USCG rules against yacht skipper

From Ocean Navigator #82
May/June 1997
A yacht navigating in busy shipping lanes was destroyed recently by a collision that the Coast Guard ruled was the result of the yacht skipper’s failure to follow appropriate Rules of the Road.

A T-bone collision between the freighter Pacific Star and the yacht Green Tara occurred after dark in late October on the Delaware River, apparently from several navigational errors by the yacht captain.

With the captain at the helm, a crewmember on the bow as lookout, and three others asleep below, the yacht was bound upriver for the Delaware Canal when it was struck on the port quarter by the 480-foot freighter. The vessel started taking on water quickly but was able to limp to a nearby dock. Weather conditions were clear and calm, according to reports.

The Liberian-registered Pacific Star, which was traveling downriver at 17 knots, was reportedly bound by its draft to stay within the narrow shipping lane, and the pilot on board did not detect the 36-foot yacht on radar until shortly before the collision.

Green Tara’s captain was not monitoring any channel on the VHF radio, according to Coast Guard reports, and misjudged the speed of the approaching freighter. Several minutes before the collision, the yacht captain had set a waypoint that crossed the shipping channel at an oblique angle, directly across the path of the freighter.

The captain could have operated his yacht outside the narrow shipping lane since the yacht’s draft was only 4.5 feet, according to the Coast Guard.

The ship’s pilot reported that the yacht was undetected by radar and was seen only three minutes before the collision. The yacht was not equipped with a radar reflector.

The pilot sounded the danger signal on the ship’s horn and immediately turned to port when he realized there was danger of a collision. Although the Rules of the Road recommend both vessels turn to starboard in most cases of impending collision, the ship was already operating on the far right side of the lane in anticipation of a turn in the channel and could not have turned in that direction without running aground.

Aboard Green Tara, the captain turned hard to starboard and brought the engine to full ahead to avoid collision, but he was hit on the port quarter by the ship’s bulbous bow. The yacht suffered a hole below the waterline and a cracked keel. The captain issued a Mayday call over the VHF as he motored to shore. He later told Coast Guard investigators that he expected the ship to give way since he assumed they could see his red running light on the port bow.

Although the yacht was kept afloat by crewmembers of a Coast Guard vessel and a local salvage team, the vessel was declared a total loss by the owner’s insurance company. Estimated value was between $80,000 and $100,000.

The yacht captain stands to lose his 100-ton license, according to a Coast Guard recommendation, for failing to monitor VHF channel 16, not giving way to a vessel bound by its draft, and for not sounding the yacht’s horn to request a safe crossing.

By Ocean Navigator