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Notes on the Organisation of a Convoy

By Sue Richards last modified Aug 01, 2011 02:55 PM

Published: 2011-08-01 14:55:31
Topics: Piracy

These notes were originally prepared by Tom Sampson of SY Katanne following a super-convoy he organised from Salalah to Aden in January 2010. The piracy situation has changed dramatically since then and Tom believes that whilst the large convoy concept may have been considered a valid option in 2010, it no longer acts as a deterrent.

He has given Noonsite permission to retain these very useful convoy organisation notes on the website, however has asked that we remove all reference to the original route.

Any yachts considering organising or joining a convoy in this danger region, should study at length ISAF’s latest Warning Notice (July 2011).

Introduction

Back in January 2010 I decided to organise a convoy. It started off with just a few friends but by the time we left it had grown to 27 yachts. In order to be fair to everyone the position of each yacht was dictated from the date it asked to join the convoy so those asking first were at the front.

It soon became apparent that plans and procedures would be required if we were to keep 27 yachts in formation for 5 days and nights. The following (edited) notes are those I prepared for the convoy and they served us very well. Some of the skippers wanted to know if I had any qualifications or experience in running convoys. It gave confidence to some of them that I had a military background. Having now completed the passage there are some additional points worth making:

  1. The leader of the convoy should not try to micro manage, he/she will have enough to do dealing with all the problems that will occur. There will be potential disputes which can, if not dealt with promptly, cause upset within the convoy. He will be, in addition, a counsellor and a mediator. My abiding rule was that no-one was going to be left behind and I took whatever measures were necessary to ensure that 27 yachts arrived at our destination together.

    2. Boat speed should be determined by the speed of the slowest yacht but all should be able to make 5kts boat speed.

    3. During the passage we had 3 yachts suffer engine problems; 1 yacht was towed until his problem was fixed which only took 1 hr and another yacht had to be towed for 250 nms until we reached our destination. I had assumed that a tow might be necessary and one of the larger yachts had already volunteered to tow before we departed. On our last night we had 8 yachts get caught in fishing nets. On each occasion we went to loiter (engines in neutral) until the yacht had freed itself. The towing yacht moved slowly through the fleet and resumed his position when we went back to convoy speed. We also had a freighter coming from our stern that looked like he might run into the convoy so I asked all the yachts to put on their anchor lights. He very quickly turned away.

    4. The group leaders were absolutely essential and did most of the work keeping the convoy together. I often spoke to them alone and they then disseminated the information to the rest of their group. They dealt with any minor problems within their group kept me advised of any potential problems that would affect the convoy as a whole.

    5. Using code names for the yachts was also essential. It would have been very difficult to know instantly where any particular yacht was in the convoy without the code names. It also turned out that using exotic names (in our case birds of prey) created a bond within each group and even after the convoy had disbanded I occasionally heard the code names being used. The bonding of each group ensured that there was no enmity within that group and any minor indiscretions were easily forgiven.

    6. One of the yachts had had the foresight to leave his outboard on his dinghy which was on davits. We had to transfer fuel on one occasion between some yachts that were running short. It took only 15 minutes to complete the transfers.

    7. There was a lot of communication between yachts; a number of frequencies were available (15 and 17 were used). As leader I only listened to 67 but accepted that whilst much of the comms was not essential in the true sense, it was good for the morale of the convoy and also provided a deal of entertainment for those listening in!!

    8. That the convoy was a success was primarily due to the attitude adopted by everyone. Given that yacht skippers of the circumnavigation ilk are self sufficient, opinionated and necessarily of an independent nature, then it was remarkable that the convoy was so successful. Its success was also due to the use of group leaders. Don’t underestimate their value and choose them carefully. As leader I was a volunteer, the group leaders were press ganged into their position. Choosing the right group leaders is essential.

The following notes are those Tom prepared for the convoy and were distributed to all yachts taking part.

Convoy Guideline Notes

Murphy’s law (If something can go wrong – it will!!!) will prevail. There will be false alarms – innocent fishermen may look and act like pirates but are often only curious.

The skipper of each yacht is responsible for its safety and for the safety of the crew. If the skipper believes that the actions of the convoy are endangering his boat or crew, then he should take appropriate measures.

Convoy Formation

  • The convoy will formate in groups of 6, each group being 2 rows of 3. Separation distances will be determined once we are at sea.
  • The leader of the convoy will maintain a “track“ course between each waypoint. The 2 yachts either side will formate on him. The yacht behind the lead will maintain formation on the lead and the yachts either side will formate on him and maintain separation from the boats ahead.
  • The following groups will formate likewise on their lead yacht who will determine the distance from the group ahead.
  • At night the yachts in the centre of each row will display deck level navigation lights and all other yachts will display only deck level stern lights.
  • Those wishing to sail during the day and/or night should bear in mind that turning into wind to drop or reduce sail will cause havoc, so it is suggested that only furling sails are deployed.

Communications

  • Communications should be kept to a minimum. Common sense will dictate when and if there is a need to use make a call.
  • A schedule of the VHF frequency to be used each day is provided.
  • Ch 67 will be used as the initial contact frequency in addition yachts should monitor Ch 16. If any yacht believes a pirate attack might take place then he should make a call on 16 at high power.

Navigation

  • The route planned is roughly 12 miles off the coast. The convoy lead will follow the route but all yachts should continue to monitor their position. Navigational waypoints are provided.
  • Any unplanned course changes will be announced by the convoy leader. On Ch 16 “MF convoy go … ( the freq of the day) “ MF convoy course change degrees/ port or starboard”.
  • If sailing conditions are such that the convoy is having difficulty keeping the speed down to 5 kts, then the convoy leader will announce the SOG of the convoy which will always be the SOG of the slowest yacht in the convoy.

Night time Procedures

  • The convoy spacing can be increased at night . Separation distances will be determined once we are at sea but might typically be 200-300m.
  • Deck level navigation lights should be switched on and if necessary the group leaders can display their anchor lights which will assist in maintaining the formation.

Bad Weather

  • The perceived view is that pirates don’t carry out attacks in bad weather. It is also unlikely that we could maintain formation safely in bad weather. Therefore the convoy should dissolve and each yacht should make his way to the destination independently of other yachts. If the weather subsequently improves then yachts wishing to join up with others should make for the rhumb line of the route planned for the convoy.

Emergencies

Yacht Breakdown
If a yacht is unable to maintain 5 kts then the convoy will loiter until the cause is determined. This may mean skippers or crew of other yachts rendering assistance. During this time preparations will be made for towing the yacht. If this becomes necessary then once the tow is underway the speed of the convoy will be determined by the towing yacht.

Pirate Attack
In the unlikely event of a pirate attack the convoy will adopt the attack formation. The yacht sending the emergency call on Ch 16 will continue to act as the distress controller. It will be confusing if too many yachts make the distress call. There are so many scenarios that could occur if a yacht is boarded that decisions on what to do thereafter will be made at the time.

Routine Maintenance

  • If any yachts have to switch off their engines to carry out essential routine maintenance, then we will all loiter for 30 minutes at 0800 each day.
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