Is it just me being a cantankerous pedant, or are nautical standards slipping? Maybe they are just evolving and changing to reflect the times ?
There was a time when yacht Ensigns were ‘dipped’ to Royal Naval Vessels, and the Navy were expected to ‘dip’ in return as a matter of courtesy and etiquette, poor buggers, up and down like a fiddlers elbow. A busy time for crews in Devonport or Portsmouth Harbour! Yacht Ensigns were invariably withdrawn at dusk and replaced at dawn and any miscreants were frowned upon. I must confess that I gave up doing this a few years ago and I would like to think that we have advanced beyond these rigid strictures.
I accept that modern communication systems are myriad and extremely effective. The advent of VHF, DSC, GPS, SSB, PLB, EPIRB, Iridium, Inmarsat and even mobile phones have transformed marine communication and distress protocols.
Many moons ago, when I did my Yacht master qualifications, I had to know morse code and even then, an accepted way of signalling distress was lighting a barrel of tar or firing a gun repeatedly. Another method of signalling distress was hoisting the ‘N’ flag above the ‘C’ flag (‘No’ over ‘Yes’…?), I imagine this would go completely unnoticed these days. I am lacking the gun and the barrel of tar although I have the ‘N’ and ‘C’ flags for what it’s worth.
Clearly light signals are still indispensable – for example, it’s useful to know which side to pass a dredger at night and you could get into a fix if you didn’t know that a vessel was under tow… Even so, lights can be confusing, I encountered a profusion of yellow flashing lights off the North Spanish coast and they turned out to be a fleet of fishing vessels, not an armada of hovercraft which the regulations would have suggested. With vessel identification via AIS, it is always possible to seek clarification through a VHF call so any ambiguity can be clarified.
Day shapes are also useful, but they are not now given the importance they deserve. How many times have you seen fishing vessels moored up in a harbour displaying the point-to-point ‘I am fishing’ cones as a permanent feature? I must confess that I do not rigidly conform to displaying the inverted cone every time I am motor sailing for a short time, it would be such a pain and no one else does it. I do, however, comply if I am motor sailing for a protracted period of time and likely to encounter shipping – honest !
This brings me to the thrust of this post – anchoring! I have always shown the required ball shape above the foredeck when anchored – yes, religiously ! One of the motivations for this is, having carried out a subconscious risk assessment, I can imagine a certain potential scenario. Just imagine being anchored in a bay in the Med or Caribbean (where, thankfully, jet skis are largely banned) near an Oligarchs super yacht with the pampered offspring racing around on jet skis and one of them crashes into your anchored yacht. Just think of being in court against an expensive ‘hot shot’ lawyer. “But how was my client supposed to know you were anchored when you were not displaying the correct signal for being at anchor as required under the ‘International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea’?”. You could become unwittingly liable as opposed to being the undoubted innocent victim. Anorak or sensible?
When I was anchored in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia in 2015 & 16, I always displayed the ‘anchor ball’. So, having taken the family there (by aeroplane this time) in December 2021, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed. With over 40 yachts anchored in the bay, not one of them was displaying the anchor ball and some of them were remnants from the ARC fleet who should have known better. At night however, most of them did at least comply with the ‘Col Regs’ by showing an all-round white anchor light at the top of the mast.
This actually brings me to another point. The all-round white mast head light is generally observed and incorporated into the navigation light options on most modern yachts. This is perfectly okay and compliant in a sparsely populated anchorage but pretty useless when an anchorage is more densely occupied. I would advocate and generally display an all-round white light lower down between the forestay and the mast. I use a rechargeable LED lantern which gives an infinitely better indication of location and actually singles out your yacht amongst all the others which is often very useful when it is pitch black with no moon and you are trying to discern your yacht when they all look the same black silhouettes after a few rum punches or ouzos.
Then there is the subject of tenders. (Am I sounding like a ranting ‘old fart’?) It is necessary for a tender below 7 metres in length and travelling at less than 7 knots to carry an all-round white light at least, it”s dead easy, do it! Just hold an LED lantern behind the helmsman above his head, simple, it won’t affect his vision, then you won’t get mown down by one of the Oligarchs kids or, if you are, you will win your case in court !