WATCHOUT - Close encounter – how inadequate lookouts led to two ships colliding in foggy conditions

31 May 2024 The Navigator

In this series, we take a look at maritime accident reports and the lessons that can be learned

What happened?

A fishing trawler was heading back to port in foggy conditions to land its catch. A new radar had been installed a couple of days previously. As the vessel progressed to port, the skipper had been in the wheelhouse familiarising himself with the new equipment. The deckhand was in the shelter deck, sorting out the fish that had been caught. At some point, the skipper moved to the shelter deck to oversee the deck hand’s work, leaving no-one keeping watch or monitoring the radar in the wheelhouse.


Meanwhile, a general cargo ship was approaching the trawler with a chief officer and AB on the bridge. When the two vessels were less than a mile from each other, the chief officer spotted a target on his radar, looked outside and saw the fishing trawler very close by with no-one in the wheelhouse. Despite sounding the whistle and altering course, the two vessels collided. The trawler in particular suffered severe damage and sank while being towed to shore.

Why did it happen?

  • The skipper of the fishing trawler left his position in the wheelhouse prior to the collision.
  • Neither vessel was keeping a proper lookout, nor making effective use of their radar, despite the presence of fog.
  • The trawler was sailing with unfamiliar radar equipment and was not equipped with a radar reflector or AIS.
  • Neither vessel sounded its fog signal, which would have given them both valuable prior warning of another ship’s presence in the area. Action taken to prevent collision therefore came far too late.

What changes have been made?

  • The fishing trawler’s skipper was urged to put procedures in place to ensure that a proper lookout is maintained at all times. Keeping a lookout by ‘all available means’ is fundamental to safe navigation, particularly during restricted visibility.
  • The Master and officers of the cargo vessel were reminded of their obligations under the Colregs for navigating in restricted visibility.

Read the full report

The Nautical Institute’s Mariners’ Alerting and Reporting Scheme (MARS) - - comprises a fully searchable database of incident reports and lessons, updated every month. If you have witnessed an accident or seen a problem, email Captain Paul Drouin at [email protected] and help others learn from your experience. All reports are confidential – we will never identify you or your ship.