(M. 4201.)
Mr. W. Inman to Board of Trade.

Sir: Referring to your letter of the 19th February, (M. 2626,) I have now the honor to inclose, in compliance therewith, the following reports, namely: From Mr. James Kennedy, master of the steamship City of Berlin; from Mr. Samuel Brooks, master of the steamship City of Richmond; from Mr. Robert Leitch, master of the steamship City of Chester; from Mr. John Mirehouse, master of the steamship City of Montreal; from Mr. Henry Tibbits, master of the steamship City of Paris; and from Mr. George S. Murray, master of the steamship City of Brooklyn; and I have only further to remark that these are all masters of great experience, who have been in this company’s service for twenty years, and on whose opinions I place every reliance.

I am, &c.,


The Assistant Secretary
Marine Department, Board of Trade.

[Page 192]

Dear Sir: After a careful perusal of the document you sent me on the subject of “fog-signals,” I beg to forward my opinion at your request.

In the United States of America the following signals, which I consider simple and effective, are invariably used during fogs and in narrow channels, and I think could with advantage be adopted in British waters, viz:

  • One short blast, “I am porting.”
  • Two short blasts, “I am starboarding.”

These are all that are used in the United States, but I would suggest another: three short blasts, “I am stopped;” if a sailing ship, “I am in stays,” or “sails aback.” These I consider sufficient; any more would make it confusing.

I remain, &c.,


E. Inman, Esq.

Dear Sir: Having read over copy of letter from the board of trade, dated 19th instant, I have the honor of submitting my opinion with regard to sound-signals.

I have had several years’ experience of the system worked in American waters, namely: one short blast, “I am porting;” two short blasts, “I am starboarding.”

These signals have been frequently used on board the company’s steamers under my command when entering and leaving New York Harbor, and I am quite satisfied they have in many cases prevented collision with other vessels. In my opinion, nothing could be more simple of application, and I should be much pleased to see the plan adopted in British waters in all weathers.

In reference to the other signals, three short blasts, “I am taking care,” and four short blasts, “I am going full speed astern,” my opinion is that if these signals were adopted they would have a tendency to complication, and to a certain extent do away with the simplicity of the two first signals. I would also respectfully submit that if the “port” and “starboard” signal is attended to, the two latter signals will never be required.

I have, &c.,

R. M. S. S. City of Richmond.

Ernest S. Inman, Esq.,
22 Water Street, Liverpool.

Sir: I beg to offer the following as my answers and opinions on the questions continued in the letter from the secretary of the board of trade, dated 19th February last, and the draft-rules accompanying it.

I have had experience of the system of sound-signals used in the United States, but such experience is confined to signaling in narrow waters and clear weather. According to the rule in force in the States, one whistle signifies that the vessel is porting, and two that she is starboarding. In narrow waters and clear weather I consider such signaling conduces to safety.
The rule is very easy of application and interpretation.
It might be with advantage adopted in British waters.
The system propounded in the draft-rules would, I think, be sufficient, but I beg to offer the following suggestions thereon:
The steam-whistle should be sounded more than once in every three minutes when the vessel is underway. In these days of fast steamers two vessels meeting each other will pass over a mile and a half or more in the time named. I think the whistle should be sounded at least once in every minute. If the code of signals recommended by the rules is adopted, some regulation should be made as to the length of the blast under this rule to distinguish it from the other. At present two blasts are given immediately one after the other; and this is, I think, better than one prolonged blast.
There would be some difficulty in giving a prolonged blast on a sailing-ship with a fog-horn.
On steamers and sailing-ships at anchor the fog-bell should be sounded at least once in every half minute, especially in roadsteads or rivers, where ferry-boats are in the habit of plying.
I think the adoption of the remaining signals should be left to the discretion of the officer in charge.
I have no more simple or efficient system to suggest.
I consider the system of signaling by sound should not be extended to narrow channels in foggy and thick weather, as it is impossible to judge at all accurately from sound the position of the vessel sounding; but I think that its use in clear weather would conduce to safety.

Yours, &c.,


William Inman, Esq.

Dear Sir: I am in receipt of your memorandum, with inclosure of (copy) letter from board of trade, dated 19th February, 1875, “about fog-signals by sound.” I have respectfully to say in reply to—

Question 1. “Whether they (the captains or officers) have experience of the system used in the United States? What is that system, and does it conduce to safety?”

Answer. That ever since I have traded to the United States (a term of over twenty years) the American river-steamers have been in the habit in clear or comparatively clear weather only of “blowing one whistle, meaning port,” and “two whistles, meaning starboard.” The steamer that blows her whistle first has, so to speak, the “right of road.” It is only A telling B to port. B should reply back with one whistle, meaning “I will port.” Again, A blows two whistles, telling B to starboard. B should reply back with two whistles, meaning “I will starboard.” This is only usage, and not compulsory. If B does not answer A, then B has not heard or does not concede “the right of road” to A. I think, on the whole, that the American system does conduce to safety in narrow channels, but only during clear or comparatively clear weather. In such places, in fog, I think it would tend to confusion and disaster if made imperative. Instance, a steamer, A, is coming into the Mersey, steering south, and another steamer, B, going out of the river Mersey, steering north. Both these steamers meeting, (“nearly end on,”) blows one whistle each, meaning port. Now, another steamer going out of dock, heading northwest, and she hears two whistles on her port bow. Thinking that these two whistles proceed from one vessel only, the vessel out of dock “starboards her helm;” by that means runs a double chance of collision.

