Navigating Through A Narrow Channel: Things To Consider

vessel chartering,

Navigating Through A Narrow Channel: Things To Consider

Feb 4, 2021, 12:32:49 PM Business

Channels are natural water bodies marked by buoys. They have shallow waters on both sides. During vessel chartering, it is important to know how to move your vessels through a channel. When transiting through a narrow channel, there are some things to consider:

Current or expected traffic

Compared to the open sea, the density of traffic in a narrow passage is higher. With less space available for large-sized vessels, the chances of collision are higher. The duty officer must monitor the radar and look for bridge wings. They must be careful during transit. It is important to ensure the vessel follows the rules of navigation. This will help the vessel to avoid accidents and potentially any legal actions.     

Bridge to bridge communication

VHF plays a very important role in maritime transportation. The main purpose is to let the vessels in the vicinity know about intent and ensure transit through the channel is safe. The use of radars and navigational aids to determine the positioning, identity and CPA of the vessel should also be announced to target vessels. SMCP should be used only when both parties completely understand when to use it. 

Bridge to VTS communication                   

Another way to ensure a safe passage for vessels transiting through a narrow passage is to establish a clear communication channel using a Vessel Traffic Services or VTS. This helps in the transit of the vessel. The vessel charterer will be able to ensure smooth transit by following the instructions.     

Plotting on the chart

Without expertise, the availability of navigational aids like radar, ECDIS, AIS, etc. is of limited use. During transit, at short intervals, the position of the vessel should be plotted on a chart. This is very important as it will alert about obstructions, depth and other aspects related to the location. 


When in a narrow channel, the current should always be monitored. The current affects the position of the ship in the water. The speed of the vessel in transit may be reduced by a head current. When transiting through narrow spaces it is always important to check the current.     

Turning points

Points of turning are the most challenging. They demand a lot of expertise. The pilot must be familiar with the local waters. Under the supervision of the Master, the duty officer will look for the best time to turn. This includes getting the right amount of rudder to get the exact moment for the vessel to turn. This is done along with the pivot point of the vessel. It is easy to recover from a turn that is made too early compared with one made too late. To ensure excessive helms are not applied, the helmsman must be supervised.

Suction from banks

This is generally an issue when transiting through a water body very near to the bank. It affects larger vessels in shallower waters. This causes the stern of the vessel to move towards the bank.

Tight passages

Extra diligence is required when moving through a narrow passage. The vessel will be able to use wider space for navigation when moving through a wider range, but issues arise when the vessel is passing through a shorter range. It is best to stay at the centre of the permitted area when transiting the vessel.   

Communication with engine rooms

Control tests must be carried out before the transits. Advance notice to the ER must be made. The ER should be informed about all specifics that are needed in the transit. This includes a quick response to changing propulsion direction and speed and heavy manoeuvring. Having proper communication with the ER personnel will ensure that the engine is ready for use.


The ship should always maintain a moderate speed when passing through the channel. This allows the vessel to increase the speed to improve rudder responsiveness. Applying lesser speeds means you will have to use bow thrusters and in the case of normal channel speeds, this does not pose as an effective solution. It is important to keep the engines ready at all times so that the ship’s pilot can make changes as needed.         


Transiting through narrow channels needs extra caution. It is important to have an eye for detail. Vessels moving through the narrow channels need to be extra careful.

Published by Bharti

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