National Fisherman

Hove to and stove up

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

In the late 1960s, the National Safety Council aired public safety announcements whose theme was "Drive Defensively – Watch Out for the Other Guy." The PSAs highlighted scenarios in which a good driver got into an accident because of the other guy. Navigation rules that caution other types of vessels to stay clear of fishing vessels can give a fisherman a false sense of security.

The skipper and owner of a 34-foot lobster boat started a midsummer day at 6 a.m. At 2:30 that afternoon he pulled his vessel off to the channel's southwestern edge and hove to. After a long day of hauling traps, the veteran lobsterman was ready to wash and scrub down his boat before returning to the dock. He quickly checked around the horizon and saw one other lobster boat.

Meanwhile, a 65-foot wooden schooner approached the channel from the south under engine power. The weather, as described by the schooner's captain, was winds out of the north-northeast at 1.5 knots, air temperature of 70 degrees and calm seas. There was a low overcast, and patches of drizzle, fog and heavy rain at times. The fog and mist were low-lying, but above them visibility was 1 to 1.5 miles.

The schooner had three people on deck — the captain, a person at the helm and another person roving the deck. The crew was picking their way in and around lobster pots as they made for the channel. The captain was watching on deck and alternately going down the ladder well near the helm to check the radar. He had a visual on a landmark, on the headland above the mist, and verified his position against the chart and radar. At approximately 2:40 the schooner changed course 10 degrees to port to line up to enter the channel. After the turn, the captain visually scanned for boats, buoys, and obstructions and checked that the boat was on the proper course. He saw another heavy rain line ahead and went below to check the radar and retrieve a remote autopilot unit.

At 2:45, having started his washdown, the lobster boat skipper felt a sharp impact and was knocked to the deck. Looking up, he saw the schooner's bowsprit coming through the portside of the wheelhouse. The skipper crabbed aft and out of the wheelhouse; the bowsprit pierced the wheelhouse through to the starboard side. Once out of the wheelhouse the skipper began yelling up at the sailing vessel, which kept pushing forward and carrying the lobster boat with it.

At impact, the schooner crew initially thought they might have run aground. They came forward to the bow, looked down, and saw the lobster boat. The captain ran back aft and disengaged the engine. No one on the schooner had seen the lobster boat visually or on radar prior to the impact.

The crews untangled the boats and brought the lobster boat alongside the schooner. Neither hull was holed, nor taking on water, and no one was injured. The lobster boat's electronics, helm and throttle controls were smashed and out of commission.

The schooner towed the lobster boat back into port, a 45-minute motor from the accident scene.

Lessons learned
Contributing factors included restricted visibility — the schooner's mast(s) caused a blind spot, both visually and on the radar — that neither vessel sounded any fog signals, and that a slight current running from the southwest may have inadvertently pushed the hove-to vessel back into the channel.

Even though your vessel isn't an oceangoing tanker or containership, the navigational rules still apply. Single-handing a lobster boat, or any small fishing vessel, puts extra strain and responsibility on the individual. You're also your own lookout. So review the rules of the road from time to time, look out for yourself and your boat, and don't forget to watch out for the other guy. Maintain a proper watch and fish safe!

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

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