Passage Maker - - Contents - Brian K. Lind

Dissecting a Ferry/Trawler Col­li­sion

ON By now most of you have prob­a­bly seen the video that is float­ing around the nau­ti­cal bl­o­go­sphere and the so­cial me­dia ac­counts of mariners that show Wash­ing­ton State Ferry Chet­zemoka col­lid­ing with a clas­sic North­west trawler, Nap Tyme, on De­cem­ber 4th, 2016. If not, check it out at: gl/es­gtwL. In the af­ter­math of this col­li­sion, there has been much “arm­chair ad­ju­di­ca­tion” of what caused it, what COL­REGS were broken, and who’s to blame. This ar­ti­cle serves to break down the in­ci­dent, rule by rel­e­vant rule, to see what we can learn. Nap Tyme was the stand-on ves­sel and the 273-foot Chet­zemoka was the give-way ves­sel, but both parties ap­pear to have made mul­ti­ple mis­takes out­side of the rules that govern this cross­ing sit­u­a­tion. In mar­itime law, both parties share blame, so, ex­am­in­ing the col­li­sion al­lows us to eval­u­ate the cap­tains’ ac­tions, put our­selves in their shoes, and re­mind our­selves of the ac­tual rules that govern the wa­ter­ways.

Both parties will be at risk of mone­tary penal­ties, loss of mar­itime li­censes, and jobs, depend­ing on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions and de­ci­sions of the Wash­ing­ton State Fer­ries, Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board, and the USCG. Puget Sound is gov­erned by the In­ter­na­tional Rules stated in the USCG Nav­i­ga­tional Rules and Reg­u­la­tions hand­book:

Let us start with the most ba­sic rules that govern a cross­ing sit­u­a­tion—Rules 15, 16, and 17. At the given point that these two ves­sels col­lided, both were oper­at­ing un­der the rules as ves­sels un­der power.


When two power-driven ves­sels are cross­ing so as to in­volve risk of col­li­sion, the ves­sel which has the other on her own star­board side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the cir­cum­stances of the case ad­mit, avoid cross­ing ahead of the other ves­sel.


Ev­ery ves­sel which is directed to keep out of the way of an­other ves­sel shall, so far as pos­si­ble, take early and sub­stan­tial ac­tion to keep well clear.


(a) (i) Where one of two ves­sels is to keep out of the way the other shall keep her course and speed. (ii) The lat­ter ves­sel may how­ever take ac­tion to avoid col­li­sion by her ma­neu­ver alone, as soon as it be­comes ap­par­ent to her that the ves­sel re­quired to keep out of the way is not tak­ing ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion in com­pli­ance with these Rules.

(b) When, from any cause, the ves­sel re­quired to keep her course and speed finds her­self so close that col­li­sion can­not be avoided by the ac­tion of the give-way ves­sel alone, she shall take such ac­tion as will best aid to avoid col­li­sion.

(c) A power-driven ves­sel which takes ac­tion in a cross­ing sit­u­a­tion in ac­cor­dance with sub­para­graph (a)(ii) of this Rule to avoid col­li­sion with an­other power-driven ves­sel shall, if the cir­cum­stances of the case ad­mit, not al­ter course to port for a ves­sel on her own port side.

(d) This Rule does not re­lieve the give-way ves­sel of her obli­ga­tion to keep out of the way.

Nap Tyme: As Chet­zemoka is to port of Nap Tyme, Nap Tyme is the stand-on ves­sel. The one thing that Nap Tyme did by the book (al­though for the wrong rea­sons) was re­main the stand-on ves­sel. She was un­der au­topi­lot, and the cap­tain has since ad­mit­ted that he was be­low us­ing the head when the ves­sels col­lided. As we see in Rule 17, at some point Nap Tyme has a duty to take ac­tion to avoid the col­li­sion, even as the stand-on ves­sel.

