This blog will allow you to follow my creative journey

  • Kim Burke

17/ From a Ferry's perspective

My phone interview with Richard Littlefield, a ferry skipper, finally came around today.

I was interested in asking him some vital questions that would shape my project, for example:

- Does the ferry follow a fixed path? Can you alter the path if necessary?

- Is it common to see buoys in the water?

- From what distance do the buoys come into sight?

- How do you approach a buoy if you spot it in your path?

- What would you suggest fishermen do to prevent the loss of their equipment?

Richard was great to talk to! He validated my research and gave me the boost of energy I needed to create a solution through his passion for his job!

He began by saying that where he works is one of the busiest areas for lobster pots and creels he has seen in his career - the Petland Firth, between Orkney and the mainland. He went on to say that it is a very good fishing ground, but also a very complex stretch of water as it faces 6 tides and 13 wind directions due to the surrounding land mass. (Area seen above in images).

He continued by saying that he actually works with fishermen that have their own creel boats, on the bridge deck of the ferries, that are very good at spotting them. Despite this Richard continued to explain the struggle for the ferries to spot buoys in the sea at night-time as they do not use lights on the boat to manoeuvre or see, they rely on navigation lights on the land as reference points and follow their course. He continued to explain the struggle explaining that, “there is no light on them and no radar reflectors, so at night-time if we hit one… we hit one.”

Questioning what they do if they do spot a buoy in the water, Richard explained that they can quite easily manoeuvre around it and "wiggle it out of the way, port or starboard just depending". He was admirably supportive of the fishermen’s need to make a living, however emphasized that it can b quit frustrating!

Richard also said that just last week he has noticed damage to the ferry’s stabilisers from the scoring of ropes into the steelwork of the boat. This was interesting to me as it restated the desire for not only fishermen, but ferry owners too, to find a solution to the visibility of the buoy – especially in the evening – to save money at both ends!

Richard continued to say that generally when they snag a buoy, they are dragging the string of creels, whether that be 20 or 100, until the rope eventually snaps and ‘pings’ due to extreme tension. He went on to share other considerations for the loss of equipment such as bad weather and high tide, as the buoy becomes submerged and becomes impractically impossible to see.

“Buoys you won’t see them until the last minute because they are semi submerged. The problem is that if you have 6 noughts of tide and 30 noughts of breeze going through the Pentland Firth, a cheap £10 buoy is never really going to stay that high out of the water. You need more of a structure, to stay out of the water and stay that boint because you have a lot of weight going on it and also a massive body of water pushing against it.”

This alone has started to get my mind ticking and question whether the adjustment of shape to the buoy to increase its height could improve its visible presence at sea!

Richard - “If you do find a solution for this, you need to keep it cheap, because fishermen are notoriously tight! It needs to be something they will buy”.

Upon asking Richard the question ‘What would you suggest fishermen do to prevent the loss of their equipment?’, he suggested a Radar reflector device which would highlight the buoys presence on nearby vessels radar detectors. He added, that in more open waters if you were going to a add a radar reflector it needs to be big and that means money. Richard continued to say that a transmitting device will struggle to work low down in the water unless you perhaps us the brand Racon, which is very good however very expensive. Contradictory to this solution, Richard said that several radar devices on buoys, may cause more issues that it solves, creating a big ‘mash on your radar’ and may become very confusing for skippers when trying to navigate.

Near the end if the interview I explained my thinking for Richard to understand my point of view and give feedback towards my current ideas. He supported my idea of using wave energy to power a light on a buoy and stated that “If you could create a power source using the general rocking of the buoy, that would be amazing. If you could keep the buoy boint enough with all the gubinse in it then great.”

He expanded on my concept, stating that it would make life a lot easier for the fishermen to pick up and identify their buoy in open water as often the tide can move their string of creels and it can become quite difficult. Richard suggested that perhaps if they had their own colour of buoy, with a light on it, which was reactive or something then I would have a product there!

“If you can come up with a solution for it would be epic”


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