Radar Use In Target Dense Environments

by Captain Sean Blaise

While I was recently in the Gulf of Mexico, I was exposed to extremely dense radar target groupings while on night watch.

In the Gulf of Mexico the circumstances are unique, with over 10,000 structures for the oil and gas industry offshore as well as numerous support vessels working in the area. Some are marked on charts, most however are not. Some are lit, and some derricks and simple markers are not lit. Determining which targets are vessels and which are structures can be quite a overwhelming and terrifying experience without a little insight from someone who has done it before. Now with all this going on its very important to have radar information as I like to call it, Fast Essential and Obvious.

FAST: You need information FAST. You can’t spend 15 minutes on the radar stopping to acquire each and every target one after the other only to find that most of the targets you acquired were stationary objects.

ESSENTIAL: You need to have ESSENTIAL information only. Not target data from 12 miles away and moving away from you. You need to have only information that matters to you.

OBVIOUS: Everything needs to be obvious. Whether vessels are moving from right to left on your screen or left to right. Dumb it down. Keep your radar in heads up mode always, this makes it easiest to determine where to actually look for a vessel (off your port bow, starboard bow?, behind you?). You need everything to be obvious, because if you are a one person bridge (as most yachts are) you need to be able to quickly look at your radar and determine developing points of concern with other vessels.

ARPA –Automatic Radar Plotting Aid is the gold standard for determining target position, orientation, CPA (closest point of approach) and so on and so forth. It is a vital tool in determining what and where a risk of collision exists and if so what rules you and the other vessel are required to observe.

Now ARPA is great. It is a wonderful tool that perhaps eliminates any excuse for developing close quarters situations with vessels in restricted visibility. There is no excuse to have a .2 mile CPA when you know well ahead of time what the CPA will be. ARPA also makes it fast and easy to extend your CPA. When you alter course, you can easily see your CPA getting larger or smaller accordingly. Always remember the fastest way to increase CPA is by altering course, NOT SPEED.

Radar Screen

However, in a target dense environment, you cannot sit at the radar and acquire every single target in order to determine its threat. If you do that you will be standing at the radar the entire time, acquiring and un-aquiring targets that are neither relevant nor important to your vessel.

Now some mariners might say,” well then just use Auto Acquire on the ARPA and problem solved”. I can tell you from first hand experience that it does not work. Auto Acquire does a fine job of acquiring targets in your guard zone, but then whenever a target leaves that zone or enters it you will get an alarm. It will drive you absolutely nuts if there is a target rich environment around you as a target will be entering or leaving the zone constantly. Not to mention having the target vectors of tons of targets interweaving and crossing each other will confuse you completely.
ARPA should be only be used on targets which you already have established are in fact vessels and vessels that you want accurate CPA, TCPA and other information from that will help you make course decisions. So what should you do in target rich environments? To identify those targets?

Use a little talked about feature called TRAILS.

What is Trails? It’s a smudge of radar green that grows behind each target on the plotter like some weird green sea algae. It tells you which direction a target is coming from and therefore in which direction it is going.

So why is this feature important? Well it makes it easy to determine which targets are vessels and which are stationary objects. If you are in TRAILS (true) mode and you have a bunch of stationary targets, they will have no trail. All vessels on the other hand, will have very long and obvious trails behind them and will stand out on the radar.

Should you just use Trails to determine how to approach another vessel? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Trails will not give you the valuable CPA, TCPA, Range and Bearing information that ARPA will or AIS will. The point of Trails is to help you determine who is what and once you know that a vessel is crossing your bow or your stern, you then should acquire the target with your ARPA and proceed with that information to determine your required course of action. What Trails allowed you to do, was determine the important targets from the non-important stationary ones.


Trails losses its validity when you make rapid course changes because the trails will drag in a big circle all around every target which will cover the screen in green. Changing the range (which you should be doing often anyway) will wipe out previous trails which makes it a good way to clear the screen of long trails if you need to.

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The New Yacht Circle

I started Yacht Circle in 2008 as a unique idea to start a social networking/job placement system unlike any other in the yacht industry at the time. I was disillusioned with the Crew Agency/ process, and felt that will they were charging premium prices from owners and they weren’t necessarily looking out for crew, just looking to fill that next position with whomever, that desperate Captain or Owner would take.

The idea was simple, make a streamlined online system, flat rate fees for access to pools of employees and have a non-biased system for receiving resumes. We grew to over 1000 yacht crew members in less than a month on a shoe string budget. I continued to work the business from home, turning down much higher paying jobs actually working on the yachts, in order to keep it afloat.  Here’s what killed it:

Unscrupulous Captains: Exploited the system, hiring employees, using my 90 day money back guarantee to not pay. I had one Captain, who used the premium placement service, (basically like agencies are run now, I searched personally for him) looking for an engineer. Well I found him one, gave him the money back guarantee, and even suspended payment for the 90 day period. (talk about naive huh?)My engineer was hired on board.