Chet­zemoka: As Nap Tyme is to star­board of the Chet­zemoka, her re­spon­si­bil­ity was to give way by tak­ing early and de­ci­sive ac­tion. A video of the in­ci­dent shows that she did not at­tempt eva­sive ac­tion un­til the very end when she backed down hard. That hap­pens 20 sec­onds af­ter she blows her horn to sig­nal a risk of col­li­sion. The Ta­coma/Vashon ferry run is short, there could have been sur­round­ing boat traf­fic that in­flu­enced the ac­tions of the ferry, how­ever, that does not ab­solve the Chet­zemoka from her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der these rules. The Chet­zemoka ig­nored her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as as­signed by Rules 15 and 16. She fails to keep out of the way of Nap Tyme, and thus at­tempts to cross ahead of her. She also does not ap­ply clear and de­ci­sive ac­tion to let Nap Tyme know she is giv­ing way. As the give-way ves­sel, this is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Chet­zemoka and at the very least she should have started back­ing down as soon as she blew her horn.

If we were to flip the roles so that the Chet­zemoka be­comes the stand-on ves­sel, her cap­tain would still have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­ity of col­li­sion. Maybe the cap­tain thought there was a spe­cial cir­cum­stance that made Chet­zemoka the stand-on ves­sel (we will dis­cuss this in a mo­ment), but even if that were the case, she was still re­quired to take ac­tion to avoid col­li­sion. A slight course cor­rec­tion to pass be­hind Nap Tyme would have avoided a col­li­sion.

While the Chet­zemoka clearly vi­o­lated the rules of a cross­ing sit­u­a­tion, the cap­tain of Nap Tyme also makes an equally costly mis­take in not main­tain­ing a proper look­out, as de­scribed in Rule 5.


Ev­ery ves­sel shall at all times main­tain a proper look­out by sight and hear­ing as well as by all avail­able means ap­pro­pri­ate in the prevailing cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions so as to make a full ap­praisal of the sit­u­a­tion and of the risk of col­li­sion.

Nap Tyme: By not main­tain­ing a proper watch, the skip­per has no abil­ity to make proper de­ci­sions with re­gards to how the ferry car­ries out her course. The lack of a look­out is en­tirely in­ex­cus­able, es­pe­cially on a ves­sel that is un­der­way. There is no wig­gle room for this and as this case is lit­i­gated, I would ex­pect most of the blame to fall on the cap­tain of Nap Tyme.

It should be noted, though often not prac­ticed by recre­ational mariners, any time your ves­sel is not tied to a dock, a watch must be main­tained. If you’re tied to a moor­ing ball or an­chored, you are re­quired by the nav­i­ga­tional rules to main­tain a watch and avoid col­li­sions.

Chet­zemoka: The Chet­zemoka would have been main­tain­ing a watch of two or three peo­ple, as is the prac­tice of Wash­ing­ton State Fer­ries. We do not know yet how long the Chet­zemoka saw the trawler be­fore the be­gin­ning of the video. At the start of the video clip, though, we can hear the end of a horn blast, and dur­ing the clip, we hear the ferry sound five short blasts of the to sig­nal that they be­lieved a col­li­sion was im­mi­nent.

Let’s take a mo­ment to dis­cuss the mine­field of ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion in this sort of sit­u­a­tion. Nowhere in the In­ter­na­tional Rules are ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions men­tioned with re­gard to com­mu­ni­cat­ing pass­ing sit­u­a­tions. But we all use ra­dios to com­mu­ni­cate our in­ten­tions and often we rely on them. If you were on watch on Nap Tyme, and wanted to fig­ure out why Chet­zemoka was not yield­ing as the give-way ves­sel, what ra­dio chan­nel would you use to com­mu­ni­cate with them? 9? 13? 14? 16? 68? Some­thing else all to­gether?

