Morse Code and an Aldis lamp prevent yacht grounding off Cornwall

Morse Code and an Aldis lamp prevent yacht grounding off Cornwall

November 1, 2017 Safety Sailing news Sailing skills 0

Left with no other means of communication, the National Coastwatch Institution watchkeeper used Morse Code and an Aldis lamp to prevent the yacht running aground off The Lizard

A watchkeep with the NCI used an Aldis lamp to signal Morse Code to a yacht in danger
Watchkeeper Simon Sugrue uses the Aldis lamp. Credit: Ross Durkin


The use of Morse Code and an Aldis lamp by a National Coastwatch Institute (NCI) watchkeeper has been credited with averting a possible grounding off The Lizard in Cornwall.

Bass Point NCI watchkeeper Simon Sugrue saw that a yacht was heading towards the Dales rocks, which are submerged at high tide.

The yacht was not carrying an Automatic Identification System (AIS) beacon, and Sugrue was unable to raise the yacht’s crew on VHF to warn them of the hazard they were approaching.

Instead, the NCI watchkeeper flashed the letter U – the Morse code warning for “you are standing into danger” – using the station’s old but highly effective Aldis lamp.

Having come within ten boat lengths of the rocks, the yacht was then observed to alter course southwards shortly afterwards and continue safely on its passage to Falmouth.

Sugrue, who is a former Master Mariner, said he was no stranger to the Aldis lamp, having started his seagoing career in 1950 when it was still in regular service.

“It was an interesting minute or so on watch, with the Aldis lamp in my right hand and the phone jammed in my ear with an open line to the coastguard, who wanted a running commentary on the unfolding situation,” he noted.

The station manager of Bass Point NCI, Peter Clements, noted that to the best of his knowledge, Bass Point was one of the few NCI stations in the country to have an Aldis lamp.

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“The advent of modern technology means that nowadays you are more likely to see an Aldis lamp flashing morse code messages between ships in a second world war film about the Atlantic convoys,” he said.

“But in the situation in which our watchkeeper found himself it proved to be the right tool for the job and his quick thinking probably prevented a serious incident,” added Clements.


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