Well this Captain finally calls me on what he believes to be day 89 (didn’t realize two of his months actually had 31 days) and tells me that he fired the Engineer for booze and drug issues. I say fine, but highly suspect of his intentions since it was day 89 and all, and concerned for my reputation because I had recommended this particular engineer, I called the engineer directly and asked him why he had been fired. He freaked out, ran to the Captain saying whats this I’m fired? The Captain proceeded to tell me that it was wrong for me to call the employee direct!

Needless to say, that captain kept the engineer on board for nearly a year. He offered to pay me 1000 of the 5000 owed to me, and told me to take it or leave it. In fact, he said if I wanted to sue I could pursue it against the Cayman island corporation who owned the boat. This was a glaring result of incredible deceit on his part, but also my own stupidity and naivety in business. And he had been someone I trusted and considered a friend. Live and you learn.

I took a break from Yacht Circle, and went to sea again. I still am at sea.

But we’re back finally and my aim for Yacht Circle is simpler now. I will produce a jobs page for free, employers and employees can post jobs, and connect with one another without an agency, just like yacht crew do every day over drinks at bars, and through friends of friends. I will post news and information on the Maritime industry in general as well as answer questions regarding getting licenses and whatever else you have questions about.

Who am I? I am Captain Sean Blaise, I am a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Maine Maritime Academy. I have sailed over 65k miles at sea, almost all of my time on board private yachts from 80-265 feet in length. I currently hold a 1600/3000 Master from the USCG as well as a 3000 Master from the Isle of Man, and a 3rd Mate Unlimited Tonnage License. I Captained a sail training vessel half way around the world, and taught IYTs 200 Yacht Master course as well. So that’s a little about me. Any questions just ask!


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Terror In The Kingdom of Tonga

by Cpt Sean Blaise

Working at any job, for a prolonged period of time one can develop complacency. Like a metastasizing cancer, it grows slowly deep inside until ultimately, an event happens, a close call perhaps, that makes you aware of it. Unlike cancer, thank God, you can change complacency.

I remember one such close call, while I was delivering a 157’ motor yacht between Fiji and Tahiti. We had just had a brutal passage from Fiji to the Island of Tonga in the South Pacific. The yacht was basically way out of its league in this huge blue water, and going the wrong way against the seas as we were traveling from west to east. We were averaging about 15 foot swells, with a just short enough period that we were able to substantially bury the bow on pretty much every wave. I remember lying down in my bunk, watching my stomach rising and falling as the yacht flexed beneath us and wondering if we were going to make it without breaking apart. I would, in all honesty, have given anything for a 50 ft steel sailboat at that point!

Well when we arrived in Tonga, we were relieved to say the least, and we need some R &R before the next passage to Tahiti, which promised to be rougher still and longer at around 5 days. We went to the local bar, “Tonga Bob’s” I think it was, and we had some cocktails while listening to Jack Johnson on the radio no less! We gave them a t-shirt of our yacht, since there were hundreds hanging on the walls, and we wanted to insert our little slice of posterity amongst our friends in the industry. Then we called our deckhand on watch and got a pick up in the yacht’s tender.

Once we got back to the boat, we noticed that the yacht next to us was having a party. They were playing loud music, and it just seemed like a really good time. So a couple of us got into the tender and drove over to visit. It was a really sweet Nordhaven 78’ motor yacht, that had just completed a journey of over 6000 miles directly from Hawaii! Now our celebration from our 3 day passage seemed a little inappropriate, but we forgave ourselves and partied along with our new friends anyway.

A couple hours later, more than a little inebriated, the drunk people decided in that infinite wisdom we all get after a few rum punches, that swimming in the crystal blue water would be a great idea. Before long we were all jumping in the water, and splashing around and having a grand old time.

I remember pulling myself up on the swim platform when I turned around to see an old native man rowing by in what looked like a dugout canoe. I turned and gave him a smile with the innocence of the blissfully numb, however, he looked quite grave. I was confused and he pulled his boat up alongside, and I thought he was going to complain about the music being too loud or something, when he said.

“No good, no swim here at night. Many sharks.”

I was no longer smiling and told the deckhand about to jump in the water to wait.

“Sharks?” I said.

“Many many sharks” he replied. “Just one week ago, a tourist tried to swim across this bay and she was eaten”

Now I took this with a grain of salt, as most local legends form, sometimes the accuracy is a little lacking .

“You have lights?” the old man queried pointing a bony bent finger downwards.

