Kayak collision with ship

another worst case scenario is a collision bt crossing the path of a large ship.

has anyone read about an incident like this, what actually happens?

I presume there will be a capsize, but am unsure of what happens next.
is the kayak pushed away by the bow wave, or does it get sucked under the ship?

could this be simulated ( say by kayaking into a small piece of wood flotsam ) to see what would happen ?

Perhaps if your kayak has the suction of the screw in the back of the ship. It’s not just the bow wave.

I’m not sure how this would happen.
You can get some big wakes to deal with but the ships are huge. You see them coming from way away. How would you not get out of the way?

Here’s one incident that happened in 2016. Coast Guard report found both parties shared blame for the collision.

USCG report linked here: http://www.professionalmariner.com/Web-Bulletin-2017/Coast-Guard-NY-kayak-group-ferry-share-blame-for-collision/

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That one on the Hudson was horrific. My recall is that there has been another one down in Manhattan betw a kayak and a barge but l don’t recall details.

In January 2014, a Bay Area Sea Kayaker member was nearly hit by a freighter at night. He was part of a group that has a regular Thursday night paddle where they go to some beach, make a campfire, eat a lot (and drink a little), and then paddle back in the dark. Regular attendees all go by nicknames. The paddler who wrote the story was in a wooden boat he had built himself.

Long story from author follows:

“Grandpa got run over by a freighter
Paddling home from Red Rock Thursday eve”
-inspired by “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” Randy Brooks 1979

“Oh merde,” this a loose translation of an expletive heard on the bay
Thursday night.

The Mayor and I are 0.8 miles west of Red Rock returning to Jailhouse. The
time’s 8 PM. We’re paddling on the south side of the Richmond-San Rafael
Bridge just inside the outer fringe of light thrown out by the bridge. We’re
crossing the shipping channel.

Paddling side-by-side in the channel, we’re musing on the invisibility of
freighters and tankers at night, their bow lights no more visible than the
workings of big government. We’re not just musing, mind you, we’re scanning
north and south for the big ships, looking for their tell, shore lights
winking on and off when the big vessels pass between our line of sight and
the shore.

This is how we’ve been able to spot the big guys these last 15 years. But
not tonight. Tonight we don’t see her until she’s 10 seconds away from
T-boning us. We’re able to see her only because she’s just entered the outer
fringe of the bridge’s light fall.

That first brief sighting is our “Oh merde” moment. It could’ve been the
TransAmerica Pyramid towering over us, the sheer shock of what we see
indiscriminate. But it’s not the TransAmerica Pyramid and we don’t waste
time staring.

The Mayor bolts straight ahead, acting on pure survival instinct, hoping to
cross in front of the freighter before he’s T-boned. My survival instinct
kicks in, too, but mine is colored by an overlay of law and order: maritime
protocol says not to cut in front of another boat.

I back-paddle, painting by the numbers, staying within the lines of
protocol. I’m not going to cross in front of that freighter. The Mayor, not
bound by numbers and more of an Expressionist, paddles across those lines
and past the freighter to safety. I do not.

I might’ve made it to safety if I’d continued paddling backwards. Instead, I
try to turn my boat around. My boat’s quick, nimble, maneuverable. But not
quick, nimble, and maneuverable enough to accomplish in 2 seconds what
normally takes 5 seconds. The 15-knot wake from the freighter’s bow hits me

Hanging upside down under water, here’s the first thought to pop into my
noggin: airbags are a good invention. The second thought to pop into my
head’s more image than thought: a line of bold Tibetan script, inked dark on
handmade paper. I’d seen both the script and the paper earlier that
afternoon in a Buddhist institute dedicated to Tibetan language and research
in Berkeley. I don’t know how the Tibetan translates, just that its image is
calming, reassuring.

A huge freighter is passing within reach, and I’m feeling calm and peaceful.
Imagine that. I don’t rush to pull my sprayskirt off and swim to the
surface. Walking my fingers around the outside of the coaming, feeling the
texture of the sprayskirt, is pleasing. Sensual. It’s a slow walk my fingers
take. By the time they converge on the release loop at the skirt’s head, my
lungs have had enough Tibetan bliss and are clamoring for air.

On the surface, my lungs happy, I’m a paddle length away from the ship’s
hull, a long unbroken train of metal. Under water, I wondered if the ship
would pull me further down and toward her keel line. She didn’t. On the
surface, I wonder what’ll happen when the stern goes by, what mischief the
turning props have in mind. The stern goes by without mischief. I’m thankful
for that.

The freighter continues on her course, none the wiser of what’s just
transpired, of me bobbing in the cold water, of the Mayor-still in his boat,
untouched by the freighter’s bow wake-paddling to my rescue. Business as

The Mayor finds me quickly. Business as usual now is to get me back into my
boat. Accomplishing this is a simple rescue technique: the T-rescue.
Position the swamped boat at a right angle to the cockpit of the rescuer’s
boat. Push down on the stern of the swamped boat so its bow goes up onto the
rescuer’s cockpit. Make sure the cockpit of the swamped boat is facing down
so the water runs out. Slither out of the bay into the boat, pump out any
remaining water, paddle home, and Bob’s your uncle. Simple.

