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Old 15-08-2015, 14:19   #1
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Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Last weekend we motored from San Diego to Avalon in Catalina, a 12 hour day for our boat. The wind, current, and waves are all directly on the nose for that trip, so we motor their and sail or motor-sail back. I've been doing this trip two or three times a year for about two decades, and I'm very familiar with the routine traffic.

Recently, a new phenomenon has emerged: The skipper who seems to believe that being on Autopilot automatically makes him the stand-on vessel!

We had two incidents the same day, one involving us, and the other heard over VHF, regarding boats whose skippers felt that being on autopilot somehow made them the stand-on vessel. This is a transcript of my incident, when we were about 200 yards from CPA:

"Fishing vessel 'Mirage', this is S/V Luna Sea off your starboard bow, what are your intentions, over?"
"Luna Sea I'm on Autopilot over."
"Mirage, Luna Sea. As am I sir."
"And?"
"Mirage, this is Luna Sea. Change course to my stern as I am the stand-on vessel over."

No further response, but he did start S-weaving very dramatically to telegraph his annoyance, and passed by my stern as close as he dared to try to scare me. I laughed that off, but about two hours later, two different boats got into it over 16 over the exact same issue: The give-way vessel being obstinate about going off autopilot to change course! And this time, they were arguing about whether or not one of them was on autopilot because his heading wasn't constant, as if that was really the issue.

I've long noticed that autopilots are putting boats on much closer approaches than manual navigation, because many boats are using direct, bouy-to-bouy navigation on reciprocal courses with autopilots that are precise enough that they'll actually hit a boat miles away that's doing the same thing. The number of very close approaches I've had with boats when we're over 20 miles offshore in the San Pedro has gone up dramatically in the past few years, and I attribute most of that increase to autopilots as there actually seem to be fewer boats than there were in the 90's.

That increase in close approaches combined with this dangerous idea that auto-piloting somehow equals priority is increasing the odds of collision here in my opinion.

I'm starting to think that boats on Autopilot should have to flash a masthead strobe to indicate danger to everyone nearby, although that would just make the problem worse.
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Old 15-08-2015, 14:35   #2
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

I began a conversation with a man on a ladder in a boat yard once; I was interested in the model and wanted his thoughts. Most folks are glad to brag fora few minutes, or complain if they are fixing a design error.

We had a nice talk. He then explained he was fixing a dent in the front beam caused by a channel marker. Seems he set the GPS to the marker lat/lon, they were correct, and since his helm station was behind the mast, he never saw it.

I always add a little known error.
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Old 15-08-2015, 14:37   #3
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

This is indeed a danger with APs driven by GPS. Skippers on longish runs can literally travel a straight line and it makes for real collision hazards for those on reciprocal courses from say... entry buoy to entry buoy. I've seen a line of boats extending as far as you can seen in a straight line in both directions.

And my first brush with this was halfway between English Harbor, Antiqua and Deshais, Guadaloup... and there was no one in the vessel on the reciprocal heading to mine... so I had to dodge him. We were both on reaches. He never even knew it.
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Old 15-08-2015, 15:00   #4
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandero View Post
This is indeed a danger with APs driven by GPS. Skippers on longish runs can literally travel a straight line and it makes for real collision hazards for those on reciprocal courses from say... entry buoy to entry buoy. I've seen a line of boats extending as far as you can seen in a straight line in both directions.

And my first brush with this was halfway between English Harbor, Antiqua and Deshais, Guadaloup... and there was no one in the vessel on the reciprocal heading to mine... so I had to dodge him. We were both on reaches. He never even knew it.
First question would be, where is the watch? I have this foreboding sense too much reliance is put on electronics. I love them also, but earlier this year when my chartplotter decided to lose it's connectivity, it was great to have actual charts as backup, know how to use them, and it made me keenly aware how even just the use of the plotter and me hand steering, lessened my situational awareness.

Sailors should resort to non-electronic navigation and sailing occasionally, just to keep skills up.
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Old 15-08-2015, 15:13   #5
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Last year a fishing boat, cathedral hull, cabin, three 250 hp outboards, radar, chart plotters, with three people on board smashed full speed into a cliff on Catalina Island. Apparently the boat was on autopilot and no one was watching.


