Restricted Visibility……and things that go “bump” in it……

Restricted visibility – fog, rain, snow, mist, haze, smoke, etc. – can make a normal watch seem hours longer and make even the most mundane transit stressful.  Very frequently, unless we see a fog bank roll in, the visibility deteriorates gradually and we are left wondering if this is restricted or not.  The moment we ask ourselves that question, is the moment we should start considering it restricted, however.

Complacency and fatigue are two oft mentioned factors that play into incidents on the water.  Unfortunately, on smaller vessels – particularly those with only two watchstanders and a 6-on/6-off rotation, calling the captain for a scenario such as restricted visibility immediately cuts into his already limited rest.  The fact of the matter is that once restricted visibility sets in, we have to take action.

Guidance?  There’s plenty of guidance out there – COLREGS (better known as the Rules of the Road) Rule 19 is a great place to start.  It talks about the use of radar, having a dedicated lookout and travelling at a safe speed.  And then there is Rule 35, which discusses the sound signals required “in or near an area of restricted visibility.”  That means even if we are only near – not necessarily in – restricted visibility, we must be taking some actions such as the appropriate sound signals.

If you are looking for more guidance, check out the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide (an old copy here).  There is a decent checklist for navigation in restricted visibility in it.  While it might seem counter-intuitive to pull out a checklist and potentially distract yourself while in restricted visibility, if it is used as the situation develops or before you take over the watch, it might be well worth your while.

And speaking of things that go “bump” in restricted visibility, take a look at the NTSB report below – and consider what the captain/mate might have done or what you would do in a similar situation.

Additional Reading and Links

NTSB – OSV Tristan Janice Platform Allision – February 2014

USCG – Navigation Rules – International-Inland

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