Saturday, November 06, 2010

Rights of Navigation Question

I went out to Yellow Bluff in Sausalito yesterday (Friday, November 5) to take photographs of kayakers playing in the tide rip that forms there on strong ebb tides. Saw something which I found to be disturbing, which I wanted to run by others and see what they think.

Note - to see a larger version of the photos, click on the photo and then under "Actions" click on "View all sizes". Flickr changed the system, so this is not as easy to do as it used to be.


This picture above shows the Yellow Bluff tide rip from the bluff. Current is going from left to right, and creates a choppy condition in this location. There are 3 kayakers in the rip, though at least one the boat is of a coloring that is hard to see.

The rip is the roughly triangle shaped patch of rough water you can see. On the right side (as we look at it) is calm water - that is an eddy and the water there is actually going the opposite direction from the rip. The calmed water outside of the choppy water is going the same direction as in the rip, but doesn't have the underwater geography causing the current to form any waves there. Plenty of open water out in the Bay for boats to get through - this is not an area of limited navigation.

Kyakers go to play in these waves. When conditions are right, there is a train of waves that slowly moves forward in the rip, which the kayaker can surf. But there is also a lot of chop, so a place where even experts need to constantly work to control their boats. When I am in the rip, I keep a good distance from other kayakers for safety reasons.


Empress of Sausalito, a 90 foot commercial tour boat that does Bay Cruises, parties, etc., looking to run straight through the rip. I took notice because I was surprised such a large boat would be that close to shore and it also looked like he would go close to the kayakers.


Still approaching the kayakers. This is looking like he is going to be much closer to them than I would care for.


Close up to show how close he got. The three paddlers were all experienced, so able to control their boats - but what if they had been more novice and got thrown off by the chop (or the Empress' wake)?


Empress of Sausalito continuing on to (presumably) its dock in Sausalito. Thankfully no one bumped into another.

Here is a PDF summarizing the rules of navigation. I would say that the Empress was overtaking the kayaks (all where facing the same way, though the kayaks were not making any forward progress against the current, so this could be argued) and that it would have been against Rule 8 for passing so close should a collision have occurred.

So, what do you think? Do you think the Empress put the kayakers at undue risk? If so, what could the kayakers do different next time to help reduce this risk?

ps - one reason I am posting this is to provide specific info for future reference on the Empress, as others have mentioned times they have had close calls with the Empress. Those times are hear-say. But should a situation happen in the future, by putting what I saw on the web, there will be some public info that could possible be used to show a history.



At 11:15 AM, Blogger Maryly Snow said...

I'd say someone should call the Empress on its pathway. Either an actual telephone call or better yet, a cautionary letter. Or, at least inform the company that manages the Empress of your photographs.

P.S. I didn't see ANY picture for the visual verification until I hit Post, and then the word appeared.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

@Maryly - yes, Blogger changed the system such that you don't verify until after you choose which "identity" to post under. Nothing I can control.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Captain Gerry said...

Hi...Although I am hesitant to respond to this post I feel some clarification is necessary. I am the Captain on Empress and hold a 100 ton masters license. I sail The San Francisco Bay pretty much every day of the year. I have been sailing Sausalito and The San Francisco Bay all my Life. I have been there when sailors sailboarders and kayakers get in trouble and have assisted many times with the Coast Guard and local authorities with search and rescue. When the rip comes off yellow bluff kayakers often go play in that rip...As well as the same phenomenon at the golden gate bridge....Think of the ebb rip like a river. When the ebb is strong it can move at well over 4 knots in these spots. When I approached Yellow Bluff yesterday the Kayakers came out to me. The reason they do that is to get to my wake....then they can get an extra kick whoop---eee! That’s about it! If someone wants to contact me anytime they are welcome about this subject or any other. I am an extremely safe operator and I or any of my captains will never put my business or his or her license at risk to go close to a couple of kayakers….nor would we put our boat and crew or anyone’s boat (kayak) in danger. Thank you, Captain Gerry K Robertson Empress Events Sausalito Ca.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I was one of the three Kayakers. The Captain is correct in that we 3 paddled over to his path in order to catch his wake. The captain was being very cautious-it seemed to me. We were actually disappointed that he wasn't kicking up a bigger wave.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anders said...

I just want to thank Captain Gerry for his post here! I wasn't there, but from looking at the pictures, given that these were experienced kayakers, it seems to me that everything was fine and kosher. I am a certified kayak instructor and have extensive experience kayaking on the bay, and have spent many years racing sail boats on the bay. I have never seen a commercial vessel operator do anything inappropriate. Being in a kayak you are certainly very exposed, and there is often a nagging question if those 'other boats' have seen you. But we need to realize that these are very busy water ways, and what is ample margin to a professional vessel operator may seem like a close call to less experienced kayakers expecting to have a significant part of the bay on their own I(that just won't happen)...

Now, talk let's talk about recreational motorboat owners instead... That's where the problem is (but of course, many of those are very skilled too! - but certainly not all). It seems that the range in behavior is huge, and for many it seems that anything goes - I've even had a friend in a kayak literally being run over by motor boat. Luckily she wasn't hit by the propeller and managed to roll up again, but that was pure luck...