I turned to our new friends, and asked the yacht’s captain if he had underwater lights. He  went inside to find them, while my deckhand was yelling for permission to jump. I told him no again, in a more stern voice having heard this story now.

And like that ray of sunshine that hits actors in the movies, the underwater lights exploded on over thirty sharks, swarming in a circle directly underneath the boat. Even the old man gasped as he looked down with a toothless grimace.

“No swim.” he said again as he pushed his little boat away.

I remember sitting down heavily on that teak swim deck, and looking shocked at how close we had come to disaster. The sharks were no doubt attracted by the splashing and loud erratic heartbeats of us having a good time, and who knows if they ever would have attacked. But I sure am glad for that old man, smacking some sense into us.

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South Africa Visa Trouble

Just a quick note on South Africa and crew changes there. When I was in Cape Town in Janurary of last year, we came across an issue during a crew change. At the time, I worked aboard a traveling school ship, and as such we had large groups, say 24 students at a time leaving  the vessel and arriving every three months or so. During the previous year, we had had a group of students depart the vessel, and they were signed off the crew list as per the usual order of operations. We then had 24 new students arrive, and we signed them on the crew list which is where the problems began.

During our attempt to Clear immigration and customs, we requested the right to leave the country and we were denied at first. The reason being, the government of South Africa wanted proof that all of our previous crew (students/passengers) had actually departed the country before they would approve us to sign on the new arrivals. This was a highly unusual occurence, and we were fighting the immigration authorities on the grounds that we had no proof that they had left, execept flight numbers, and home addresses. Well according the immigration authority, they were required to find out where all of our previous crew members were, BEFORE they would process the new crew. He apologized profusely for the delay, recognizing that it would be very difficult to determine where those people all were at any given time, after all some may have remained and did exploring South Africa, quite legally on visas.

However, according to the immigration officer, ships were coming into Cape Town with African crews, among others, and unloading huge numbers of crew, who would then stay in the country illegally. So the authorities were tracking down as many crews as they could in a crack down. In the end it came down to 2 students, whom we had to prove were in the United States by looking at facebook pages of all ways!

The big irony here is that the South African immigration computers at the airport, are NOT available or connected to the ship immigration authorities, so finding out whether or not our crew had left was rather difficult. However, we had written down all crew’s flight details for just such an occurence and one by one the immigration authorities proved that our previous crew had departed on their scheduled flights.

Lessons learned, are to ALWAYS write down the flight details of passengers and crew when they disembark. This may be your only proof that your guests actually left the country. And hire an agent while in South Africa, as it can save a lot of time in the end.

After three days delay, we were allowed to leave South Africa by the authorities, until of course we discovered that in order to enter Brazil, we had to apply for Visa’s before we left South Africa! But that’s another blog….

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The Horrible Captain “”Yes””

Yes. Such a small word, three tiny letters that are barely heard. Yet it can contort and distort the realms of reality and it can bind yacht crew like rusty iron chains to the whims of the owner. Yes.

As all good yacht crew know a Captain is an all powerful being. A god of sorts on the yacht. He is to be obeyed, somewhat worshipped and most definitely a little bit feared. But he should also be a benevolent god, whose aim is to protect his crew at all costs, in both physical and emotional senses. They say however, that absolute power, corrupts absolutely. We know all to often how much this can apply to yacht captains.

There will always be the Captain Blighs, who rule the ship with a iron and uncaring fist. But Blighs also tend to control their vessels, and are almost 100% likely to say NO to an owner on a ridiculous request. They after all see themselves as in charge.

There is the Captain Friend, who fails to control his crew as well as he should. Discipline slacks, there is little respect for authority and the vessel kind of wanders of its own free will. This also kills crew moral and eventually the boat and owners pay the ultimate price.

Then there is the Captain “Yes”. This is a Captain who for whatever reason, refuses to say no to the owner. The Owner wants to eat a marsh deer, while sitting in Nassau, the Captain cheerfully says “yes sir”. The chef then spends the next 9 hours with the proverbeal spear, sitting the marshes of the local grocery store and he for all his good intentions comes up empty. After telling his skipper that marsh deer is impossible to catch, the Captain will say “well you go tell the owner he has to eat chicken”. And ultimately it is the Chef who becomes the bearer of bad news.

The Owner says, “I want the deckhands to do a wash down”, even though they have all already been up for 17 hours running guests to shore and back and putting in toys and tenders, “yes sir” says your captain. And there you are, 3:30 in the morning falling asleep in the tender, your head bobbing ever so softly against the hull, while your illustrious skipper is asleep in his cabin.

There is a saying in business, “under promise and over deliver”. It is folly to over promise and under deliver. Unfortunately there are Captains who just can’t say no.