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Old 15-08-2015, 15:40   #6
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Quote:
Originally Posted by mstrebe View Post
Last weekend we motored from San Diego to Avalon in Catalina, a 12 hour day for our boat. The wind, current, and waves are all directly on the nose for that trip, so we motor their and sail or motor-sail back. I've been doing this trip two or three times a year for about two decades, and I'm very familiar with the routine traffic.

Recently, a new phenomenon has emerged: The skipper who seems to believe that being on Autopilot automatically makes him the stand-on vessel!

We had two incidents the same day, one involving us, and the other heard over VHF, regarding boats whose skippers felt that being on autopilot somehow made them the stand-on vessel. This is a transcript of my incident, when we were about 200 yards from CPA:

"Fishing vessel 'Mirage', this is S/V Luna Sea off your starboard bow, what are your intentions, over?"
"Luna Sea I'm on Autopilot over."
"Mirage, Luna Sea. As am I sir."
"And?"
"Mirage, this is Luna Sea. Change course to my stern as I am the stand-on vessel over."

No further response, but he did start S-weaving very dramatically to telegraph his annoyance, and passed by my stern as close as he dared to try to scare me. I laughed that off, but about two hours later, two different boats got into it over 16 over the exact same issue: The give-way vessel being obstinate about going off autopilot to change course! And this time, they were arguing about whether or not one of them was on autopilot because his heading wasn't constant, as if that was really the issue.

I've long noticed that autopilots are putting boats on much closer approaches than manual navigation, because many boats are using direct, bouy-to-bouy navigation on reciprocal courses with autopilots that are precise enough that they'll actually hit a boat miles away that's doing the same thing. The number of very close approaches I've had with boats when we're over 20 miles offshore in the San Pedro has gone up dramatically in the past few years, and I attribute most of that increase to autopilots as there actually seem to be fewer boats than there were in the 90's.

That increase in close approaches combined with this dangerous idea that auto-piloting somehow equals priority is increasing the odds of collision here in my opinion.

I'm starting to think that boats on Autopilot should have to flash a masthead strobe to indicate danger to everyone nearby, although that would just make the problem worse.
What kind of fishing vessel was it and was the vessel engaged in fishing ?
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Old 15-08-2015, 15:48   #7
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Quote:
Originally Posted by thinwater View Post
I began a conversation with a man on a ladder in a boat yard once; I was interested in the model and wanted his thoughts. Most folks are glad to brag fora few minutes, or complain if they are fixing a design error.

We had a nice talk. He then explained he was fixing a dent in the front beam caused by a channel marker. Seems he set the GPS to the marker lat/lon, they were correct, and since his helm station was behind the mast, he never saw it.

I always add a little known error.
Hard to believe people could be so stupid. Why would someone set his destination at the channel marker?

That's setting your destination at the place you DON'T want to go.

Why would you not set your destination at the place you want to go to - the start of the actual CHANNEL?

And of course, you still keep watch, for traffic and in case the chart's wrong or the channel has moved...
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Old 15-08-2015, 17:10   #8
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

I have almost all the toys, radar, GPS , AIS. and so on. But I don't trust any of them in any combination to take over the boat for more than the minute or two I might need to go below to take care of business. Even on autopilot I'm taking a look around every few minutes. More frequently if I see any traffic.

I would not be surprised by the weekend power boater. The one that call Mayday when their battery dies. I am a little surprised that a commercial fisherman wouldn't know better.

However, now that I think of it, most of the ATN's on the river are taken out by shrimpers on AP.

It's one reason I stay off the water on weekends for the most part. No way in hell I go out on holiday weekends.


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Old 15-08-2015, 17:50   #9
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandero View Post
This is indeed a danger with APs driven by GPS.
Hitting something has nothing at all to do with AP's driven by GPS - it has only to do with plotting a waypoint on a buoy and driving to it. Why anyone would use a marker as a waypoint is beyond me.

If one was a great helmsman and plotted a waypoint on a buoy and didn't use an autopilot at all, they would also hit it.

If one set an AP compass course to a waypoint on a buoy and there was no current or leeway, they would also hit it.

I have seen many boats hit things or run aground because they did not have their AP driven by GPS and were caught misjudging current or leeway.

Your demon just doesn't exist...

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Old 15-08-2015, 18:01   #10
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

It never ceases to amaze me how stupid some people can be.

