What is Interaction and its factors in detail ?

Hydrodynamic interaction continues to be a major contributory factor in marine casualties and hazardous incidents. Typical situations involve larger vessels overtaking smaller ones in narrow channels where interaction has caused the vessels to collide and, in one case the capsize of the smaller vessel with loss of life.

Situations in which hydrodynamic interaction is involved fall into the following categories:-

  1. Vessels which are attempting to pass one another at very close range. This is usually due to their being confined to a narrow channel.
  2. Vessels which are manoeuvring in very close company for operational reasons, particularly when the larger vessel has a small under-keel clearance.
  3. Vessels with a small under-keel clearance which stop rapidly, when approaching an enclosed basin, resulting in unexpected sheering. Included in this category is the reduced effect of accompanying tugs which may sometimes be experienced in these circumstances.


When vessels are passing there are two situations:

  • overtaking and
  • the head-on encounter.

Interaction is most likely toprove dangerous when two vessels are involved in an overtaking manoeuvre. One possible outcome is that the vessel being overtaken may take a sheer into the path of the other.

Another possibility is that when the vessels are abeam of one another the bow of each vessel may turn away from the bow of the other causing the respective sterns to swing towards each other.

This may also be accompanied by an overall strong attractive force between the two vessels due to the reduced pressure between the underwater portion of the hulls.

There are other possibilities, but the effect of interaction on each vessel during the overtaking manoeuvre will depend on a number of factors including the size of one vessel relative to the other, the smaller of the two vessels feeling the greater effect.

The head-on encounter:-

In this situation interaction is less likely to have a dangerous effect as generally the bows of the two vessels will tend to repel each other as they approach.

However, this can lead indirectly to a critical situation. It may increase any existing swing and also be complicated by secondary interaction such as bank rejection from the edge of a channel. In all cases it is essential to maximise the distance between the two vessels.

The watch keeper on the larger vessel should bearing mind the effect on adjacent smaller vessels and take necessary care when manoeuvring.


When vessels intend to pass in a narrow channel, whether on the same or opposing courses, it is important that the passing be carried out at a low speed.

The speed should be sufficient to maintain control adequately but below maximum for the depth of water so that in an emergency extra power is available to aid the rudder if necessary. If a reduction in speed is required it should be made in good time before the effects of interaction are felt. A low speed will lessen the increase in draught due to squat as well as the sinkage and change of trim caused by interaction itself.

Depending upon the dimensions of both the vessel and the channel, speed may have to be restricted. When vessels are approaching each other at this limiting speed interaction effects will be magnified, therefore a further reduction in speed may be necessary. Those in charge of the handling of small vessels should appreciate that more action may be required on their part when passing large vessels which may be severely limited in the action they can take in a narrow channel.

Regardless of the relative size of the vessels involved, an overtaking vessel should only commence an overtaking manoeuvre after the vessel to be overtaken has agreed to the manoeuvre


It should be noted that in dealing with an interaction situation the control of the vessel depends on the rudder which in turn depends on the flow of water round it. The effectiveness of the rudder is therefore reduced if the engine is stopped, and putting the engine astern when a vessel is moving ahead can render the rudder ineffective at a critical time. In many cases a momentary increase of propeller revolutions when going ahead can materially improve control.


When vessels are manoeuvring at close quarters for operational reasons, the greatest potential danger exists when there is a large difference in size between the two vessels and is most commonly experienced when a vessel is being attended by a tug.

A dangerous situation is most likely when the tug, having been manoeuvring alongside the vessel, moves ahead to the bow to pass or take a tow-line.

Due to changes in drag effect, especially in shallow water, the tug has first to exert appreciably more ahead power than she would use in open water to maintain the same speed and this effect is strongest when she is off the shoulder.

At that point hydrodynamic forces also tend to deflect the tug’s bow away from the vessel and attract her stern; but as she draws ahead the reverse occurs, the stern being strongly repulsed, and the increased drag largely disappears.

There is thus a strong tendency to develop a sheer towards the vessel, and unless the helm (which will have been put towards the vessel to counter the previous effect) is immediately reversed and engine revolutions rapidly reduced, the tug may well drive herself under the vessel’s bow.

A further effect of interaction arises from the flow around the larger vessel acting on the underbody of the smaller vessel causing a consequent decrease in effective stability, and thus increasing the likelihood of capsize if the vessels come into contact with each other. Since it has been found that the strength of hydrodynamic interaction varies approximately as the square of the speed, this type of manoeuvre should always be carried out at very slow speed.

If vessels of dissimilar size are to work in close company at any higher speeds then it is essential that the smaller one keeps clear of the hazardous area off the other’s bow.


A vessel in very shallow water drags a volume of water astern which can be as much as 40% of the displacement. When the vessel stops this entrained water continues moving and when it reaches the vessel’s stern it can produce a strong and unexpected turning moment, causing the vessel to begin to sheer unexpectedly. In such circumstances accompanying tugs towing on a short line may sometimes prove to be ineffective.

The reason for this is that the tug’s thrust is reduced or even cancelled by the proximity of the vessel’s hull and small underkeel clearance. This causes the tug’s wash to be laterally deflected reducing or even nullifying the thrust. The resultant force on the hull caused by the hydrodynamic action of the deflected flow may also act opposite to the desired direction.

Incident report of Interaction

This casualty concerns a fully loaded coaster of 500 GT which was being overtaken by a larger cargo vessel of about 13,500 GT. The channel in the area where the casualty occurred was about 150 metres wide and the lateral distance between the two vessels as the overtaking manoeuvre commenced was about 30 metres.

The speeds of the two vessels were initially about 8 and 11 knots respectively. When the stem of the larger vessel was level with the stern of the smaller vessel the speed of the latter vessel was reduced. When the bow of the smaller vessel was level with the midlength point of the larger vessel the bow started to swing towards the larger vessel.

The helm of the smaller vessel was put hard to starboard and speed further reduced. The rate of swing to port decreased and the engine was then put to full ahead but a few seconds later the port side of the smaller vessel, in way of the break of the foc’sle head, made contact with the starboard side of the larger vessel. The angle of impact was about  25° and the  smaller vessel remained at about this angle to  the larger vessel as she first heeled to an angle of about 20° to starboard and shortly afterwards rolled over and capsized, possibly also affected by the large stern wave carried by the larger vessel into which the smaller one entered, beam on, as she dropped back.


About the author

Manish Mayank

Graduated from M.E.R.I. (Mumbai). A cool, calm, composed and the brain behind the development of the database. The strong will to contribute in maritime education and to present it in completely different and innovative way is his source of inspiration.

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