So, to summarize, in my experience, the professional captains are our friends but watch out for the recreational motor boats.


At 4:02 PM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

Thanks for all the replies, in particular Captain Gerry's. I am relived to hear that it was just me being of an impression of there being danger, where the parties who were actually on the water did not feel that way.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger California Kayaker Magazine said...

Marcus tried to post this, but t didn't work. So I am posting for him:

I was one of those three kayakers at Yellowbluff ... in the middle of the picture. I am also an experienced paddler and have paddled since I was 6 years old...and have been teaching kayaking in open water for more than 10 years. The Captain is certainly right in that many paddlers love to ride the wake of larger vessels and may even come out to "greet" it and get into a good position. I've done it myself. However, its one thing to do that in calm waters where kayaks are very maneuverable and its completely another to do it in the chop and current where maneuverability can be very challenging. Its also safe in cases where the larger vessel maintains its course and the paddlers can decide if they are comfortable getting close to ride the wake or if they wish to keep their distance and stay away.

In this case at Yellowbluff, I was not trying to get closer to the Empress. From my perspective it was the other way around as I watched the Empress come closer and closer to us. Of course I assumed that the Captain could not see us (that's a good assumption to make anytime your kayaking in the bay or ocean and especially in the chop of Yellowbluff). Now that I know that the Captain did see us, the problem I have is that I think it needlessly increases the risk...mainly to paddlers. There is no way the Captain could know what kind of experience the paddlers have nor if we may get pushed around by sudden swell or current. Captain, I appreciate your experience and believe that you had no intention of causing harm but keeping a priority on safety, I would say it would have been much safer for the
Empress to keep its distance.

Anders is right that the other motorboat is an issue too. In fact, there were two other motorboats that passed through Yellowbluff while I was there on Friday (neither of them were as close as the Empress). I have no idea if they saw us or not. The question I have do we make it safer...what are our options? I'd rather not wait until we have an accident and then try to figure it out. Open to suggestions here.

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I have a suggestion: If your on a motor cycle and plan to stay healthy you pretty much stay out of the way of bigger stuff! Trucks trains buses and cars. A guy (gal)would'nt run into a tree or pull in front of a car, because he feels he (she) has the right of way. What to prove a point?...So why do so many boaters kayakers power boaters sailers windboarders etc insist on pushing an envelope they will never win. When I used to teach sailing raceing and boat safety on the SF Bay the best advice I had for my students and is still the case... Stay clear of other boats, especially if they ARE Bigger. When your a kayak and you see a Big Boat ie (Ship Speed Boat Sailboat Ferry Boat Tug Boat Yacht...Coming your way! Stay out of the way! Row Row Row your Boat (kayak) as fast as you can in the opposite direction. Make any sense?

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Safety aside, why do motor boats go against the current where it is the strongest & most concentrated? I've never understood why so many boats come back into the Bay through the Yellow Bluff rip on the strong ebb. Clearly, in the case of Captain Gerry, it's not an issue of lack of local knowledge, although that may be the case for others. Ideas?

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Nice! Great question....In an effort to save Fuel and Time I use the currents in the bay whenever possible. When the ebb is strong and departing from mid San Francisco Waterfront and my destination is Sausalito I let the ebb tide cause a lee bow. That way I get better speed (from a very underpowered ship) by letting my course drift me toward Yellow Bluff Point. After passing the point there is much less current we gain speed/distance and the lee bow has driven the boat towards the destination. One more thing I will add to this conversation: There is no right of way concerning The Rules of The Road. In fact there is only a stand on vessel and a give way vessel! When you read The Rules you will see The #1 Rule is Avoid A Collision.

Gerry R Robertson Director of Sales and Marketing
Empress Cruises & Events
Bay and Delta Yacht Charters, LLC
Atlantis Memorials
310 Harbor Drive
Sausalito, California 94965
(415) 332-3291 phone
(415) 331-7091 fax

At 8:03 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I was not present on the 5th, but I am a sea kayaking instructor who has led many students into the play-area at yellow bluff.

Captain Gerry, thanks for responding here! I'm glad to know who's around even if I haven't met you in person, and appreciate your willingness (even if reluctant) to address concerns.

I have never had a problem with commercial boat drivers at yellow bluff, and have only had one bad experience with commercial boat drivers (fishing boat drivers) in five years of paddling on the bay. Had I been present with a bunch of students on the Friday afternoon in question, I doubt I would have had a problem then: from the photos it looks like the Empress is maintaining her course to the outside (east) of the kayakers, at a slow-enough speed (around five knots) to allow kayakers to react and move towards/away from her course-line as they see fit. In the worst-case scenario, had there been an inexperienced kayaking student out of their boat in the rip, I suspect I would have had enough time to nudge them out of the way if I thought they'd drift too close to the Empress.

I'm always wary of boats motoring through the rip--especially when I have students there--but it helps when the boats are moving slow and being predictable, maintaining a course.


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