Traffic separation schemes are very busy places and demand the highest levels of knowledge and seamanship to handle them safely.
Small craft, that is vessels sailing or vessels less than 20m long should not be using the lanes, but should pass through the inshore traffic zone. This is an area where the only shipping should be fishing boats, ferries and small ships working out of nearby harbours.
The only time a small craft should enter the traffic separation lanes should be to cross from one side to the other, and if this can be avoided it is usually worth going a little out of our way to do so. This crossing should be, so that the vessel's heading is at 90° to the lane, of course this means that you will be set down tide. In areas such as the Dover Straits this means entering the lanes in the correct position so that you are swept down to the desired exit point!
If a sailing vessel can not cross at 90° to the lane because of the wind direction it may be prudent to motor straight across if conditions are suitable. In stronger winds when this is not a viable option, the course which is closest to 90° should be followed.
An important point for skippers of small craft to remember is that although they should not impede the passage of vessel in the lanes, ships crossing the lanes follow Rule 15 when they meet vessels following the lanes. This means that a ferry crossing from Boulogne to Dover would not give way to vessels in the north east bound lane, but would give way to the south west bound traffic. The reason this is important is that it is easy to assume that crossing traffic will give way to vessels in the lanes, then place yourself in a position where one of the vessels need to turn in to.
In poor visibility, the presence of vessels fishing, is often an indication that you are crossing through the separation zone. This is a strip of water which provides a separation between the two lanes of traffic. Because vessels may fish in this area, it can be a useful indication that you have left one traffic lane and that shipping will soon be coming from the other direction.
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