(M. 4905.)
Messrs. James & Alaxander Allan to Board of Trade

Sir: We have not been able sooner to reply to your letter (M. 2626) on proposed fog and other signals.

Our masters and officers being at sea, except those of the ships laid up, a general inquiry among them is a work of time.

We have only, in consequence, been able to learn in detail the views of a few of them, but practically they must be alike.

We shall reply to the questions in their order, and then comment on the whole subject from our own point of view.

Question 1. Whether the masters and officers of our steamships have experience of the system used in the United States; what is that system; and does it, in their opinion, conduce to safety?

Answer. Our masters and officers are aware that signals similar to those you propose are in use by American pilots in American waters in clear weather, but do not seem to know that they are in more extended use.

Q. 2. Whether the system is easy of application and interpretation?

A. They are not sufficiently acquainted with the signals to make any use of them themselves.

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

A. They doubt the possibility of navigating in narrow waters in fog by means of such signals, owing to the risk of more vessels than one sounding at the same time and causing confusion.

Q. 4. If so, whether the system propounded in the inclosed will be sufficient; and, if not,

Q. 5. Whether they have any more simple or effective system to suggest; and,

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 in all weathers?

A. 4, 5, and 6. They think it would be a good thing to have a code of sounds by which to express movements, to be used more particularly in clear weather, to convey messages when occasion requires, and, after some years experience, a fresh inquiry might be made to determine its usefulness, and guide as to making it compulsory.

They have not suggested any code or change upon the rules you have printed.

We shall now, with your permission, state some points of difficulty that have occurred to ourselves.

If the compulsory rules A, B, and C are observed in fogs, it is a physical impossibility at the same time to use the optional signals, and the interval between the compulsory blasts would, we fear, be too short for the distinctive use of the optional signals; still, they might be tried.

But compulsory rules, as we understand the law, must be strictly observed, and these only. If a collision arose and it was proven in court that a steamship had not conformed to the law that obliges her to give a prolonged blast once in every three minutes, but had, instead, given one prolonged blast and three short ones, we fear she might be cast in damages.

Supposing this difficulty of the law were got over, which it might be by inserting the words “at least one” after the word “made,” deleting “a” in the rule, it seems to us that it is most desirable to express actions by signals, but that those to be expressed are insufficient.

That a sailing-ship is on the port tack, or the starboard tack, or having the wind aft, are important facts to know at night or in fog, especially in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and in our own channels.

These could, however, be expressed as follows: the one blast which, when whistled, signifies in a steamer “I am porting,” might, when blown by a fog-horn, mean “I am a sailing-ship on port tack;” two, by fog-horn, “I am a sailing-ship on starboard tack;” three, by fog-horn, “I am a sailing-ship running before the wind.”

No steamer should use a fog-horn.

We append a copy of the American law as to fog-signals, into which, you will observe, the foregoing suggestions would dovetail.

We are, &c.,


The Assistant Secretary
Marine Department, Board of Trade.

[Page 197]

Extract from notice to mariners.

Every steamer, when under way, shall use a steam-whistle. Sailing-vessels, and all other craft propelled by sails, shall use a fog-horn.

Whenever there is a fog, whether by day or night, the fog-signals described below shall be sounded.

Sailing-vessels, and every craft propelled by sails, upon the ocean, lakes, and rivers, shall, when on their starboard tack, sound one blast of their fog-horn; when on their port tack, they shall sound two blasts of their fog-horn; when with the wind free or running large, they shall sound three blasts of their fog-horn; when lying to, or at anchor, they shall sound a general alarm. In each instance, the above signals shall be sounded at intervals of not more than two minutes.

Sailing-vessels, when not under weigh, and anchored or moored in the channel or fairway of commerce, shall sound the general-alarm signal at intervals of not more than two minutes; and all steamers navigating in a fog or thick weather, shall, by the rules governing pilots, sound their steam-whistle at intervals of not more than one minute.