues here, firstly the First Mates boat was steaming at around 8 knots with nobody alert to recognise the danger.

Secondly, what were the crew of the trawler doing? Most likely all asleep and failing to maintain a proper lookout.

This entire situation is a result of not navigating safely and poor watchkeeping all of which can and has led to serious incidents, loss of vessels and critical injuries through to loss of lives!

With the technology available today, navigation is so much easier than it was years ago but… what happens if there’s an electrical failure onboard and you loose all navigational equipment other than your magnetic compass?

It’s a simple task when steaming to note your position at set times, say every two hours in your log book or on a paper so as they can be referenced if you lose your electronic navigational equipment.

During training exercises we found that shutting down the electronic equipment on a vessel then asking the Masters’ in training where we are and how do we get back to shore some were totally dismayed.

Here’s a silly hint: If you’re on the East coast by steaming West you’re going to discover Australia eventually! Remember though that you need to take into account all potential hazards such as islands, reefs, shoals, etc. but you can find these on your paper chart if needed.

Navigation is all about going from one location to another safely. Your SMS should have a Navigating Safely procedure which details what’s required to ensure your voyage is completed safely.

In order to protect you as a vessel owner and/or operator developing a procedure for navigating your vessel safely provides you with a level of protection should your Master decide not to follow the procedure. This applies to both commercial and recreational vessels!

So…let’s look at what’s required in your procedure to provide that level of protection:

  • Ensure all relevant crew are trained and are competent in the use of the vessel’s navigation equipment such as radar, compass, GPS, other devices and all alarms;
  • Inspect, maintain or have serviced all of the vessel’s navigational aids;
  • Update charts, information, etc… relevant to your operations;
  • Plan voyages;
  • Sounding appropriate signals such as going astern;
  • Monitoring of the vessels position by all available means;
  • Following procedures for operating in restricted visibility (you do have one don’t you?);
  • Communicating with other vessels when required;
  • Monitoring the auto pilot for correct course.

These are the basic steps required to ensure your procedure for navigating safely covers the requirements.

You need to include any specific steps that may be relevant to your vessel and its operations to ensure you meet those requirements.

Also, there is a significant difference in navigating safely on a clear sunny day to navigating at night or in restricted visibility. Much greater care needs to be taken when navigating at night or in restricted visibility due to the increased dangers involved.

All too often we see vessels, both commercial and recreational being operated at night or in periods of restricted visibility as though it was a clear sunny day!

If navigating in restricted visibility, at night or in at times when vision is obscured in areas by the sun in areas where potential hazards exist place a lookout on the bow and proceed at reduced speed.

Vessel speed, lack of attention or being distracted are the cause of accidents which have resulted in injuries through to loss of life and/or damage to infrastructure or the environment.

Many if not all of the incidents could have been avoided by practicing safe navigation and remember navigating safely also has a direct linkage to watchkeeping.

Shorlink’s Recommendation

Our recommendation is to either review your Navigating Safely procedure or if you don’t have one..  get it in place today!

While we all like to think your crew will navigate your vessel safely, unfortunately it’s not always the case.  That’s why having a Navigating Safely procedure in place is critical.


Use the dot point items in this newsletter to get you underway with updating your procedure or developing one if you don’t already have it in place.

If you have any problems developing your Navigating Safely procedure or feel you have special circumstances – don’t hesitate to contact our office for assistance as we’re here to help you!

Stay safe by navigating safely at all times!

Contact A Specialist At Shorlink