As recre­ational mariners our first re­ac­tion is often to hail an­other ves­sel on chan­nel 16, how­ever, com­mer­cial traf­fic is not re­quired to mon­i­tor 16 and often does not. The Bridge-to-Bridge

Ra­diotele­phone Act re­quires com­mer­cial ves­sels to mon­i­tor chan­nel 13, thus putting all com­mer­cial traf­fic on the same fre­quency. Com­mer­cial Traf­fic in Puget Sound (and all other VTS con­trolled wa­ter­ways) is also re­quired to mon­i­tor the ap­pro­pri­ate VTS chan­nel as as­signed by the VTS man­ual. Would those be your go-to chan­nels if you were try­ing to con­tact a com­mer­cial ship? If you made a call on chan­nel 16, VTS might re­al­ize you are try­ing to reach a com­mer­cial ves­sel and pass on your mes­sage, how­ever, that in­volves a game of tele­phone that may take longer than you have to re­solve. Your best bet for com­mu­ni­ca­tion is to hail the com­mer­cial traf­fic you are en­coun­ter­ing on chan­nel 13 or on the ap­pro­pri­ate VTS chan­nel as you can be sure they are mon­i­tor­ing these chan­nels and will get you the quick­est re­sponse from the ves­sel in ques­tion.

Even if the Chet­zamoka had known that most recre­ational traf­fic mon­i­tors VHF 16 (which they prob­a­bly didn’t know as nowhere in any reg­u­la­tion does it re­quire this) the cap­tain of Nap Tyme would not have heard his ra­dio calls as he was in­dis­posed. But as Rule 5 calls for us to keep a look­out by all avail­able means, which, while not specif­i­cally men­tioned, should in­clude your ra­dio. This means know­ing where and how to con­tact other traf­fic and mon­i­tor­ing your ra­dio for such com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Al­though ra­diotele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tion is not re­ferred to any­where in the in­ter­na­tional rules, the new­est ad­di­tion of the rules of the road from the USCG in­cludes both the Bridge-to-Bridge Act as well as the VTS man­ual, which do re­fer to ra­diotele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tions, so one could ar­gue that proper use and VHF mon­i­tor­ing is ex­pected and re­quired of all mariners.


(a) Ev­ery ves­sel shall use all avail­able means ap­pro­pri­ate to the prevailing cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions to de­ter­mine if risk of col­li­sion ex­ists. If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to ex­ist. (b) Proper use shall be made of radar equip­ment if fit­ted and op­er­a­tional, in­clud­ing long-range scan­ning to ob­tain early warn­ing of risk of col­li­sion and radar plot­ting or equiv­a­lent sys­tem­atic ob­ser­va­tion of de­tected ob­jects. (c) As­sump­tions shall not be made on the ba­sis of scanty in­for­ma­tion, es­pe­cially scanty radar in­for­ma­tion. (d) In de­ter­min­ing if risk of col­li­sion ex­ists the fol­low­ing con­sid­er­a­tions shall be among those taken into ac­count: (i) such risk shall be deemed to ex­ist if the com­pass bear­ing of an ap­proach­ing ves­sel does not ap­pre­cia­bly change; (ii) such risk may some­times ex­ist even when an ap­pre­cia­ble bear­ing change is ev­i­dent, par­tic­u­larly when ap­proach­ing a very large ves­sel or a tow or when ap­proach­ing a ves­sel at close range.

Nap Tyme: On the day in ques­tion, vis­i­bil­ity was un­lim­ited, so had the cap­tain been in the wheel­house, the Chet­zemoka would have been easy to see. Nap Tyme was equipped with radar, and had the cap­tain, been in the wheel­house, he would have eas­ily de­tected the ferry on radar to see that he had a zero bear­ing rate with the Chet­zemoka. The pres­ence of radar is im­por­tant due to its spe­cific ref­er­ence of use in Rule 7. Even on a day of un­lim­ited vis­i­bil­ity, skip­pers should al­ways be us­ing radar to range other ves­sels and ob­sta­cles.

Chet­zemoka: The ferry also would have been run­ning radar and ARPA (Au­to­mated Radar Plot­ting Aid), both of which could have been used to in­ter­po­late the zero bear­ing rate of a cross­ing ves­sel. How­ever, as the ARPA sys­tem can take sev­eral min­utes to cal­cu­late a col­li­sion course, it is pos­si­ble that there was not enough time for this sys­tem to have given the crew of the Chet­zemoka enough warn­ing. An­a­lyz­ing the clip more closely, the time be­tween the sound­ing of the full five horn blasts and the col­li­sion is about 20 sec­onds. In the video, you see that Nap Tyme stays be­tween the same two posts of the hand rail from the start of the record­ing un­til the mo­ment of im­pact, in­di­cat­ing that these two ves­sels had a zero bear­ing rate on one an­other the en­tire time.


