At the recent meeting of the British Association, Don Arturo de Marcoartu read a paper on the above subject.
He stated that he wished to draw special attention to increasing the safety of navigation against storms, fogs, fire, and collisions with wrecks, icebergs, or vessels, and recommending the development of maritime telegraphy. He urged that vessels should be supplied with apparatus to communicate with and telegraph to each other and to the nearest coast the weather and sea passed over by them, and that reports given by vessels should be used as "warnings" more extensively. He wished the mid-Atlantic stations connected by telegraph for the same purpose.
In regard to the use of oil on rough seas, he said that Dr. Badeley in 1857, Mr. John Shields five years ago at Peterhead and last year at Folkestone, the Board of Trade in 1883, and a committee on life saving appliances of the United States had made experiments. The conclusions of the committee were that in deep water oil had a calming effect upon a rough sea, but there was nothing in either source of information which yet answered the question whether or not there is in the force exerted by the wind a point beyond which oil cannot counteract its influence in causing the sea to break. He thought it appeared that oil had some utility on tidal bars; on wrecks, to facilitate the operations of rescue; on lifeboats and on lifebuoys. In regard to icebergs, he thought the possibility of obtaining an echo from an iceberg when in dangerous proximity to a ship should be tried. He advocated the use of automatic sprinklers in the case of fire, the establishment of parabolic reflectors for concentration of sound, and the further prosecution of experiments by Professor Bell in establishing communication between vessels some distance apart by means of interrupted electrical currents.
The improvement of navigation, he said, meant an international code of police to improve police rules of navigation; an international code of universal telegraphy for navigation; an international office of meteorology and navigation to collect the studies; experiments on the weather, on the sea, on the casualties; and the discovery by experiment of new apparatus and appliances to diminish maritime disaster.
He had called the attention of two governments to this matter, and he hoped that before long there would be proposed an international congress - such as the postal, telegraph, and sanitary congresses, and the international convention to fix the common meridian - by one of the maritime powers, by which would be founded an international institution to diminish casualties at sea. He recommended a universal system of buoys. The great losses of life and property every year were worthy the devotion of £300,000 by an international institution, which would be much less than the monthly average loss in navigation.
Admiral Pim said that ships were improperly built - some were ten times longer than their beam. There was nothing in the world so ticklish as a ship; touch her in the waist, and down she goes. He believed sailing ships ought not to exceed four times their beam, and steamers certainly not more than six times. He pointed out that a fruitful cause of accidents was the stopping of steaming all at once in the case of impending collision, by which the rudder lost control of the vessel. If constructors looked more to the form of the ships, and got them to steer better, collisions would be avoided.
The Lord Advocate said it had always occurred to him that one great secret of collisions at sea was the present system of lights, which made it impossible for the vessel at once to inform another vessel what it was about. The method of signaling was very crude, and he ventured to say that it was quite out of date when vessels met each other at a rate of speed of 24 to 25 knots. He had, as an amateur, tried a method which he would attempt to explain. His idea was to fit up a lantern on deck, showing an electric light. The instrument would be controlled by the rudder, and the commanding officer of the vessel would be able so to turn it when the helm was put up or down that the light would flash at some distance in front of either bow of the vessel, and thus be a signal to a vessel coming in an opposite direction. When the helm was amidships, the light was shown straight ahead, and could not be moved until the helm was shifted. The direction in which the vessel was going could not by any possibility be mistaken, and it was plain that if the lights from two ships crossed each other, then there was danger.
If the lights were clear of each other, then the ships would pass safely.
Sir James Douglass asked if his Lordship had made any experiments.
The Lord Advocate said he had not. The Board of Trade had such a number of inventions on this subject on hand that he supposed they were already disgusted. Besides, he was only an amateur, and left the carrying out of the suggestion to others.
Sir James Douglass said this idea of a lantern did very well for a short distance, but for a long distance it utterly failed. It was very difficult to realize a movement from a distance of over a mile out to sea, and signals were required to be visible for from two to three miles.
The Lord Advocate said his idea depended not upon the object light, but upon the sweep of the light on the water.
Sir James Douglass said all those questions were of the utmost importance to a maritime country. In regard to experiments with oil on troubled water, he had witnessed them, and he had carefully studied all the reports, and had come to the conclusion that they were all very well in a tub of water or a pond, but on the ocean they were utterly hopeless. He would stake his reputation on that. They had been tried in the neighborhood of Aberdeen, and he had prophesied the results before they were commenced. It was utterly hopeless to think that a quantity of oil had the power of laying a storm - all the world could not produce oil enough to bring about that result.
There might be something in maritime telegraphy, and he hoped the experiments of Mr. Graham Bell, in transmitting through two or three mile distances, would come to something. He did not believe in powerful lights. Increase the lights to any very great extent, and a dazzling effect was the result. In regard to sound, he wondered that no more effective alarm was used than the whistle. It was well known that, as the whistle instrument was enlarged, the sound became more and more a roar. He would have ships use all their boiler power in sounding a siren, so that the sound could be heard at a distance of not less than two or three miles in any weather. With such a signal as that there ought to be, not absolute safety, but collisions would be more easily prevented. He was glad to say that a universal system of buoys had been practically arranged, thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh and his committee, so that, as soon as an old system can be changed to a new one, all the buoys would bear one universal language.
Admiral Pim pointed out that a red light would show four miles, while a green light was only visible for two miles and a half, so that, if a green light were seen, it indicated that the two vessels were within two miles and a half of each other.
Sir James Douglass said there was undoubtedly a weakness in regard to these lights; and he held that in the manufacture of lights effect should be given to the difference that existed in the various lights, so that, by making the green light more powerful, it could penetrate as far as the red, and in the same way making the red and green lights proportionately more powerful, so that they would penetrate as far as the white light.
Sir James Douglass said he had seen a parabolic reflector for sound tried, but, unfortunately, the reflector so intensified and focused all the sounds about the vessel and the noise of the sea that the operator could hear nothing but a chaos of sound.