This surprises every sailor in the country, right?

The UK Border Force is risking collisions in the Channel, say experts, as it is claimed their vessels are acting in an “unseaman-like” manner by turning off tracking systems.

Merchant shipping operating on autopilot in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes often rely on the location devices as their “only means of anti-collision”.

The Border Force cutters operating off the Kent coast have potentially risked collision by failing to use the internationally-recognised Automatic Identification System (AIS), which alerts fellow seafarers and coastal authorities of their location, route and other safety-related information to aid safe passage at sea.

I hadn’t realised that the system allowed the immigration stasi to drive their own boats. Can’t help thinking that allowing the RN to do the seamanship bit might not be better. Or the water wing of the Girl Guides perhaps.

25 thoughts on “This surprises every sailor in the country, right?”

  1. The waterborne plod making themselves difficult to spot so that criminals can’t evade them? Damned unsporting, what?

  2. One of those small RN boats likely costs £20k++ a day to operate – a more cost effective tactic might be to pay French fishermen a £5k bounty for each group of travellers returned to France?

    In terms of turning off AIS and radar spoofing kit – there is a recent incident that shows that that at least in part was responsible for a major whoopsie in Norway

  3. If a dinghie went under a container ship would anyone even know? I don’t imagine the ship would notice and I presume there would be little left of the boat and its unfortunate occupants.

  4. Kevin Lohse: “The waterborne plod making themselves difficult to spot so that criminals can’t evade them?”

    Are they really worried that the people smugglers have the technology?

  5. AIS has long update intervals and extrapolates the path between updates. I have seen the track of a ship going a mile up into the hills behind Carrickfergus.
    If they use AIS for collision avoidance, they are being lazy. If they use it as their *only* means of collision avoidance they are nuts.

  6. I bet our military use radio silence in wartime to stop giving their position away to the enemy. Simply not fair!

  7. Rev Spooner, if you are relying on mobile network coverage in the English Channel, then the answer is no. There are times when you can be covered by a mobile signal all the way across but the atmospherics and the workings of tidal currents mostly militate against unbroken coverage

  8. Naval ships of all nationalities operate with AIS switched off. It’s a relatively new system and, as others have pointed out, using AIS as the only anti-collision device is lazy, dangerous and stupid.

  9. JuliaM said:
    “Are they really worried that the people smugglers have the technology?”

    The technology required is minimal; ship trackers are freely available on the internet, so a smartphone will do it (true, that probably won’t work into the middle of the channel, although it does go a surprising way, but it’ll give them a good warning of where plod are).

    Also the other day someone mentioned here a rise in thefts of boats from northern France; they will presumably have all the necessary technology installed.

  10. Wot Julia said.

    The Royal Navy is basically just a waterborne Safe Space that doesn’t do Rum or The Lash anymore. The Girl Guides have more testicles between them than the entire Admiralty.

  11. Diogenes – I often find that on the South Coast, my mobile connects to French networks. This is understandable at the foot of the cliffs in the DOver-Folkestone region, as it is sheltered from UK transmitters, and France isn’t that far away.
    But on the Isle of Wight or in Dorset?

  12. “If they use AIS for collision avoidance, they are being lazy. If they use it as their *only* means of collision avoidance they are nuts”

    Even if some merchant ships DO fail to maintain proper lookouts, one might [reasonably] expect our Border Force & Navy to have fully manned (sorry, “peopled”) bridges at all times – it’s their bloody job, after all! So they could easily change course to keep clear of any marauding tankers, container ships, etc…

  13. Diogenes – what Richard said. The mobile signal works a fair way out, even at sea level.
    But you don’t need it in absolute real time if ypu are in a RIB wot goes fast. Likely you only need to check (if you could see them) that the BF vessels are far enough away from your route for it to be safe to set off.

  14. Bloke in North Dorset

    “AIS has long update intervals and extrapolates the path between updates. I have seen the track of a ship going a mile up into the hills behind Carrickfergus.”

    That must one of he Internet apps, Marine Traffic? Out at sea the AIS transmitter sends regularly, for large ships I thinks it max 10s between updates, but from my experience its more like 5s.

