RYA revises Orca (Killer Whale) guidelines

Advice to help prevent causing distress to Orcas and damage to your craft
Killer whales in the wild

Intentional collisions by whales with recreational craft have continued along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts this year.

Typically, the incidents involve Orcas bumping and spinning boats for a prolonged period between 45 and 90 minutes. Often this activity is accompanied by whales shaking and damaging rudders. The reason for this behaviour has not been determined.

Orcas, otherwise known as Killer Whales, are a legally protected species under international convention and national laws. It can be an offence to harm these animals.

Incidents involving whales colliding and damaging boats are alarming, however there is no record of an orca attacking a human in the wild or intentionally sinking a boat. To minimise risk of injury to crew members and damage to craft the RYA has previously issued guidelines (2020) to sailors on passage between the UK and Mediterranean and following consultation with orca experts, the guidelines have been revised.

As part of normal passage route planning, the RYA recommends that boat crews consult information provided by the Atlantic Orca Working Group at www.orcaiberica.org.

Maps showing areas where incidents have occurred, or navigation restrictions can be found here: https://www.orcaiberica.org/last-interactions.

The Local Safety Protocol, which supplements those provided by the RYA for sailors departing the UK, can be found here: https://www.orcaiberica.org/safety-protocol

RYA Orca Guidelines 2021: Bay of Biscay to Straits of Gibraltar

Orcas are a protected species, and sailors shouldn’t take any action that could cause them harm. If you find yourself in any of these situations where Orcas are near your boat, then follow our advice to help prevent causing distress to the Orcas and damage to your craft.

When approaching an area where there have been Orca incidents:

  • Maintain a radio watch for information
  • Keep a good look-out, particularly aft, for whales breaching or blowing
  • Keep your distance and maintain a wide berth from any whales seen
  • Take normal precautions and ensure lifejackets are worn and safety equipment is close at hand

If whales are spotted nearby (within 500m) or approach the craft:

  • Turn off engine and echo sounder
  • Disengage autopilot
  • Minimise any noise (don’t shout)
  • Be prepared to let go the wheel / helm to avoid injury

If your vessel is struck by a whale:

  • Keep noise and light to a minimum
  • Sit down to avoid being knocked from your feet and injuring yourself
  • Notify maritime authorities (see Local Safety Protocol), and
  • Remain calm and sit tight

The RYA notes that damage to steering gear reinforces the need to carry an emergency tiller.

For further information, contact RYA Environment and Planning Officer, Richard Hill: richard.hill@rya.org.uk