No major storms the last 12 months have left Toilet Bowl Beach on Red Rock
firewood-challenged. To compensate, I bring kindling from home. Squeezing
the kindling into the small-volume stern of my 14-foot-long boat requires
releasing air from the stern float bag. An inflated float bag displaces a
volume of water equal to its own volume. A deflated float bag doesn’t
displace any water.

I don’t inflate my stern float bag before leaving Red Rock for Jailhouse. My
bad. Instead of handling a boat only partially filled with water, the Mayor
has to handle a boat overwhelmed by water (to my credit, the float bag in my
bow is fully inflated). A gallon of bay water weighs approximately 8 lbs 6
oz. I don’t know how many gallons, but my swamped boat holds a backache’s

No matter our efforts, whenever we right the partially drained boat-hull
down, cockpit up-the boat sinks below the water’s surface, an infinity pool
across the cockpit. I attempt to climb in, the boat sinks deeper. And so it

The water’s cold, barely breaking 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve only been in
15-20 minutes, but I’m starting to fatigue, starting to feel sluggish.
(Without the 10 lbs of insulation I put on over the holidays, I might not
have lasted as long as I did.) My lips a robust blue, we call it quits, call
the Coast Guard on the Mayor’s VHF.

The Coast Guard arrives 10 minutes later, but the Larkspur ferry beats them
to the rescue, plucking me from the bay 5 minutes earlier. Though he doesn’t
need the lift, the Coast Guard hauls the Mayor aboard their vessel along
with my boat, pulled from the bay by three fit crew members.

The crew of both boats treat us graciously and professionally, transporting
us to the Larkspur ferry terminal, staff from the terminal driving us to our
cars at Jailhouse. We can’t sing their praises loud enough.

So . what did I learn from our adventure? Here’re some initial thoughts:

If, like mine, your boat doesn’t have bulkheads separating bow and stern
from cockpit, use float bags and keep them inflated. To add an extra layer
of immersion security, I’m going to experiment using a sea sock to limit the
amount of water my boat takes on.

Carry a VHF marine radio. Calling the Coast Guard on channel 16 cut short
the time the water had hold of me. On future paddles to Red Rock, I plan to
call the port authority on channel 14 to check for ships approaching the
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, backing that up with channel 13 to contact the
bridge of ships heading our way.

I have an app on my iPhone, Ship Finder, that tracks ships on the bay in
real time. I didn’t use it Thursday. I will on future paddles.

The Mayor and I might have seen the freighter earlier if we had been
paddling closer to the bridge, more light from the bridge illuminating the
bay around us.

From what I experienced up close with the freighter, I think it a rare event
when a large ship actually collides head-on with a kayak, the ship’s bow
wake pushing the kayak aside before the bow strikes it. For close encounters
like mine-2 to 5 feet from the approaching ship’s bow-I’d guess the shorter
the boat, the less likely a collision.

I experienced no sucking vortices at the ship’s bow and stern, wasn’t pulled
under the hull, or chewed up by propeller blades. That was good. I don’t
know if these outcomes are true in all encounters. I do know that I don’t
intend to field test their validity any time soon.

Have a good story prepared before going home and explaining to your family
how you managed to get run over by a freighter.


Date: Thursday, 9 January 2014.
Distance: Not all the way.
Speed: Shocking.
Time: Passed by in a flash.
Spray factor: Manufactured.
Dessert: Apple slices dipped in melted semi-sweet chocolate.

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@Rookie, that was an odd accident in that the ferry boat was in reverse, backing out of its slip, when it hit the kayakers. The ferry boat wouldn’t have been traveling that fast but I think that might be even scarier as the kayaks would have been right in the line of the engines and propellers.

My wife and I were out paddling in New York Harbour the week before that accident happened, although we were down by the Statue of Liberty and well south of 39th Street. It is a busy harbour indeed!

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I have to agree - how can you miss this thing coming you …

Cargo Ship in the East Passage

And the big ships are slow. My experience on the ocean is limited, but I was more concerned about smaller fast moving boats that are difficult to see and appear out of nowhere. One of the big concerns on Narragansett Bay is the high-speed ferry, which does summer harbor/lighthouse tours.

The bigger they are the slower it looks like they’re moving.
We used to race sailboats in a freighter port and yell and wave them off…
They would just laugh and wave back… They thought we were so funny…:laughing::laughing:

RE: The BASK incident, what I wonder is “Didn’t either paddler hear the big ship before it got that close?” Even if it was motoring slowly, those things make noise.

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Ships are rather quiet. The engines are about a thousand feet behind the bows, and buried inside the large ship.

