Use of VHF Radio in Collision Avoidance

We do as human being opt to the methods we think to be the best way out. As a matter of fact we are not all the time disposed of fundamental investigation on what sort of problems we can come across while trying to sort out the existing ones. However some methods to solve a case will bring along major ones with them. In this article, I would like to bring forward some particular cases, consequences and information regarding the issue of collision risk at sea considering the facts based on the reasons why crew has been referring to use VHF radio ignoring to just comply with International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG / 72), why they should not use VHF radio. In case required, the reference documents are available.

Until 1800s sailing vessels have not been of risk relating to collision at sea. As for the beginning of the 18th century, collision risks came forth with the rise of steamships at sea. Thus as the ships are being power driven and equipped with engine propulsion, the number of collisions increased gradually resulting the composition of chain of some rules and regulations. These rules mentioned took the last form in 1972. There is chronology for them to be sure; but it is a different point of view for now.

Before the 19th century, human factor has emerged as a privileged cause of accidents at sea and statistical inference has been stated in the midst of 48% and 85%. Based on the research by United States Coast Guard (USCG), human factor has been stated as a cause with 85% between 1999 and 2001. Collision Regulations were initially compiled in 1910. Although it has not been specified within the Regulations, the use of VHF radio has been preferred as one of the convenient and practical methods in order to avoid risk of collision.

VHF Radio

To illustrate with respect to research carried out by Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) on some of the collisions at sea, it has been determined that the Officers of the Watch have tried to utilize VHF radio to communicate and prevent collision, thereof some are culminating in waste of time leading to ultimately collision. With reference to those declared many are subject to research into human factor. Let us exemplify with a few.

August in 2005 – Langeland, Denmark Territorial Waters

Atlantic – Arngast

First to sum up, the main reason of the collision between these two vessels is the waste of time due to use of VHF radio causing remarkable delay for action to avoid collision. If the rules and regulations had been followed in ample time instead of trying to communicate, the collision could not have occurred after all. Additionally doing some research on reasons, both Masters of the ships have been realised to have respectable experience in these waters. All to the good no injuries or pollution has occurred.

Brief Report on Collision

Atlantic loaded the cargo and left the port of Ventspils with a draught of 13.7 meters proceeding to China. Arngast with ballasted condition left the port of Bremen with forward draught of 1.2 meters, aft draught of 2.4 meters proceeding to the port of Kalundborg. All the equipment of Atlantic were in good order during the sail through Baltic Sea. As for Arngast, all including both RADAR and ARDA were in good order as well. Two pilots joined the crew of Atlantic off Bornholm.

The Master of Atlantic had come to the bridge in the morning before the collision occurred and he was on the bridge during the collision. Concurrently the Chief Officer, Officer of the Watch, Pilot and Helmsman were on the bridge.

For both vessels there was no problem with the engine and navigation lights were on as required. The weather was fine and the visibility was perfect. Atlantic was making 12 knots, Arngast was making 11 knots; it was 10:30 when Arngast, during the passage in Kiel channel through Kalundborg, was detected on the Automatic Identification System (AIS) device of Atlantic. The pilot was operating ARPA at the same time. Subsequently manual steering of Atlantic was activated releasing the auto pilot. The Chief Officer on board Arngast realised the presence of Atlantic on ARPA as well. Atlantic altered her course to port and later on Chief Officer on board Arngast had a suspicion about the situation arising and informed the Master.

The distance did yet reduce to 2 nautical miles between the ships at 10:45 and Arngast was approaching on port side. Right after that a VHF call was commenced by Arngast to see the intention and the pilot on board Atlantic replied. The pilot declared himself having the right of way and not to impede the safe passage since Atlantic was a deep draught vessel which requires Arngast to alter course to starboard. No sound signals were also displayed. After all is said and done it was late for a proper manoeuvring to avoid collision. The case came off with collision resulting a crash of Arngast ship to the port side of Atlantic with a right angle and slide through the side.

