Chilean Navy and Cape Horn

September 23, 2018 (Google Translation) – The Chilean Navy through the Maritime Authority plays a relevant role in safeguarding human life at sea throughout the national territory.

It is in the austral zone, more specifically in Cape Horn, that the naval personnel must maintain a permanent attention to the possible emergencies that may occur during the passage of vessels that transit in a particular way or inserted in nautical sporting events, as well as ships that use this route commercially or as an entrance to Antarctica.

It receives this name the southernmost point of the island of Hornos and the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, traditionally considered as “The end of the world”. It is the southernmost of the three great capes of the southern hemisphere of the planet and marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage, which separates America from Antarctica and joins the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean.

Cape Horn is located within the territorial waters of Chile, and our country effectively exercises sovereignty over the island. It belongs administratively to the commune of Cabo de Hornos, whose capital is located in the city of Puerto Williams, also the head of the Chilean Antarctic Province, belonging to the XII Region of Magallanes and the Chilean Antarctic.


Our Institution has an Alcaldía de Mar, built around the lighthouse, which serves both as a house for the lighthouse keeper and his family. It also has access to the beacon from inside the house, with several rooms, radio and radar control room and plotting of surface contacts detected on the horizon and equipment to measure and transmit weather data in real time. Additionally there is a small chapel on one side of the lighthouse.

This year the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 is taking place, the round the world sailing team that will cover the longest distance in its history, about 45,000 nautical miles (83,000 kilometers), crossing 4 oceans and stopping in 11 cities of 5 continents.

The ocean marathon, with 43 years of history in which the best navigators of the world participate, will cross the most dangerous oceans on the planet, contemplating by the end of March to overcome the most famous and feared maritime landmark of all: Cape Horn.

But what is the greatest risk that the boats have when making the Cape Horn pass?

Undoubtedly the greatest difficulties are given by the weather conditions of the place, which change quickly and mainly are given by strong winds and large waves that occur in the low depths of the area. These conditions increase the movement of the boats and, therefore, the risk of falling into the water, which, added to the low temperatures of the place, makes survival difficult in the event of an incident.

The predominant weather conditions are reflected in winds of western component of 20 to 30 knots and waves of 2 to 3 meters. This situation can change rapidly with increasing wind or gusts of 40 to 50 knots and waves of up to 5 meters, which produces a type of revolt wave that makes it difficult to navigate smaller boats.

Popular history tells that there is an area of ​​Cape Horn that would have a significant number of wrecks of vessels sunk, nowadays are common ships especially sailboats or yachts that have presented problems either by faults in their propulsion systems or damage to its structure due to the impact of the sea, generating the activation of a maritime emergency.

The actions of the Maritime Authority

The Chilean Navy, as a Maritime Authority, provides a relevant and important support to each sailboat that intends to sail to Cape Horn. Among the steps to follow, the fundamental thing is to request the respective authorization of departure in the Harbor Master’s Office of Puerto Williams, in order to have a more specific control of the defeat to follow, maintaining the monitoring through the different City Halls of Mar on the route. These mayors, in turn, will provide weather forecasts and warnings to sailors to facilitate the programming of the ships.

When a boat presents a problem or requires assistance, it must give notice according to the means available to the Harbor Master’s Office, whether via radio, satellite, email or by liaising with any of the City Halls, who receive the calls informing them in the shorter term to the Harbor Master’s Office where each situation is evaluated, and elevating it to the Maritime Governance in case a case of Search and Rescue or Search and Rescue SAR (Search and Rescue for its acronym in English) has to be established

Another way to activate an emergency in this isolated area occurs when the boat does not comply with its programmed defeat or it is not possible to have communications with it, first with a phase of gathering information about possible sightings and last known position, which added to the evaluation of both the area to be navigated and the prevailing weather conditions and possible place to weather a bad weather, lead to determine suggestions for actions to be taken by the Maritime Authority until reaching the vessel.

Thus, the Maritime Governance of Puerto Williams takes control of the SAR case, evaluating the panorama and defining the best courses of action according to the type of emergency, supported by the ships of the Beagle Naval District when greater capacities are required.