Notice to Shipowners, Ship Operators, Managers, Masters, and Owners’ Representatives. The Authority would like to highlight the potential safety risks involved in VHF radio communication between vessels, for the purpose of collision avoidance.

The use of VHF for collision avoidance

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (“COLREGS”), as amended, provides general rules to be followed to avoid collisions at sea where good seamanship should complement these rules. There have been several collisions and near misses where misuse of VHF radio equipment has been established to be a contributory factor.

 The COLREGS, however, does not specify exactly the role of VHF and other navigational aids, other than the use of ‘all available means’ when keeping a proper lookout. To this effect, the use of VHF radio equipment for the purposes of anti-collision is strongly discouraged. Anti-collision measures agreed upon via VHF radio communications may not always be appropriate and may lead to a catastrophic situation. Therefore, it is important to be reminded that all Masters and navigation watch-keeping officers on Fijian flagged ships and all ships navigating in Fijis territorial waters shall be vigilant against the use of VHF communications as a means of avoiding collisions and shall take note of the following risks:

  • The agreed actions between two or more vessels, made over the VHF radio to avoid collision and without considering the risks of such an agreed action, may not comply with the requirements of the COLREGS. This may also have an effect on other vessels in the vicinity who are observing fully the requirements of the COLREGS. Such actions may lead to the development of a close quarter’s situation or to a collision.
  •  Agreement reached via VHF radio communication between vessels for collision avoidance could be misunderstood or misinterpreted due to language difficulties, imprecise or ambiguous expressions.
  • Uncertainty may exist over the identity of approaching vessels, when navigating in restricted visibility, during period of darkness, and in circumstances when there is more than one vessel.
  • Important messages in the conversation through VHF radio could be interrupted or are not being received clearly due to busy radio traffic, squelch control, static noise, and interference of radio communication.
  • The loss of valuable time in trying to make contact on VHF radio or else having a lengthy conversation on VHF radio instead of taking appropriate and immediate action, in ample time, to comply with the COLREGS and to avoid a collision.

Masters and operators of Fiji registered ships are advised to follow the recommendations contained therein.

Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji
29th April 2024

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