Displacement Wars or . . . Life on the Bridge
Have you, as a recreational boater, ever wondered what it would be like to act as pilot or captain of a large vessel. Let's say your job was to bring an 800 foot tanker through a narrow channel into an inner harbor and eventually into its berth. What do you do when you see a small recreational vessel in your path? Worse yet, what if you don't see the recreational vessel in your path?
Most recreational boaters don't have any idea what it is like to maneuver a vessel of this size. Most assume that because of the modern electronics, the experience of the captain, pilot and crew and the power of the vessel that the 800 footer can, and will, just turn to avoid a recreational boater who inadvertently zips into its path unaware of its presence. The fact is, even at a slow speed of say four knots, a loaded 800 foot tanker can take a quarter mile and seven minutes to stop. Worse yet, when the engines are put in reverse, the large tanker looses all steerageway.
In addition to the problem of stopping or maneuvering out of the way, the tanker has a blind zone which precludes them from seeing directly in front for up to 600 feet. If a recreational boater in a small boat disappears from view in front of the tanker their choices are limited; they can proceed and hope they don't see wreckage in their wake or they can put the helm hard over and spill 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the channel.
Many recreational boaters assume that because large commercial vessels have radar that the commercial vessels will pick them up. Problem is, the signal has to come back to the ship's radar in order for it to be seen. Even with a radar reflector, most small boats don't show up beyond a mile or two. Without a radar reflector, you would be lucky to be seen beyond a quarter of a mile.
Most boaters today have VHF radios and they are not bashful about using them to find where the fish are biting or to carry on conversations about where they are going to have dinner. All large vessels are required by regulation to listen to VHF channels 13 and 16. The safest and most efficient way of communicating with a large vessel to confirm what they are doing, or to tell them what you are doing, is by radio. Better yet, stay clear of heavy traffic. This advice goes back to the rule of tonnage, i.e. "don't tangle with a tanker."