    My AIS receiver (not cheap) connects by WiFi to an app on my iPad and laptop and I can assure you its virtually real time and if its longer than 10s the target boat goes yellow. I get speed and direction of target boat and, knowing my speed and bearing I can set collisions warnings for as far out as it will receive a VHF signal.

    The problem in busy shipping lanes is that AIS alarms are permanently going off as ships change direction, ferries cross your path and fishing boats are zotting about all over the place. With everything else going on on the bridge of a big ship AIS alarms tend to fade into the background, or so I am told on the sailing forums by those who have served on the big ships.

    Collison regulations are quite clear:

    Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.

    Any skipper who doesn’t have a look-out in buy areas like the channel and has a collision will be spending a very long time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.


    “I bet our military use radio silence in wartime to stop giving their position away to the enemy. Simply not fair!”

    Indeed we do, in fact we go much further. We even listen to their nets (in the Falklands we had three Spanish speakers from the I Corps, and, when the time is right, we jam their signals. We had good fun listening to an artillery Forward Observation Officer trying to talk to his base and give them the position of some of our troops. Every time he got to the coordinates he was jammed, until our own artillery figured out where he was and took him out,

  15. This is pure bullshit. The Channel has very well defined shipping lanes which large vessels are obliged to use. There are also long established and globally recognised rules for avoiding collisions at sea. Not running into other ships isn’t difficult unless you’re either too lazy or unseamanlike to keep a proper lookout.

    If you’re relying solely on tech to do it for you, you shouldn’t be allowed to put to sea in the first place.

  16. There is only an increased risk of collision if the border force let themseves collide with large vessels which are clearly visible on their own AIS display. This is no different to a small vessel with only an AIS receiver, which will often take early and obvious avoiding action in shipping lanes even when they are the stand on vessel. From personal experience many commercial vessels *do* navigate on autopilot and AIS alone, especially at night (when non-AIS collision identification is often sadly neglected due to the success and simplicity of AIS), so an early course change to prevent a potential collision is in practice often the safest option.

    However, they most certainly *are* increasing the risk of collision with smaller vessels though, as neither will be visible on AIS, thus requiring traditional collision identification and avoidance in a very busy shipping area where one vessel is actively trying to remain unseen.

  17. …that doesn’t do Rum or The Lash anymore.

    Well, thank goodness they are preserving some of the traditions…

  18. “The Border Force cutters operating off the Kent coast”

    Plural is wrong, there is One. The two in Med were still in port earlier today – one in Gib, one in Lesbos.

    AIS Off on cutter – non-story, doesn’t affect others on auto-pilot. Cutter Capt hardly likely to suicide into another boat – assuming he’s not RoP or she.

  19. Commercial vessels do not use AIS as a means of keeping a lookout, they use RADAR and the eyeball for that. AIS combined with RADAR is a useful tool for obtaining the identity of other vessels but for anti-collision information the RADAR has much more adequate plotting facilities. In my experience small boats and yachts use AIS as a kind of RADAR allowing them to “see” if there are any other vessels around (though of no use if any of the vessels around has an non operational AIS), and to broadcast their position to any vessels that may not have seen them on RADAR due to bad weather when sea clutter can obscure a small target on RADAR.

  20. In 2010, I was stopped midway between Italy and Greece at about 1am by an Italian police (Guardia Finanzia?) vessel and asked for my papers.

    5 minutes earlier, I was looking in their direction and there were no navigation lights to be seen. The first I knew about their presence was a sodding great floodlight shining on my yacht.

    Immigration vessels switch everything off when hunting illegal immigrants and always have done.

    I’d be interested to know which “experts” were interviewed.

    Oh, and when I checked my position afterwards I realised I was in international waters too, to really top it off.

  21. As others have said this entire article is nonsense

    Collision avoidance is not dependent on the presence or absence of AIS and warships plus certain government vessels are specifically exempted from the AIS rules

    These ‘experts’ are presumably some bloke down the pub.It was written by a former Army officer….need I say more?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *