In order to diminish the frequency and danger of collisions, and being convinced of the necessityfor establishing a definite "rule of the road,"and a uniform system of signals, for the government of steam vessels, we should have introduced into the foregoing outline distinct provisions on the subject, had it not been that a measure of this kind has been advised in the report of the "Commissioners appointed to inquire into the laws and regulations relating to the pilotage of the United Kingdom," (p. 161,) to be incorporated in a new Pilot Act. Referring, however, to the tenor of our instructions as to "the nature of the accidents in steam vessels," and to "the means of preventing them," and on a review of the valuable information supplied to us on this head, we cannot avoid recommending the adoption of a system which has for so many years been found practically efficient - against which no objections have, hitherto been urged - and which has met the concurrence of so numerous ft body of steam-navigators. The system we advise is -
1. As to the "rule of the road," that steam-vessels approaching and passing each other, should starboard their helms, with the view of keeping on the starboard side of each other respectively as far as practicable.
2. As to night signals, - the want of an uniform and sufficient system of lights has been so fruitful a source of collision and injury, we recommend a system similar to that now practised by a numerous class of commanders of private steamers (described p. 48), and which has been substantively approved of and adopted by the commanders of her Majesty's steam-packets at Liverpool: viz., that in all sea-going steam vessels, there be "a white light at the foremast head, visible in clear weather from eight to ten miles; a white light attached to the fore part of the starboard paddle-box, which can be seen six miles in clear weather; and a third light, which is red, attached to the fore part of the larboard paddle-box, visible about three miles. The three lights can only be seen at one and the same time when right a-head, or nearly so; in any other position, before the beam, two only are visible, and their colours define the position of the vessel."
3. That the obligation to carry some powerful steam-whistle, bell, or gong, be part of the proposed law as regards steam vessels; also, that their rate through the water be defined, during fog and thick weather, in crowded waters, whether plying by day or night.
It is also obvious that some regulations are essential to determine the nature-and enforce the carrying of lights in river-steamers, sailing-vessels, and vessels at anchor.
Owing to the number of passengers frequently embarked on board of steam-vessels, it becomes difficult to provide the means of safety for all in the event of an accident which may render it necessary to abandon the vessel. A plan has recently been proposed by Captain George Smith, R.N., which goes far to meet this difficulty, and is calculated to be of essential service on such trying occasions. We extract the following account of this invention from Captain Smith's letter to Messrs. Pringle and Parkes.
"It is universally admitted, that steam vessels are very deficient in boats; so much so, that, when a steam vessel is lost, if the lives of the passengers and crew be not sacrificed, it may be considered an especial interposition of Providence.
"This deficiency, and the difficulty in steam vessels of carrying boats on deck, and in getting them in or out, have led me to turn my attention to the subject; the result has been the invention described in the accompanying drawing, which invention my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have been pleased to try on board her Majesty's steam vessel Carron, (a vessel of between 200 and 300 tons burden.) The upper section of her paddle-wheel is covered by a life-boat (see Fig. 1.) twenty-five feet long and nine feet beam, having four air-tight cases, which may be removed if required on particular occasions. This life boat is capable of containing between forty and fifty persons. When in her place over the paddle-wheel, the midship thwarts are unshipped, which admits of the wheel revolving within about six inches of her kelson.
"The boat lies bottom upwards on two iron davits, having hinges, which enable her to be turned over and lowered down by six men in two or three minutes. A boat of similar capacity could not be got out, if stowed in the usual position on deck, under twenty minutes by the whole crew, and in case of fire, probably not at all."
Fig. 2 is a transverse section of the vessel, showing the boat on one side as turned over, and ready to be lowered down.
"It is proposed, that steam-vessels should have one large boat over each paddle-wheel; in the most powerful vessels they may be thirty feet in length, with above nine feet beam.
"Vessels fitted with boats on this plan present less resistance to the wind and atmosphere in sailing and steaming, and their appearance is considerably improved. The upper float-boards can be got at with ease when requisite, by raising the boat a little on her davits. If thought requisite to add to the number of boats, the cabins before and abaft the paddle-wheels may be roofed in by smaller boats." (As shown in Fig. 1.)
It is, on many accounts, extremely desirable that steamers should be furnished with the means of instantaneously disconnecting the paddle-wheels from the engines, so as to leave each free to revolve independently of the other; and many instances might be cited, wherein vessels have been lost for want of this provision. Thus, in the melancholy case of the Forfarshire, the vessel, in a heavy gale of wind, with her engines broken down, was suddenly discovered to be within a short distance of rocks; sail was instantly set, and an attempt was made to wear her, but, owing to the resistance of the paddle-wheels, which were still connected to the engines, she could not be forced through the water in time, but drove on shore, and was totally wrecked, with a loss of nearly fifty lives. Again, the Don Juan, in fine weather, struck on a rock, and sprung a serious leak, but which might have been got under by the pumps fitted to the engines, but the inner wheel being fixed on the rock, the engines could not work, and the vessel was lost.