Tug boats are louder. Engine is close to surface - not much boat surrounding it.

It still seems odd. I’ve sometimes been surprised to see around another boat or structure and see a ferry bearing down that I hadn’t noticed earlier, but never as close as what the writer described.

However, if the level of ambient noise from other things is loud, all bets are off.

To offer some perspective on the “how can’t you avoid those ships” discussion:

I paddle from a harbour with a lot of heavy traffic (the world’s largest harbour for offshore wind turbine installation ships, actually). There are several entrances to different docks, and some ships are parked outside the breakwater wall, next to the shipping lane.

Avoiding a ship, which follows the shipping lane, is simple. But sometimes, those ships will turn - and you can’t always guess where they are aiming. Also, they don’t have flash indicators like a car. In theory, there are sound signals for turning starboard or port, but I can’t remember ever having heard those signals used.

So sometimes, you will see this very large ship coming towards you, and you will want to get out of the way - and when you do that, it changes its course so it is still heading towards you. I can get somewhat nervous for a minute or two when these situations occur with “perfect” timing, until it again becomes clear that we are not going to collide.

To be honest, it has probably only happened to me once or twice in 5 years. But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that sometimes, somewhere in the world, someone gets trapped in such a situation and ends up being run over. This is one of my reasons for carrying a VHF.

Regarding sound: When I hear the engines on a large ship, I tend to notice it. I think this is because I usually do not hear the engines. But I have never thought about it while they passed me, so I can be wrong here.


For those who haven’t been close to a large ship, here is a short video I took a few years back of one in a narrow channel. Notice the sound difference between bow and stern. The banging is a worker on the boat doing metal work or something.

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I don’t know. I grew up on the coast. Watched those big ships coming into the Columbia and I am incapable of understanding how you wouldn’t notice them. Pretty much when you are on the water you notice a ping pong ball floating 100 yards off because anything taller than the water is noticeable. Something the size of a tall building coming at you, and yes they are moving way faster then they seem, but they are the huge and you see them from way off.
When they turn they take forever to turn so again, not a challenge to stay out of their way.
Playing in among them where they are stacked up waiting their turn to go into port, and generally when they are maneuvering around port is more dangerous but they typically have tugs pushing them around then and you have no more business being around them at that time than an MG has weaving in and out of semi trucks parking.

The ships in my harbour very rarely have tugs.

And it is my harbour too. My club belongs in that harbour and we have an allocated dock there. So we obviously need to get in and out of the harbour as anyone else do.

I get a feeling that you are not very used to seeing things in a nuanced perspective.

Nothing personal Allan, I just don’t see how you can get run over by something so big and incapable of sudden changes in speed or direction. Pretty much the definition of predictable.

Man paddling is slow when this is what’s being talked about!
Certainly I’m not the only one spending the off season debating spending way to much on another boat?

Looks like the lesson here is, if you’re going to be paddling near shipping channels, have a marine radio and find out where the ships are. Also, I’d want my boat to have lights if I were going out after dark (it’s the law, too). Maybe having a powerful headlamp would help; wouldn’t stop the ships, even if they could see you, but you might see them a little sooner.

But, say I don’t want to invest in a marine radio for the few hours a year I might use it, could I call the Coast Guard for shipping traffic?

For years of paddling in and around shipping lanes, I never thought any more about it than to give the ships a wide berth. When I cross the shipping lane, I would scan for any ships and only cross when none were in sight. However in recent years, I have had some experiences with ships, tugs and tugs with barges. That’s not to say that I had a near miss, but I did get yelled at once when a ship was about to leave a dock. When I started paddling along side the ship, there was absolutely no indication that it was about to leave the dock. It was a very long ship and about the time I was half way past, a tug that had been sitting next to the ship for a long time before I got there, suddenly began to start pulling the ship away from the dock. I turned and headed away from the ship as fast as I could. I knew I could be clear long before the ship could be pulled away from the dock, but a crewman on the tug was jumping up and down and yelling as if I was ignoring what was going on.

Another time near this same dock, and no ship there and none in sight, but here comes a tug with a barge and just as it is about even with me and the dock, the tug swings around and heads right into the dock. No horn signals and no one jumping up and down yelling at me.

The moral of the story is that I have some renewed rules of thumb for dealing with big vessels. Even though I know I can beat an oncoming big ship, I still will not cross the channel ahead of them, because I consider all the things that might happen at just the wrong time while in the channel. Most things are not very likely, but a paddle could break, one might experience some kind of physical difficulty and so on. When tugs are anywhere around, I keep a very close eye on them, because they can be very unpredictable and they don’t always stick to the shipping channels.

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I would like to add to this that a lot of ships today don’t need tugs. I was surprised once by a 400ft ship that just left the dockside like a car leaving it’s parking spot by the side of the road. it was on a crowded quay so the fact it was untied was harder to see ( missing this detail was my mistake) .