/ Ship distress signal

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jonny taylor on 31 Jul 2011
Anybody who has been on the Oldenburg to Lundy will recognise the safety briefing: "the general alarm signal consists of seven or more short blasts on the ships whistle followed by one long blast - or, a two-tone siren".
(If you here this alarm, STAY WHERE YOU ARE, etc etc!)

We were stood on the cliffs in Pembrokeshire the other day and we heard this exact sequence, probably from one of the tankers in the bay. We decided we had better ring the coastguard. After some deliberation with his colleagues the operator concluded the ship was giving the signal to another vessel of "I don't know what you are doing". I wasn't going to keep him on the line asking any more about it, but can anyone here shed any light on this? It strikes me as pretty silly to have a "normal" signal that is the same as an emergency signal. Any thoughts!?
Dominion - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor:

Aren't a lot of signals at sea based on avoiding collisions? ie telling another ship your intentions, or giving them an instruction as to what to do?

Someone has to make a decision, and a ship that cannot easily change speed or course, needs to make their intentions clear.

It makes sense to me...
jonny taylor on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to Dominion:
Not sure I understand your point - I think one of us has misunderstood something!

- The general alarm signal is ......._
See e.g. http://www.marineinsight.com/misc/marine-safety/different-types-of-alarms-on-ship/
- We heard a ship gave that signal
- The coastguard says the ship was in fact using that signal to indicate something that was not a "general alarm"
- I think it is bizarre that that signal has more than one use.

Wonko The Sane - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor: I think he was wrong and it was a drill. If the ship were trying to attract the attention of another small vessel for instance, there are plenty of other signals describing what his problem was.

Sure it wasn't five blasts, meaning 'I'm unsure of your intentions'?
Lee Sheard - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor:Its called the wake up signal. If all other forms of contact have failed ie: VHF.. If the tanker is RAM. Restricted in ability to manouver due to draught or narrow channel they will make said sound signal to wake the other guy up.
Wonko The Sane - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor:
> > - The coastguard says the ship was in fact using that signal to indicate something that was not a "general alarm"
> - I think it is bizarre that that signal has more than one use.

It doesn't.
What makes you think the person in a coastguard control room knows much about sailing? Sure, they'll know how to monitor channel 16 etc, but I doubt they all know sound signals. For the record:
1 blast = I'm turning starboard
2 blast = turning port
3 blasts = going astern
5 blasts = I don't know your intentions (I.E. wake the f*ck up)
1 long blast = going into a blind bend

there are others for overtaking too.
jonny taylor on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to Gunboat_Diplomat:
> Sure it wasn't five blasts, meaning 'I'm unsure of your intentions'?

Very sure! I have never heard the tankers in St Brides Bay sounding off in 25 years of being about there on and off, so it caught my attention and two of us counted the hoots. It was definitely 7 short and one long.

Maybe the coastguard guy didn't get it right, but he did put me on hold and consult with a colleague, so they obviously gave it some thought before telling me it was ok. Perhaps the explanation for *why* it was ok got lost in translation somewhere along the way!
jonny taylor on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor:
The only possible explanation I can think of was that I heard both an initial message *and* the response as one, although it sounded very consistent in its intervals as far as I can remember.
Wonko The Sane - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor: Any reason why it couldn't be a drill? they do happen.
jonny taylor on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to Gunboat_Diplomat:
OK, I missed that suggestion of yours. Could well be, though I'd have hoped they would have warned the coastguard in case well-intentioned passers-by dial 999!!
Goodwin912 - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor:

It will have been a drill. We have to do them every 2 weeks.

Remember the general alarm is only a signal to the crew of the vessel to action, it's not a call for assistance. Assistance will be requested via a UHF, VHF or AIS distress call. If you hear another vessel's general alarm you don't move in to help unless they ask you to.
jonny taylor on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to Goodwin912:
OK, guess that settles it then!

The only remaining mystery is why I've never heard this before! I reckon I've spent a full year of my life on the bay, which probably averages 3 or 4 tankers at anchor. Maybe they tend to do their drills at sea, or the wind was in an unusual direction or something.
birdie num num - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor:
He was probably tooting at a friend on another boat.
Goodwin912 - on 31 Jul 2011
In reply to jonny taylor:

We usually do it at sea. It's just the polite thing to do. Can be done anywhere really. The captain we have is nice, drills around lunchtime with a little warning. None of this 3am alarms out of the blue, though you do get up pretty rapid when they decide to do it.

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