Q. *2. “Whether the American system is easy of application and interpretation?”

A. In fog, if compulsory, no; if optional, doubtful; in comparatively clear weather, yes.

Q. 3. “Whether any similar system could with any advantage be adopted in British waters?”

A. American system, yes.

Q. 4. “If so, whether the system propounded in the inclosed will be sufficient; and, if not, system propounded, namely: One short blast to mean, ‘I am porting;’ two short blasts to mean, ‘I am starboarding;’ three short blasts to mean, ‘take care; I am taking care;’ four short blasts to mean, in case of steamer, ‘I am going full speed astern;’ if sailing-ship, ‘I am in stays.’ The use of these last-mentioned signals by short blasts is optional and not compulsory; but, if they are used, the conduct of the ship must be in accordance with signals made.”

A. In narrow and frequented places, more than sufficient, so many whistles would tend to confusion and disaster, even if both vessels answered and used the same signal, and in open sea in lesser degree. Take another instance: A, steamer, (off Nantucket Shoals in open sea,) going west, (approaching New York,) hears a whistle a little on her port bow, which proceeds from B, another steamer, going east. (Mostly eight fast steamers leave New York every Saturday.) Each steamer, A and B, going 10 or 12 miles per hour, A blows one whistle, but in the excitement two whistles might be blown. B hears two whistles, therefore starboards her helm, causing collision; or it might be A hears a whistle on her starboard bow; A starboards her helm and tries to blow two whistles, but owing to the intense cold in winter the steam has somewhat condensed, and the pipe is partly filled with water. The first whistle is not heard by B, and B, having only heard one whistle, ports her helm, causing collision.

Q. 5. “Whether they have any more simple or effective system to suggest?”

A. Nothing more than the American system as regards steamers; holding all vessels (sail or steam) when under way in fog to be responsible, each vessel standing its own risk, and each to repair (if they can) their own damage. As regards sailing-vessels, the law now states that sailing-vessels, when under way, shall make a prolonged blast with fog-horn every three minutes, no matter what tack they are on. Might I suggest this alteration? Fog-horn on port-tack only, and Chinese gong on starboard tack; a fog-horn is with some people difficult to blow, and so may sometimes [Page 194] cause neglect. Instance: A German steamer in open sea off Nantucket heard a foghorn on her port bow; it proved to be from a Swedish bark on port tack, heading southward, wind easterly, going 9 knots per hour; German steamer going east, 10 knots per hour, struck Swedish vessel amidships. Had there been a distinction of fog-signal, showing which tack the sailing-vessel was on, the steamer would have known how to act.

Q. *6. “Whether, looking to American experience, the system of signaling by sound should be confined to foggy and thick weather, or whether it should be extended to narrow channels?”

A. In fog, no. In moderately clear weather, as the Americans use it and herein described, yes. Both in open sea and narrow channels.

In fog, a weak whistle may appear a long way off, and a powerful whistle close to, when it is the reverse. Again, the wind deflects sound, and, therefore, the two important points about collision are unknown, namely, bearings and distance; also, original course and speed of each vessel prior to collision is unknown.

The new-suggested rules of signal by sound in fog may at first sight appear plausible and feasible, yet in execution, I apprehend, they would be non-effective, causing confusion and disaster. In short, the only thing I can see in it during fog is watchfulness, promptitude, good decision how to act according to circumstances.

I have, &c.,


Ernest S. Inman, Esq., Liverpool.

Sir: In reference to the letter from the board of trade regarding fog-signals, I think it is quite requisite for safety to go by sound signals of the whistle, both in foggy weather and in narrow channels. I propose—one short blast, “port your helm;” two short blasts, “starboard;” and three short blasts, “stop and reverse.”

All steamers when at sea, and steering course in foggy weather, to blow the whistle only once for a certain number of seconds, to be sounded at least every two minutes, not at any longer intervals; sailing-ships to sound the horn likewise. At the present time, in the Atlantic, some steamers blow the whistle once, some twice, and others three or four times, one after another.

The signals in the United States are, one blast for port, two for starboard. I cannot say whether they have any for stop or reverse. I have been in the New York trade a great number of years, and found these signals to avoid collisions in many instances. The less the signals are complicated the more easy they are understood. I object to four blasts of a whistle; I don’t think it would prevent collision, the time being entirely too long.

I am, &c.,

Master Royal Mail-Steamer City of Paris.

Ernest Inman, Esq,

Sir: In accordance with your desire, conveyed to me in your note regarding fog-signals, I beg to state that I have carefully read the letter from the board of trade, and reply that, as far as my experience goes of the American system, I think it admirably suited to navigation during fogs and in narrow channels. The system, as far as I am aware, consists of three signals, namely, the port and starboard signals, as described iu the letter, and three short blasts, to signify that the vessel is coming toward you and likely to pass close to you; this I would submit as meeting the general requirements, and at the same time remain perfectly simple. The signal consisting of four blasts might, I think, in many cases be mistaken for three, while rendering the system more complicated than is absolutely requisite.

I remain, &c.,


Ernest Inman, Esq.