According to Navigation Rule 3(k, or j of Inland) “vessels shall be deemed to be in sight of one another only when one can be observed visually from the other.” If you can see the other vessel only on radar or AIS, it is not in sight. Many of the Navigation Rules apply specifically to when vessels are in sight of each other. The text of Rule 3 is available at www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent.
Sometimes this is a difficult decision because there’s a schedule to keep. The skipper may feel obliged to get to another location because a person aboard has a flight from there, friends are waiting, the boat must get back to the charter company, etc. The decision to turn back or stand on shouldn’t be primarily influenced by any schedule, real or imagined. It should be based on a careful assessment of the factors affecting safety first and comfort second. The more experience you have, the better you’ll be able to make an informed decision that’s right for your boat and its crew. Each situation is different, even in waters you’ve traveled before. Getting out of the harbor and into open water may be uncomfortable, but when the boat is out in deep water things may change for the better. In some cases, it may be more difficult or even dangerous to get back into the harbor if you turn around than it was getting out. If the weather turns unfavorable while you’re en route, the decision should consider what the conditions may be at the destination or at an alternate harbor, and how far you have to go. Have you determined a “point of no return” where a decision must be made? If everyone is seasick or someone is injured, that could be an important factor. If you’re not completely confident in the ability of the crew or the boat to cope with difficult conditions, that could affect your decision. Take the time to consider the options, but ultimately it’s the skipper’s choice and responsibility. There’s no shame in turning back – it’s often the most seamanlike decision to make.
If you have a VHF-digital selective calling (DSC) radio aboard have you read the radio’s manual for the use of this important piece of communication and safety gear? Does the radio have an integral GPS or must it be interfaced with an existing GPS on your boat? Do you have an MMSI number? How do you make a distress call? Find out the answers to these and other important questions about the features on a DSC radio. Consult articles in boating magazines or websites, or read DSC radio and DSC radio distress call on pp. 151-152 of the Mariner’s Guide.
Whether you use paper or electronic charts you must learn what the symbols, colors, and notations mean. In the U.S. and other countries there is a publication (paper and electronic) called Chart No. 1, which has all the chart symbols and words used on charts published by a particular country. In the U.S. you can download Chart No. 1 from www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/mcd/chartno1.htm. (In 2012 paper copies were not being printed by the U.S. government, but plans are being made for chart agents to be authorized to print paper copies.). An excellent source for a paper copy is Nigel Calder’s book, How to Read a Nautical Chart (A Complete Guide to the Symbols, Abbreviations, and Nautical Data Displayed on Nautical Charts). It has all of Chart No. 1, plus detailed explanations. Nautical bookstores and on-line booksellers stock this book. It should be aboard every boat that uses charts – you can’t remember everything and unfamiliar symbols may be very important to know.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.