The Importance of Communication: Lessons from a Near Collision
The Importance of Communication: Lessons from a Near Collision

Effective communication is essential while sailing to prevent dangerous situations from escalating. Learn from a personal story of a near collision at sea and gain valuable lessons on proper maritime communication.

The Importance of Communication: Lessons from a Near Collision

Sailing the open seas with your family is an incredible experience, filled with adventure, excitement, and the opportunity to create lifelong memories. However, it’s essential to remember that the ocean can be a dangerous place, and effective communication is crucial to ensuring the safety of your family and your vessel. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of communication through a personal story of a near collision at sea, and discuss the lessons learned from this harrowing experience.

A Fateful Day at Sea

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and our family was enjoying a leisurely sail along the coast. The wind was perfect, the seas were calm, and we were all feeling relaxed and content. Little did we know that our peaceful day would soon take a dramatic turn.

As we rounded a headland, we spotted a large cargo ship on the horizon, seemingly on a collision course with our small sailboat. At first, we weren’t too concerned, as we assumed the ship would alter its course to avoid us. However, as the minutes ticked by and the ship continued to bear down on us, we realized that something was amiss.

The Importance of Communication

In this situation, effective communication was absolutely critical. We needed to quickly assess the situation, determine the best course of action, and communicate our intentions to the approaching ship. Unfortunately, our initial attempts at communication were less than successful.

VHF Radio

Our first instinct was to use our VHF radio to contact the ship and inform them of our position. We quickly realized, however, that we were unsure of the proper protocol for such a situation. What channel should we use? What was the appropriate language to use when addressing the ship’s crew? In our panic, we fumbled with the radio, wasting precious time as the ship continued to close in on us.

Visual Signals

As the ship drew nearer, we decided to try using visual signals to communicate our intentions. We frantically waved our arms and used a handheld air horn to try to attract the attention of the ship’s crew. Unfortunately, our efforts were in vain, as the ship continued on its course, seemingly oblivious to our presence.

Taking Evasive Action

With the ship now alarmingly close, we realized that we needed to take evasive action to avoid a collision. We quickly discussed our options as a family and decided to alter our course to starboard, hoping to pass behind the ship and avoid a potentially disastrous encounter.

Thankfully, our evasive maneuver was successful, and we watched with relief as the massive cargo ship passed by, mere meters from our sailboat. As we caught our breath and tried to process what had just happened, we realized that there were several important lessons to be learned from this near-collision.

Lessons Learned

1. Know Your VHF Radio Protocol

In an emergency situation, every second counts. Knowing the proper protocol for using your VHF radio can save valuable time and potentially prevent a dangerous situation from escalating. Familiarize yourself with the appropriate channels for distress calls, hailing other vessels, and communicating with the coast guard. Additionally, learn the standard language and terminology used in maritime communication to ensure that your messages are clear and easily understood.

2. Maintain a Proper Lookout

While it’s easy to become complacent when sailing in familiar waters, it’s essential to maintain a proper lookout at all times. This includes regularly scanning the horizon for other vessels, monitoring your radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System) if equipped, and keeping an ear out for any relevant VHF radio traffic. By staying vigilant and aware of your surroundings, you can identify potential hazards early and take appropriate action to avoid them.

3. Understand the Rules of the Road

As sailors, we share the ocean with a wide variety of vessels, from small fishing boats to massive cargo ships. It’s essential to understand the “rules of the road” that govern how vessels should interact with one another to prevent collisions. Familiarize yourself with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), which outline the responsibilities of vessels in various situations, including right-of-way, overtaking, and crossing situations.

4. Practice Effective Communication as a Family

In high-stress situations, clear and effective communication is crucial. Practice discussing potential emergency scenarios as a family, and ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. By fostering open communication and teamwork, you can help ensure that your family is prepared to handle any challenges that may arise while sailing.


Our near-collision at sea was a sobering reminder of the importance of effective communication while sailing. By learning from our mistakes and taking the time to educate ourselves and our family on proper maritime communication, we can help ensure that our future sailing adventures are both safe and enjoyable.

As you embark on your own sailing journey, remember that communication is key. Take the time to learn and practice proper VHF radio protocol, maintain a vigilant lookout, understand the rules of the road, and foster open communication within your family. By doing so, you’ll be better prepared to handle any challenges that may arise and enjoy a safer, more fulfilling sailing experience.