Best thing to do with the fishing boat was film them, and send the video to the coastguard. Make sure you get a good shot of the name and hailing port on the boat.
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Old 15-08-2015, 18:03   #11
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

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Originally Posted by colemj View Post
Hitting something has nothing at all to do with AP's driven by GPS - it has only to do with plotting a waypoint on a buoy and driving to it. Why anyone would use a marker as a waypoint is beyond me.

If one was a great helmsman and plotted a waypoint on a buoy and didn't use an autopilot at all, they would also hit it.

If one set an AP compass course to a waypoint on a buoy and there was no current or leeway, they would also hit it.

I have seen many boats hit things or run aground because they did not have their AP driven by GPS and were caught misjudging current or leeway.

Your demon just doesn't exist...

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Old 15-08-2015, 22:48   #12
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Actually, traditional naviguessers used to aim for a distinguishable bit of the hard stuff quite often - so they had a very accurate fix from which to begin a tricky bit of coastal Nav for example.

However, no reason to do this now with modern gear. And regardless of what the electronics say, if there is a bit of the hard stuff in front of you, and you do not stop or change course, you will hit it!

I have never heard anyone mention that they are on autopilot during a radio conversation about possible collision avoidance - it is totally irrelevant.

Personally I plot my courses about 1/2 a NM or more off to one side of the rumb line between any two obvious waypoints. Then, often the AP is steering, but there IS a watch, electronic AND a crew member, virtually all the time (unless single handed, well offshore and away from common shipping).
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Old 15-08-2015, 23:42   #13
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

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What kind of fishing vessel was it and was the vessel engaged in fishing ?
Small pilothouse trawler, and no, they were transiting at about 10 knots. Given the time of day and course, I assume they were headed back to port in Newport.
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Old 16-08-2015, 00:37   #14
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Not to be too critical, but you should have contacted the fishing boat WAY before you were at 200-yds from CPA.

I always had my Mates contact an approaching vessel at a minimum of 3-miles and depending on the degree of understandable English you got in reply, that determined the CPA.

If you couldn't understand anything, minimum CPA was 3-miles (or greater) and come and wake me up. Also tell them to keep their present course (stand on) and we would alter course to stand clear of them.

If you got broken but fairly understandable English and he seemed to be under control of his vessel (usually on autopilot), they could go to 2-mile CPA if they felt comfortable with him - other wise go to 3-miles. Again, you made passing arrangements.

If you got good English and the radar plot showed a nice straight course line, they could go to 1-mile CPA after making passing arrangements.

However, a nice straight course line leading up to a close CPA didn't mean squat with fishing vessels. I had one that was coming down the road between me (300-ft container ship) and another container ship (600-ft). The 600-ft and I were 3-mile CPA, the fishing boat was 0.5 mile CPA on my port side and was just motoring along - not fishing.

No problem, right? Well at 0.3 miles, the fishing boat turned hard to his port - crossing at 90-degrees directly in front of me. So after a frantic VHF called telling him to immediately turn to starboard and get back on his original course or I would hit him since I couldn't stop or turn in time, he did make the turn back towards his original course and we missed by a hundred yards.

While all of this had been going on, I had taken the engine out of gear and was at the helm to go whichever way he didn't in hopes of missing him.

Then he came up on the radio and said "Guess that wasn't a smart thing to do". You think?

So call early, make a passing plan and give fishing boats a large CPA!
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Old 16-08-2015, 03:00   #15
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Re: Autopilot does not equal Stand On Vessel!

Ahhh, fishing folks...

A few years back, some friends of ours were coming back from offshore into Moreton Bay. In those days, the customs port was Scarborough, and the entrance channel was too shallow for their HC 43 anywhere near low water...which it was as they approached. so, they got well off the leads and anchored. It was mid day, and there was to be adequate depth well before dark. They hoisted the Q flag and relaxed... until an incoming prawn trawler T-boned them, doing considerable damage. The usual formalities were performed, both with the fisherman and the authorities. The fisherman declared, in court, that the collision was our friends fault... because they had anchored on the course that his auto pilot steered them on "every damn day for y ears".

True story... and despite a judgement by the court, our friends were poorly compensated for their losses.

Makes one remember how stupid the average person is... and that roughly half of all the people in the world are stupider than that!!!

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