Puget Sound pilots work with recreational boating groups to help ensure that people stay safe when large commercial vessels and smaller recreational boats meet on Puget Sound. We publish a tide book each year with valuable information for the boating public. Please contact us if you would like a copy.
Members of the Puget Sound Pilots are available to speak to organizations about the unique challenges involved in handling large ships and how best to make the Sound safe for all users. For example, many boaters are not fully aware of how the Puget Sound Traffic Separation Scheme works and where the shipping lanes are.
Puget Sound Traffic Separation Scheme and Vessel Traffic Service
Because Washington’s inland marine waters are a high traffic area, the Coast Guard has enacted a traffic separation scheme to ensure safe marine passage. These zones create shipping lanes used by the ocean-going ships moved by the pilots.
For example, in Puget Sound, the traffic lanes are ½-mile wide, with a ¼-mile wide separation zone between them. Northbound vessels use the east lane and southbound vessels use the west lane.
Recreational boaters should take special care when in or near the traffic lanes. Rule 10 of the “Rules of the Road” establish special rules for ships and boats maneuvering in and around these traffic lanes.
Distances are Deceiving
Because of their size, large commercial vessels appear to be moving more slowly than they actually are. The bigger the vessel, the slower it appears to be moving. Underestimating the speed of a commercial vessel can prove disastrous for a recreational boater.
Radio and AIS
Commercial ship traffic normally monitors Channel 13 VHF. They also monitor Channel 14 and 5A to contact the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service.
If your boat has an AIS screen, you will be able to see the big ships and identify them on your system. Remember though, that unless you have an AIS transmitter, the big ships will not be able to get an AIS signal from you. They may see you visually or on their radar, but they may not be able to identify you by name and talk to you.
In some instances, Puget Sound Pilots helps boaters through the legislative process in Olympia. In this case, the issue was yachts. Some foreign-registered yachts are actually large enough to require pilots when traveling in Puget Sound waters, a regulation that could dissuade people from bringing such vessels into the area. The Puget Sound companies that could service these yachts were concerned the regulation was limiting jobs, so the Puget Sound Pilots worked with the Northwest Marine Trade Association to pass legislation increasing the size of yachts allowed to travel in Puget Sound waters without a pilot. Currently, foreign yachts up to 200 feet in length or 750 Gross Tons (ITC) can apply to the Washington State Board of Pilotage Commissioners for an exemption. Exemption applications can be found at the board’s web page.