Saigon River Pilots Guide

from Peter Bayliss with Ralph Grambo SS "Baton Rouge Victory" Sunk at Le Quattre Bras, Long Tau River 23 August 1966
Pte. de L'Est-- Long Tau River known as "Ho Chi Minh Corner". For some silly reason ARVN would guard this light and they would get knocked off during the nite. The only thing wrong was that the light had not been lit since the 30's
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Small Ships Heavy Boats and the Perils of the Long Tau Shipping Channel
Saigon Pilot's Guide [This Page]
Water Mines
4th Trans Command Support of the Riverine Forces

The following information is extracted from H.O. Pub. 960, Pilot Guide, Saigon, 1967.

PILOT INSTRUCTIONS - VUNG TAU TO SAIGON

General,-Transit of the Long Tao, Nha Be and Sai Gon Rivers from Vung Tau to Sai Gon can be accomplished with relative ease and navigational safety if tides and associated currents are taken into consideration. Ships with a draft of 12 feet or less have almost no limitations, except for the riverbanks themselves, in choosing which part of the channel to transit. Traffic and current are the limiting factors in most cases. Merchant ships with a draft of 28 feet transit to SaiGon at higher tides.

Tides and Currents.-Variation in water levels.-Onshore winds and/or low barometric pressure will generally result in tides higher than those predicted. Conversely, offshore winds and/or high barometric readings may result in lower tides than predicted. At stations located on tidal rivers, the average seasonal variation in river level, due to freshets and droughts, may be considerable more than a foot. Predictions for those stations include an allowance for this seasonal variation representing average freshet and drought conditions. UNUSUAL freshets or droughts, however, will cause the tides to be higher or lower, respectively, than predicted. NOTE THAT THE TIME OF SLACK WATER MAY DIFFER BY SEVERAL HOURS FROM THE TIME OF HIGH OR LOW WATER STAND IN TIDAL RIVER AREAS. It has been found that slack water follows the high or low water stand by as much as two hours if the high/low water differential is between 6 and 9 feet. When the differential is less, the time of slack water will be less.

Depending on speed of river transit, the ideal tidal situation for transit between Vung Tau and SaiGon exists when the differential between the tides at Cap St. Jacques and SaiGon allows movement up or down the river at or about the time of slack water. At other times, departure from Vung Tau should be made so as to arrive at SaiGon at or about the time of slack water.

Tide Tables,-In computing tides and periods of slack water, "Tide Tables of High and Low Water Predictions - 1967 - Republic of Vietnam", should be used. These tide tables are is sued by U.S. Naval Branch Oceanographic Office, SaiGon (See page ).

Maneuvering Instructions.-When transit of the river is made during maximum current conditions, certain rules should be observed. Go deep into all turns, staying well clear of current rips associated with all sharp points of land and the resulting action of strong flood or ebb currents upon them. It is a good policy to avoid the current rips, and complete the turn before entering turbulent water. Use full power to assure good steering control. Do not allow the ship's head to swing too rapidly, recovery is sometimes difficult, The ship is best controlled by swinging in five or ten degree increments. Be ready to assist with engines should steering be seriously affected by the current,

It is advisable never to follow another ship too closely. On sharp turns, single screw deep-draft ships will sometimes slow and back their engines to assist in making the turn. Avoid entering any of the narrow sharp turns in a meeting situation. Irregardless of who has the right-of-way, once a large ship has entered a turn, it cannot readily maneuver and requires considerable room to complete the turn, If a large ship is seen approaching a sharp bend of the river, slow and allow the larger ship to complete the turn before proceeding.

Turning a ship in the Port of Sai Gon and Newport can be difficult and dangerous at anytime except during periods of slack water or minimum currents. Under no circumstances should a mooring be attempted running with the current unless tugs are available. Mooring or berthing breasting the current are made with ease using the current to assist. Direct approaches are to be avoided, a wide approach with sufficient headway being preferred. It is sometimes necessary on single screw ships to use an anchor when mooring.

Sound Signals:

1. The following sound signals and special pilotage conditions are in effect on the SaiGon River (Long Tao):

A.Sound Signals

Signal Meaning

(1) One short blast I am altering my course to starboard.

(2) Two short blasts lam altering my course to port.

(3) Three short blasts MY engines are going astern.

(4) One long and two short blasts Request tug.

(5) One long blast Attention

(6) Five short blasts Your movements doubtful.

(7) A ship overtaking another will signify her intentions by sounding one or two short

blasts (see (1) and (2) of this Table) as appropriate. The ship being overtaken

signals her acknowledgment by sounding one or two short blasts and maneuvers

to permit the overtaking vessel to pass on the appropriate side. In other cases,

the overtaken vessel sounds no reply to signal of intention by the overtaking vessel

and maintains course and speed.

B. Special Pilot Conditions

(1) When two ships are meeting in the river, the ship proceeding with the current is the privileged ship.


The following three charts show the tortuous path of the shipping channel. The channel connects at the red X's.