(a) Any ac­tion taken to avoid col­li­sion shall be taken in ac­cor­dance with the Rules of this Part and shall, if the cir­cum­stances of the case ad­mit, be pos­i­tive, made in am­ple time and with due re­gard to the ob­ser­vance of good seamanship. (b) Any al­ter­ation of course and/or speed to avoid col­li­sion shall, if the cir­cum­stances of the case ad­mit, be large enough to be read­ily ap­par­ent to an­other ves­sel ob­serv­ing vis­ually or by radar; a suc­ces­sion of small al­ter­ations of course and/or speed should be avoided. (c) If there is suf­fi­cient sea room, al­ter­ation of course alone may be the most ef­fec­tive ac­tion to avoid a close-quar­ters sit­u­a­tion pro­vided that it is made in good time, is sub­stan­tial and does not re­sult in an­other close-quar­ters sit­u­a­tion. (d) Ac­tion taken to avoid col­li­sion with an­other ves­sel shall be such as to re­sult in pass­ing at a safe dis­tance. The ef­fec­tive­ness of the ac­tion shall be care­fully checked un­til the other ves­sel is fi­nally past and clear. (e) If nec­es­sary to avoid col­li­sion or al­low more time to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion, a ves­sel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stop­ping or re­vers­ing her means of propul­sion. ( f) (i) A ves­sel which, by any of these rules, is re­quired not to im­pede the pas­sage or safe pas­sage of an­other ves­sel shall, when re­quired by the cir­cum­stances of the case, take early ac­tion to al­low

suf­fi­cient sea room for the safe pas­sage of the other ves­sel. (ii) A ves­sel re­quired not to im­pede the pas­sage or safe pas­sage of an­other ves­sel is not re­lieved of this obli­ga­tion if ap­proach­ing the other ves­sel so as to in­volve risk of col­li­sion and shall, when tak­ing ac­tion, have full re­gard to the ac­tion which may be re­quired by the rules of this part. (iii) A ves­sel, the pas­sage of which is not to be im­peded re­mains fully obliged to com­ply with the rules of this part when the two ves­sels are ap­proach­ing one an­other so as to in­volve risk of col­li­sion.

Though the ferry ended up tak­ing eva­sive ac­tion by switch­ing into re­verse gear, the de­ci­sion seems to have been made af­ter a col­li­sion was in­evitable. Nap Tyme ob­vi­ously does not take eva­sive ac­tion as she lacks any­one hold­ing watch to re­al­ize that there is a risk of col­li­sion. Both ves­sels ul­ti­mately get fail­ing grades fol­low­ing Rule 8. There re­ally isn’t much more you can say.


Plenty of arm­chair ad­ju­di­ca­tors and mes­sage board com­men­ta­tors have ded­i­cated dis­cus­sions to Rules 9 and Rule 10, mostly con­cerned with nav­i­ga­tion in nar­row chan­nels or com­mer­cial zones, but nei­ther one should ap­ply in this sit­u­a­tion (see chart de­tail on page 57). While the Chet­zemoka is in Ves­sel Traf­fic Ser­vice (VTS) con­trolled wa­ters, this does not pro­vide her with a spe­cial cir­cum­stance to ab­solve her from the rules. Ad­di­tion­ally, as you can read on the chart, the Chet­zemoka isn’t con­strained by draft any­where be­tween Point De­fi­ance and Tahle­quah.