Area of Collision between Atlantic and Arngast

October in 2004 – Agersoe Flak Territorial Waters

Bergitta – MSC Eyra

For this particular case of collision between these ships, one of the main causes is again the waste of time using the VHF radio resulting inconsistency and conflict for the action to avoid collision. Fortunately no injuries or pollution has occurred.

Brief Report on Collision

MSC Eyra was proceeding southward to the port of Riga through Great Belt. Bergitta was loaded with crude oil of 100,000 tonnes and was proceeding northward to the port of Rotterdam through Great Belt. There were two pilots on the bridge on board Bergitta.

It was about 22:00 when both vessels were proceeding to the area of Agersoe Flak and already reported to Vessel Traffic Service (VTS). There was restricted visibility about 0.5 to 0.8 nautical miles. Nevertheless the presence of each vessel was on RADAR of each and the risk of collision was already determined.


MSC Eyra

Investigation on the case of VHF communication for the purpose of determination of action to avoid collision, MSC Eyra has stated her intention as to keep clear by proceeding through the forward of Bergitta. However the intentions have not been quite clear considering the unremarkable course and speed alterations. For instance MSC Eyra has been too late for an alteration of course and confirmation of safe passage in the form of port-to-port, which as a case results in pressure and herewith restriction for both sides to come up with a feasible solution. On the top of that, existing and prevailing circumstances with respect to the relative speed of each vessel have precipitated the case and led the collision with ease.

June in 2004 – East China Territorial Waters

Hyundai Dominion – Sky Hope

Still in this case of collision between these two vessels, the main reason is misinterpretation on the situation regarding overtaking action and VHF radio call to determine the action to avoid risk of collision. Furthermore the event of sending message via AIS by the Officer of the Watch on board Hyundai Dominion has caused much more waste of time and led the case into a dead end. Fortunately no injuries or pollution occurred.

Hyundai Dominion

Sky Hope

Brief Report on Collision

Chief Officer on board Hyundai Dominion has detected a vessel on RADAR in a range of more than 5 nautical miles on port side. He did project the appearance as “Crossing Situation” expecting Sky Hope ordinarily alter her course. When the distance remained 2.5 nautical miles between these two vessels, Officer of the Watch on board Hyundai Dominion tried to communicate by VHF with the Officer of the Watch on board Sky Hope, yet he could not manage to get a reply. Next he sent a message to Sky Hope via AIS for Sky Hope to give way. Once for all he did again try to establish a VHF communication with Sky Hope stating an expectation of an urgent reply. Then Officer of the Watch on board Sky Hope confirmed to have received AIS message and declared the case being “Overtaking Situation”.

Nonetheless with respect to the case, upon the persistence of the Officer of the Watch on board Hyundai Dominion on “Crossing Situation” they did confirm reciprocally in the end.

As a matter of precaution, the Officer of the Watch on board Hyundai Dominion has turned the auto pilot over the hand steering. On the other hand the Officer of the Watch on board Sky Hope has announced that it has been too late to alter the course to starboard and therefore instead altered her course to port.

Area of Collision between Hyundai Dominion and Sky Hope

The attempts to compromise have as seen resulted in delay. It is reported that despite the Officer of the Watch on board Sky Hope has been observing Hyundai Dominion, he has yet not carried out an action to avoid collision except establishing VHF communication and nothing more than altering course to port when the distance is 0.2 nautical miles, which is highly improper.


There are many international personnel working on board ship. Thence the common language in the Maritime Industry has been specified as English. Occasionally the differences on mother tongue, proficiency in English language and topics of criteria such like may turn out to be complications in terms of effective communication. In such cases, it would be more feasible to fully comply with the actions in accordance with the rules and regulations simultaneously in ample time rather than trying to establish a communication of spoken form. At the same time there is a reference paper of notice namely Dangers in the Use of VHF Radio in Collision Avoidance which is one of the Marine Guidance Notes (MGN) published by MCA.

As seen within these exemplary cases on inevitable collisions, one of the causes prescribed as establishing a VHF communication has eventually detained the action to be taken in order to avoid collision. Consequentially even though the communication of spoken form is deemed to be a practical way to avoid risk of collision, it is hereby demonstrated to be unnecessary and waste of time to the core.

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