Launched into a sticky situation


At dawn, a high-speed catamaran ferry commenced its service and the first run was without incident until the master attempted to berth at the final wharf.

Whilst coming alongside the wharf he experienced a steering problem with the starboard engine. The propellers on this ferry were on legs that served as rudders by rotating through 360 degrees to provide steering. When alongside the wharf, the master centred the starboard engine steering leg and locked it in the fore and aft position. In this way, the master could still use the starboard engine for propulsion but could only use the port engine to steer and go astern.

The master decided to bring his crippled ship back to the shipyard for repairs and set off downriver at 18 knots using both engines for forward thrust and the port engine only for steering and astern propulsion.

The ferry proceeded down the river without incident until the ferry started to veer sharply to port when the water pressure on the single steering leg jammed the helm to port. The master tried to alter the vessel heading to starboard but the steering did not respond. The ferry slowed down due to its turning motion but continued to curve to port heading towards vessels moored in a nearby bay. After sideswiping a yacht, the ferry finally came to a halt with a second vessel, a motor cruiser, wedged between the catamaran ferry’s two hulls.

Lessons learned

  1. The master used both engines at a speed of 18 knots for forward thrust but had limited manoeuvrability because only one engine could be used to steer. A safer option would have been to shut down the starboard engine and bring the ferry back on one engine at the slowest possible speed for safe navigation.
  2. Remember – boats don’t have brakes. Returning back to the shipyard at a speed of 18 knots caused the steering to jam and did not allow enough time for the master to react. Masters should proceed at a speed appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions at all time.
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