As a USCG Licensed Captain, a lot of
opportunities come my way to earn a living. One of my
favorites is working as a
delivery Captain. I would like to share one of these trips that was like no
other and nearly cost my crew and me our lives...
I was sitting in a restaurant in Annapolis Maryland a
few years ago when I met a couple who had just bought a 58 foot boat that they
needed to have moved down to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. After the evening’s
festivities were over we agreed that I was going to help their family with
moving their new toy.
On board would be the husband and wife who were both
experienced boaters, their two children, a 9-year-old boy and a 7-year-old
girl. The trip would take place in early December and be completed prior to the
holidays. The planned route was that we would travel the length of the
Chesapeake Bay and exit into the Atlantic Ocean once we were in Norfolk, Virginia.
Once we were out in the Atlantic we would be traveling southward along the
coastline ducking inside to the ICW in the event of bad weather or the need for
additional supplies or repairs.
We departed at the crack of dawn and had an
uneventful day. Along the way I would ask the owners questions that pertained
to the rules of the road to check understanding and educate them whenever
necessary. I also took the time to check out all of the electronics and
autopilot controls. This boat was missing nothing and was appraised at 1.6
million dollars. Experience has taught me not to be impressed with the price,
but with the operational functionality of the vessel. This was one impressive
boat and much to my surprise everything seemed to be working. Now the only
thing to worry about was my crew.
As the day progressed I determined that we were
going to be heading out into the ocean after dark. The area around Norfolk is a
very heavily traveled area by numerous recreational, commercial and military
vessels. As day becomes night the area can become very challenging to navigate
even by an experienced Captain. I decided that it would be best for me to get
some sleep prior to entering this heavily traveled area. A course was set, the
autopilot was on and clear instructions to the crew were given. The most
important instruction was to stay on the preplanned course and speed and not
cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel area without waking me. I was assured
all was understood and that my instructions would be followed. So I was able to
now settle down into what nearly became my last sleeping moments...
I was abruptly wakened by the screams of sheer
terror coming from the owner’s wife requesting me to go topside and take
control of the helm. I immediately jumped into action not asking any questions
along the way. Once on deck I saw two of the brightest white spotlights I have
ever seen shinning directly on the helm. There was no time to think and analyze
the situation; I immediately turned the helm hard to starboard. At that very
moment the Captains of what was two very large seagoing tugboats pulling what appeared to be several
barges also turned their wheels hard to starboard. All that I could do now was
to wait for the impending impact of our vessels hitting to occur along with the
cold rush of water and the effects it would have on the crew and myself. At this time of year the water temperature was around 42 degrees and the moon
had not risen. If we went into the water hypothermia would have disabled each
of us and we would perish within just a matter of a few minutes. The only thing
on our side was that I have a rule on these trips that all crew must wear
lifejackets while on deck. In this case I think the lifejackets would have just
made it easier for the recovery of our bodies.
In what had seemed to be a lifetime it was all
over. We had missed by no more than the width of a football. It was almost as
if King Neptune himself had decided that it was not our time to go and stepped
in to prevent this tragedy from occurring. The truth be told our survival was
due more to knowledge then that of luck or by any intervention from the
Let’s break down the events that allowed me and my crew
live another day to tell this story. First, each Captain involved had a
thorough knowledge of the Rules of the Road that allowed the necessary actions
to take place-avoiding loss of life. In this case there were three rules
that prevented this situation from becoming a tragedy:
Rule 14 – Head-on Situation: This
rule states that when two power-driven vessels are meeting on a reciprocal or
nearly reciprocal course so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter
her course to starboard so each shall pass on the port side of the other. This
rule is why each Captain altered their course to starboard.
Rule 16 – Action by Give-way Vessel:
Every vessel that 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. In
this case my vessel was considered the give-way vessel. We were clearly not
following this rule prior to me taking the helm.
Rule 17 – Action by Stand-on Vessel: This
rule has 3 components:
1. When one of the two vessels is to keep out of the way,
the other shall maintain her course and speed. Although I was not at the
helm I am sure that the two tugs did hold their course and speed.
2. The stand-on vessel may take action to avoid collision
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. The
two tugs were not obligated to change course at this point. They did have the
option according to the rules; however, they chose to hold their course and
3. When the stand-on vessel finds herself so close that a
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. This is the moment
that I took the helm. The tugs determined that my actions alone would not
prevent a collision so they were bound by the Rules of the Road to change their
course and speed or take any additional action to avoid a collision.
Now that the excitement was over and my knees
stopped shaking my new target was the owner of the vessel who, from this day forward,
has been known as reckless Randall. However, fate had once again stepped in.
Reckless Randall’s wife took him below and he was not seen on deck until the
following morning. I am not sure what she had said to him but it was clear my
input was no longer necessary.
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