RULE 13:

(a) Not­with­stand­ing any­thing con­tained in the Rules of Part B, Sec­tions I and II, any ves­sel over­tak­ing any other shall keep out of the way of the ves­sel be­ing over­taken. (b) A ves­sel shall be deemed to be over­tak­ing when com­ing up with an­other ves­sel from a di­rec­tion more than 22.5° abaft her beam, that is, in such a po­si­tion with ref­er­ence to the ves­sel she is over­tak­ing, that at night she would be able to see only the stern­light of that ves­sel but nei­ther of her side­lights. (c) When a ves­sel is in any doubt as to whether she is over­tak­ing an­other, she shall as­sume that this is the case and act ac­cord­ingly. (d) Any sub­se­quent al­ter­ation of the bear­ing be­tween the two ves­sels shall not make the over­tak­ing ves­sel a cross­ing ves­sel within the mean­ing of these Rules or re­lieve her of the duty of keep­ing clear of the over­taken ves­sel un­til she is fi­nally past and clear.

This was also not an over­tak­ing sit­u­a­tion. Both ves­sels had radar and could have mea­sured the course and speed of the other and known that they were on a zero bear­ing course. Chet­zemoka hit Nap Tyme squarely amid­ships, thus it would be im­pos­si­ble to ar­gue that they thought Nap Tyme was over­tak­ing them.


This Code of Fed­eral Reg­u­la­tion is long, but visit this URL for the full writeup:­wvS. This CFR deals with the safety and se­cu­rity of pas­sen­ger ves­sels, and one could see how a ferry cap­tain might in­ter­pret this to be a spe­cial rule that makes the ferry the stand-on ves­sel in this sit­u­a­tion. Let’s look closer at Sec­tion E of this CFR: (e) The Nav­i­ga­tion Rules shall ap­ply at all times within a large pas­sen­ger ves­sel se­cu­rity and safety zone.

As The Nav­i­ga­tion Rules are de­fined in sec­tion (b) as the Nav­i­ga­tional Rules, In­ter­na­tional–In­land, then the es­tab­lished se­cu­rity zone can­not make the Chet­zemoka the stand-on ves­sel. If we are to be­lieve that the Chet­zemoka cap­tain felt she was the stand-on ves­sel due to this spe­cial sit­u­a­tion, the cap­tain takes it to the ex­tent of the law in­stead of the spirit of the law. This CFR is ex­pressly de­signed to keep some­one from at­tack­ing a pas­sen­ger ves­sel. If the ferry felt that Nap Tyme was vi­o­lat­ing the 500-foot se­cu­rity zone, the ferry cap­tain still should have done ev­ery­thing in his power to avoid a col­li­sion.


Blame for this in­ci­dent should fall on both parties. The Chet­zemoka was in the wrong by fail­ing to give way as the rules re­quire, and be­cause she was un­der the com­mand of pro­fes­sional mariners, there is a larger sense of duty to dili­gently fol­low the nav­i­ga­tional rules. Blame also ex­ists as an ob­vi­ous bur­den on the cap­tain of Nap Tyme who left the helm with his boat in gear, run­ning at a de­cent rate of speed, with­out any­one on watch. He was nav­i­gat­ing through a nar­row pas­sage with pre­dictable cross­ing traf­fic, and aban­doned the helm with lit­tle care to oth­ers on the wa­ter. Who knows how any court or agency will draw their con­clu­sions fol­low­ing this in­ci­dent, and it will likely be quite a while be­fore we have those an­swers. How­ever, that does not mean we can­not learn from the mis­takes that were made here by both the op­er­a­tors of the Chet­zemoka and Nap Tyme.

As boaters, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the ves­sels we op­er­ate, our pas­sen­gers, and ev­ery­one else on the wa­ter. We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to know and un­der­stand all of the nav­i­ga­tional rules. We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to main­tain a look­out, even when we need to pee (a wheel­house bucket can help any solo cap­tain with this need). We must all be aware of our sur­round­ings and be pre­pared for oth­ers to act ir­ra­tionally. As re­spon­si­ble boaters we must act to do the one thing the Nav­i­ga­tion Rules re­quire of us: don’t hit any­one.


Rule 15: Vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in a cross­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Rule 7: If your ves­sel is equipped with radar, you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to use it to as­sess risk of col­li­sion, both near and far.

Closeup of the Chet­zemoka ferry cross­ing re­veals that the ves­sel is not con­strained by draft, nor is it in a VTS traf­fic lane.

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