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Does the Boating Community Take Enough Notice of Safety Issues?

6th March 2018
More cruise ships at sea every year but what about their navigation lights More cruise ships at sea every year but what about their navigation lights

There have been a number of warnings about seamanship and navigational issues in the past few weeks that are important as the sailing season draws nearer. I wonder if the boating community takes enough notice of them?

Gail McAllister, who ran the recent successful Irish Sailing’s Cruising Conference has asked sailors to complete a survey about “pot line incidents” and she suggests sharing the information with fishermen. Including fishermen is a good move, because often sailors and fishermen seem to be in a sort of ‘distant’ stand-offishness rather than co-operation and that can and has inculcated disagreement when we are all mariners, even if they are professional and the majority of us boaters are leisure.

Inshore fishing is a tough occupation and fishermen don’t want pots wrapped around yachts or motorboats. The better ones mark their pots – it makes for easier collection. I’m not saying all fishermen are angels and there are unmarked pots, but some of these may and could be put down by ‘leisure potters’ – often not particularly liked by the pro fishermen- and can be unmarked… And some of those “leisure potters” are “leisure boaters” – as some fishermen are ‘leisure sailors’ – so a bit more thought and co-operation around would help us all in the maritime community….

The changes proposed at the Fastnet also drew my attention, as Irish Lights announced structural works and the reduction of the visual distance, the range of the light, from 27 to 18 nautical miles with the installation of a LED lantern. I’m never sure about any reduction in a navigational aid, but the shipping industry which pays for the navigational aids, which we leisure people don’t, doesn’t need these aids as much as we do….and most coastal boating doesn’t range out that far…. But, as when Irish Lights ended the fog signals, I’m always left wondering, though understanding the reasons put forward, reducing the need for diesel generators and removing mercury from the lighthouse while the structural works are needed to the granite tower and Irish Lights understand that Fastnet is important, not only as an Aid to Navigation, but as part of the heritage of the area and as a tourism asset.

Michael Kingston, the well-known international maritime lawyer from Goleen in West Cork who is a Lloyds Lawyer of the Year, has written to Irish Lights, the Taoiseach and a rake of other Ministers and maritime organisations, calling for more State funding for the Fastnet, with a reminder that seafarers cannot just rely on information technology for navigation and need visual aids as well.

And on the subject of LED lights, the Maritime Advisory Board in the UK has questioned why insurance companies allow cruise ships designs where various colour deck lighting aboard them, for passenger benefits, can obscure navigational lights of those vessels or make them confusing to see. That follows a complaint to the British maritime organisation, CHIRP, by a yacht Skipper after an encounter with a cruise ship and with many more in Irish waters, it’s certainly a safety issue.

So is the Volvo Race investigation into racing at night in areas of high vessel traffic  density, following the death in Hong Kong in the collision between Vestas 11th Hour  Racing and a non-racing boat.

There can be no quibble about safety issues and we can all learn more about safety on the water.

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Published in Tom MacSweeney
Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for He also presents the maritime radio programme This Island Nation on community radio stations around Ireland.

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