Pilotage

Traffic lights

Traffic signals can come in many variations, most smaller harbours have some sort of local signals, the best way to find out what they are is to read the pilot book or almanac. Beware if locals do not appear to be following the rules, they may know something you do not!

Larger harbour will probably use the International Port Traffic Signals, but they frequently have local variations.

3 flashing red lights.
Serious emergency all vessels to stop or divert according to instructions.
3 fixed red lights.
Vessels shall not proceed. (Note some ports may use an exemption signal, as shown below).
3 green lights.
Vessels may proceed. One way traffic.
2 green and 1 white light.
Vessels may proceed. Two way traffic.
Green above a white above a green light.
A vessel may proceed only when she has received specific orders to do so. (Note some ports may use an exemption signal, as shown below).
Green above white above green with a yellow light.
A vessel may proceed when she has received specific orders to do so, except that vessels which can navigate outside of the main channel need not comply with the main message.
3 red and 1 yellow light.
Vessels shall not proceed, except that vessels which can navigate outside of the main channel need not comply with the main message.
White and/or yellow lights displayed to the right of the main lights.
Local meaning, as published in the local port notices.

Major harbours, such as Dover, control very tightly the movement of vessels. In these places you must comply with the rules, the consequences for not doing so could be very expensive! If you are in doubt, call the port control up on the port operations channel. The best channel to select is the one in bold type when listed in the almanac.

A prudent skipper will always be monitoring the local port control traffic on the VHF radio (VTS), this is where a speaker mounted in the cockpit can be invaluable.

One piece of invaluable information is when ships call up the VTS to give their positions. Especially in restricted visibility this gives the small craft the ability to know when not to be in the channel. The pilot reporting points are indicated on the chart with this symbol.

Pilot reporting point.

The vessel has to report its position to the VTS when it is travelling in the indicated direction, there may be more than one direction indicated. There is a pilot reporting point on chart 4D at the entrance to Port Fraser at 46°23.7'N 05°59.9'W.

Most major harbours have websites that can be accessed before the cruise as part of your passage planning.

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