Now it is our job to meet our clients every wish and desire. Our clients are all the very upper echelons of the world and they have certain expectations. We must never forget that it is their high standards that allow us the luxury of living in a 2o million dollar floating palace every day. We must as yacht crew say “Yes” whenever we can. However, a captain should never say that he can do something for the owner, when he in fact cannot. I see all to often in this business, Captains that will promise the client the world and when it proves to be impossible to achieve blames the failings, on his horrible crew.

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Glowing Dolphins

Location: Underway to Barbados in the Atlantic Ocean
There come days in every persons life that are quite simply, perfect. Our night watch from 8 to 12 last night was one such occasion. As a professional mariner, I have stood hundreds if not a thousand watches, and there have been many watches in that time period of note. But last night took the cake.

We saw glowing dolphins!!! This wasnt some horrible irradiated byproduct of nuclear waste but was due to thousands of tiny bioluminescent plankton, that when disturbed give off the same eerie green light that you find so often in your expensive watch hands so that you can read it at night. This pod of dolphins discovered that if they rode the bow wave of Argo not only were they getting a free ride to surf and play, but they easily picked off the dazed and confused little fish that scattered in front of the bow wave. The dolphins would shoot in and out of the bow wake as they chased fish, and like glowing green torpedoes we watched with fascination their every movement. They look liked green wraiths, with long comet style tails of glowing luminescence flowing behind each individual dolphin. When the dolphins accelerated after a fish, their tails would explode in bright light as the plankton roared their disapproval at being disturbed yet again. It was a stellar and gorgeous ballet of symmetry of movement and agility. Quite simply, it was one of those perfect moments that make you stop and take stock, jaw agape in awe at natures magnificence, your own insignificance, and the meaning of being happy.

I have concluded that to me, being happy, is to obtain absolute contentment in a moment, however fleeting, a moment, in which, the past and the future cease to exist, and only the present matters. I had that moment last night, and had I been alone it would have been amazing. But sharing it with special people made it, unforgettable.

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A SIRIus Market

For all the hype and debate that is ongoing about the viability or profitability of satellite radio, I have to say that there seems to be very little positive information on what a remarkable product SIRIUS actually offers its listeners. It also seems that in the stock market discussion about the profitability of Sirius, that there is very little focus on any other market except the auto industry. Although the Auto market represents the growth market responsible for the largest acquisitions of new subscribers for the company, I feel that there is a market out there that has a huge growth potential that is being poorly, and otherwise ineffectively targeted. This elusive gem is the marine market.

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that some of the most loyal and unyielding SIRIUS XM subscribers make their livings on the sea. Whether it be commercial fishing, yacht crew, tug boats, harbor ferries or any other maritime sea-faring activity SIRIUS XM is there. I was just recently on one such vessel in Northern California for over 2 months straight at sea and on board we had nhttps://i1.wp.com/www.mediabistro.com/agencyspy/original/sirius-xm-logo.jpgo fewer than 8 separate satellite receivers!

As truckers well know, there is nothing that beats radio when you’re running mechanically intense operations or engaging in standing a watch for 8 hours straight. You can’t watch tv, no matter how fancy they make it, it’s simply unsafe. And you have to remember that because we are miles offshore, we are always out of FM/AM range and cell phone range as well. So what’s left for entertainment?

SIRIUS. You can catch the latest headlines on CNN with Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room, or you can listen to the latest business news on CNBC. And if you sprung for the extra few bucks when you bought your receiver, you can even have your stock portfolio scrolled right across your screen with real time quotes letting you keep track of your investments while underway. Looking for a laugh? Raw Dog can’t be beat. Looking for some audio caffeine? Try the Strobe. Missing the playoffs at home while you’re out catching salmon in Alaska? Listen to them live right on your MLB channels!

I think I speak for all us sea-faring Sirius loyalists, that there is no better product in the world than Sirius. Hell there is nothing that has made making a living on the high seas more bearable since the invention of coffee, than the advent of Sirius.

https://i1.wp.com/www.panbo.com/assets_c/2009/02/Lowrance_HDS_Sirius_cPanbo-thumb-465x348-118.jpgSIRIUS also provides a Marine weather program that downloads real time marine weather information right to a compatible chart plotter. This weather service is unparalleled in the industry providing valuable and relevant marine weather warnings and information. It downloads real time and displays various types of information including wind/wave data, national buoy information and more. I unfortunately feel like SIRIUS has focused so much on the car market that it has not really developed this valuable product. I’d like to see Sirius focus more on this product and really push it out there in the marine industry where it is invaluable for safety and can truly save lives.

What would I like to see from Sirius in the future? Maybe a low cost internet solution for an extra monthly fee. Or a Gmail download function via the Sirius satellites to a tablet style receiver. I think the possibilities are endless for SIRIUS on the Sea.

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