Navigation in Dublin Bay – report

Talk by Dublin Port staff

Malahide Yacht Club, Wednesday 16 November 2022

We had a great presentation at MYC on how leisure craft should comport themselves in Dublin Bay and Dublin Port, from one of the pilots and an assistant harbour master. They gave us very useful information and a clear perspective. Here are some of the key take-aways.

Look at the Mariners’ Notices on the Dublin Port website.  Especially, look at the notice for Leisure Craft.  This is currently no. 19/22 but they are re-issued and updated from time to time, so the number may change – but there will always be one there for us leisure users.  This has all the key information.  This refers in turn to the very important Guide to Port Entry document – read these documents before heading for the Bay.

If crossing the Bay, keep in touch with Dublin VTS by radio on channel 12.  Important point – contact them when entering the Bay area – for example if coming from the North side, when passing the Baily.  Then contact them again before crossing the channel.  Their preferred crossing point is around about the no.3 buoy, where the channel is narrow enough for leisure craft to pass quickly.  If it’s quiet and you are going across further east, or intending to pop over to the Burford Bank and use that as a waiting point before going further, let VTS know your intentions

Importantly, letting Dublin VTS know your intentions allows them in turn to keep the large vessels and their captains and pilots informed.  The pilot stressed that she is keenly aware of leisure vessels, but they may not know some things about her and the vessel she is piloting.

It’s very important that she keep track of all that’s going on around her, but in fact she has limited visibility at various points, and if a vessel has told its intentions to VTS, this reduces her distractions considerably.

Moreover, a “professional” style radio message from the leisure vessel with clear information about intentions, allows the pilot to be reassured that the vessel is under competent control, reducing tension levels.

Up close, visibility is even more restricted:  on a long vessel containers and other obstructions take away line of sight on a lot of water, and at various times the pilot will be moving from one side of the bridge to another.  Moreover, although we might not appreciate it, they have very high freeboards so the strong tides in the bay and wind effects make them harder to control than might otherwise appear.

Slowing down is not easy – a large tanker may turn off its power some miles off to be moving slowly enough to manoeuvre properly by the time it reaches port.  Such vessels can’t stop quickly for an errant boat.  They have about 20 incidences per year of leisure craft getting too close/seriously in the way.  Many of these are foreign craft and they hope that when these boats are talking to local sailors we would pass on local knowledge.

In the river, things are even tighter, so give the big guys a lot of space and follow instructions.  Even when passing docked ships, watch out for the large overhang of the cranes, with the small danger of falling objects.

When they are moving, they have limited visibility and (which we might not know) their propulsion systems have enough power for only a few manoeuvres – about 7, she said.  A three point turn that has to be done twice because of a boat in the way means they might have no additional scope to cope with other manoeuvring issues.

In the river, if asked to hold off or wait it is important to comply even if it appears there’s plenty of space; there may be things we don’t see.  A tug may be hidden from view, but it might have to speed from one side of the vessel to another.  A ship may have to put itself into reverse, with a lot of disruption to the water behind.

It follows from the emphasis on following VTS instructions that one has to have channel 12 switched on – and be listening to it.  They understand that with engine and weather noise it may be difficult to keep listening, but it is essential.  Perhaps a spare crew can listen out or the radio can be held close to the ear.

The route to follow in the river is within the channel and close to the southern side.  They are not advising staying south of the marks.

Finally, they stress that for them visibility of a boat is not just about visual contact.  They use AIS and radar even more – indeed Dublin VTS can see along the channel but not out into the bay. They advise having an AIS transponder (switched on) or if not possible a radar reflector. VTS sees a radar image that combines radar at the Dublin side and on the Baily.

All the importance of communication, and use of AIS/radar, is heightened at night.

One final point – what should you do if your engine fails? Their recommendation was to throw out an anchor and immediately contact VTS – help will be there very quickly.  Don’t be too embarrassed to call – it happens occasionally even to large ships sometimes.

Many thanks to Dublin Port for providing this great information session.

We have been in touch with Dublin Port, and they have agreed to give a Zoom presentation for the CAI early next year.