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Boating Near & In Commercial Shipping Lanes

Commercial Shipping Traffic in Puget Sound

Although there are no commercial shipping lanes in the Sierra, boaters will encounter commercial shipping lanes in other parts of the country. The San Francisco Bay area and Puget Sound near Seattle are examples of areas where there are commercial shipping lanes and recreational boaters are required to know the Navigational Rules when boating in these areas. The photo above shows two large commercial vessels in Puget Sound. The ship on the left is "inbound" while the one on the right is "outbound". Ships of this type typically can travel at speeds of 20 knots, or a mile every three minutes.

Because of their limited ability to maneuver, smaller recreational vessels are required to "give way" to these larger vessels.

Commercial Shipping Lanes

The image above (from a GPS chartplotter) shows the shipping lanes (magenta colored dotted lines) while the two radar images are the ships shown in the first picture. The recreational boat (lower portion of the photo) is travelling slightly inside the shipping lane but a safe distance from the commercial ship. Although it is ideal to travel outside of the shipping lanes if possible, in this case the recreational vessel has to travel slightly inside the shipping lane so as to stay in safe water. The recreational vessel should travel in the same direction as the commercial traffic. Vessels should not fish in the traffic lanes nor should they anchor there unless it is an emergency. If a vessel must cross the shipping lanes the vessel should cross perpendicular to those lanes. Vessels should cross behind any commercial vessel.

Commercial Shipping Lane

This image is from a NOAA chart and depicts a similar area to the GPS chart shown above. It is apparent from this chart why the recreational vessel is travelling in the traffic lane having just passed Three Tree Point where there is little safe water between the point and the traffic lane.

Communications with Commercial Vessels in the Shipping Lanes

Commercial ships in a defined VTS (Vessel Traffic Safety) lane are not required to monitor VHF channel 16 although many of them do. They are requred to monitor channel 13, the bridge to bridge channel. Should you need to contact a commercial vessel, they should be contacted on that channel. These commercial vessels are required to monitor the relevant VTS channel, in this case channel 14 as well. This channel is Sector Seattle located at Pier 36 and is known as "Seattle Traffic". Further north, the appropriate channel is 5A as you transit into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Canadian VTS takes over closer to Victoria (Victoria Traffic).

It is a good policy for recreational boaters to monitor channel 13 when near commercial shipping traffic as well as channel 16. Many VHF radios have "dual watch" where two channels can be monitored at the same time. The U.S. Coast Guard requires, however, that two different radios must be used to monitor 16 and 13. This typically could be done with a hand held VHF at the helm station.

More information about the Vessel Traffic Safety system is available from the Coast Guard. This applies to Sector Seattle in Puget Sound. Other areas, such as San Francisco, have different requirements and channels.