Visibility Line

Skipper, captain and pilot

The Hamburg harbour pilots would like to give skippers a few pointers to help them improve the way they
deal with shipping in the port.
Incoming vessels are normally joined by large pilot boats between Blankenese and Teufelsbrück in the southern side of the fairway. The pilot boats sail alongside the starboard side of the ship, manoeuvring at speeds of between 6 and 10 knots. In the Finkenwerder Pfähle (Airbus) area tugs often transfer their towing line, and have to approach very close to the ship. The ships have very little room for manoeuvre; therefore sport boats must keep enough distance at this stage. The vessels are moving and do not really slow down.
In most cases a „slow“ ship is faster than, and can overtake, a yacht. Sport boats should switch on their VHF transmitters and leave channel 74 open, as ships use this channel to signal their positions and manoeuvres. Some standard turning manoeuvres can be confusing for skippers who are not aware of them. On the high tide, large container ships turn to starboard (clockwise) in front of Parkhafen, on the ebb tide they turn to port and need the total width of the waterway.
XXL container carriers (more than 360 metres length) always turn to port!

During the turning manoeuvre the forward and aft tugs can suddenly appear from behind the vessel on up to 60 metres long towing lines. Here yachts must keep at a safe distance, especially as the ships may manoeuvre at high engine capacity. Once a manoeuvre has begun it cannot be halted, due to the limited space, the size of the ship and the current – it is physically impossible for a large ship to give way! A similar manoeuvre takes place in front of Vorhafen. Here the container ships turn to port, also at high tide, and are taken into the outer harbour backwards. This turning manoeuvre also needs the full width of the river. Besides these turning manoeuvres on the Elbe, the ships also sail into the southern parts of the port and river channels. Large ships have to begin their turning manoeuvres very early on from the middle of the river in order to match the current. The ship will run aground if it tries to stop turning!

Container ships, and often other types of ships, have large blind spots in front which cannot be seen from the bridge.
The above photograph gives an impression of this restricted vision - see also our two demo pages below.
There is always great concern on board if a yacht sails into this area, particularly if it is tacking, as the pilot can never be sure how close the boat is to the bow. From the skipper’s point of view the distance might seem more than adequate, after all he can see the ship and he can always change course. But it’s a very different view from on board a large ship!

Skippers, captains and pilots can all work together and avoid conflict. We strongly recommend keeping VHF channel 74 open at all times, keeping the engine ready to start, keeping a safe distance, avoiding the blind spot in front of the ship and clearly communicating your intentions to the ship. And please think carefully about whether it’s a good idea to tack across the shipping channels.

Safe sailing!

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