In the early morning, a double-ended passenger ferry was loaded and departed on its short run across a river. On that day visibility was reduced by fog to less than 30 metres but the Master, at the controls, was experienced in this kind of voyages and the departure was ready to go according to the schedule. One more officer was also on the bridge. Both radars were in use and both were set for watching relative motion display, head-up presentation. This was the standard radar setup for this bridge team on this run as almost all navigation was done visually. There was no electronic chart system fitted on the ferry.
Just after the vessel cleared the departure basin and passed the jetties, it quickly started falling off to starboard side into the river. Current was setting approximately 075° at two knots (as stated in the figure below), but this was not visually evident to the bridge team. However, within few hours the Master and mate both noticed that the gyrocompass repeater heading was rapidly turning to the east.
Soon, the Master and mate monitored the radars, both set on the 1.5 nautical mile scale, they observed the echoes of the nearby landmass was quickly moving, creating a blurred image but this was not expected since the radars were set on stabilised, head-up presentation. howsoever, the bridge team were now bothered and was unable to determine the vessel’s position rapidly.
With no visual sign or any understanding about the blurred radar image, the Master and mate referred to have look to the GPS receiver to gain an approximation of the vessel’s speed. Soon, the observation post reported seeing marker ahead. The Master tried to avoid the marker and, in next few minutes, about 10 minutes post departure, the vessel was grounded. About afternoon, with the help of a tugboat, the ferry was made to float again. There was no major damage was found and the ferry was back to service later that day.
The official report says that ‘… the bridge team was essentially trained and experienced in visual navigation, but undertook a blind pilotage voyage.’
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What we learnt ?
A seafarer needs to have practice and experience of blind pilotage beforehand and he/she should practice their blind pilotage technique whenever possible, especially in stable weather. Stabilized radar setup must be preferred prior to an unstabilised setting when navigating in low visibility conditions.