A SHIP'S captain who boasted he was the 'dog's badoodahs' today said he will sue ferry company Red Funnel after he was cleared of causing a terrifying crash which left sailors fearing they would be crushed.

Captain Ian Drummond was at the helm of the 4,000-tonne ferry when it ploughed into a yacht, putting a family of sailors in 'mortal danger' as the smaller vessel dramatically tilted to one side.

Prosecutors alleged the smash could have been avoided if Cpt Drummond had kept a 'proper lookout' by moving from the chair on the bridge he was keeping watch from.

But he was today cleared of any wrongdoing after a judge declared he was not to blame for the crash between the 305ft Red Funnel vessel and the 32ft motor cruiser.

After the case, the 63-year-old revealed he will take legal action against the ferry company because bosses dismissed him following the collision - with an employment tribunal expected to take place next February.

Cpt Drummond, from Southampton, Hants, said: "I'm just really relieved. As a Christmas present, I could not have asked for anything more.

"I have never been in this situation before. This has been hanging over my head, and my family's, for a long time. It's going to be a lovely Christmas for us now.

"I no longer work for Red Funnel, I was dismissed at the time so I am now taking them to a tribunal."

When the vessels collided, smashed glass was flung across the Phoenix yacht, hurling the four terrified sailors to the ground as it tipped about 70 degrees and almost capsized.

Experienced Drummond remained completely 'unaware' the Isle of Wight-bound Red Falcon ferry had almost crushed the yacht during its 11.7-mile journey across the Solent from Southampton, Hants.

The court heard he only learned of the crash just before his vessel - carrying 202 passengers and 79 vehicles - reached Cowes, Isle of Wight.

District Judge Anthony Callaway today said sailors onboard the Phoenix had been put in 'mortal danger' and Drummond's career was in 'jeopardy' following the crash.

But he added that Peter Jackson - who owns the yacht with wife Julie - made a 'huge failing' when he 'simply did not see the oncoming ferry.

District Judge Callaway added: "Unfortunately, this was to be a journey the defendant and others are unlikely to forget and which concluded in circumstances which gave rise to this prosecution.

"It is likely, as I find, that Mr Jackson simply did not see the oncoming ferry. This was a huge failing on the part of this skipper.

"I am satisfied the defendant did keep a proper lookout at the material time in the prevailing circumstances and conditions and was not to blame for the resultant collision which is the subject of this prosecution.

"In my judgement, to move [from the seat] is likely to have hampered certain aspects of the lookout."

During the three day trial at Southampton Magistrates' Court, Cpt Drummond - a former HGV driving instructor - claimed he had no reason to leave his seat on the bridge as it was 'superb'.

He recalled an early sighting of the 'slow-moving' Phoenix after setting sail but 'discounted' it, believing there was no risk of collision as there was 250 metres between the two vessels and it did not appear to be heading towards the island.

The Phoenix later entered his blindspot - caused by modifications made to the 18m-wide Red Falcon ferry - about a minute before the crash.

Cpt Drummond - who had made the round-trip from Southampton to Cowes about 6,000 times previously - claimed any mistake made on the day had not been his.

He said: "Everyone is capable of making mistakes but I really do put an awful amount of effort into the anal details.

"At no point did I think there was a risk of collision.

"A mistake was made but I think I did everything I was expected to and I have no idea, to this day, how the Phoenix managed to get there. It should be impossible."

When quizzed by the coastguard following the incident, Drummond said: "I don't know what to feel guilty about. I'm as good as it gets. I'm the dog's badoodahs out on the Solent."

Asked why he had remained 'static' in his chair during the journey, he replied it was 'my bloody seat'.

Drummond was cleared of a charge of misconduct of master likely to endanger ships, structures or individuals, and being the master responsible for the conduct of a vessel contravening the Merchant Shipping regulations on September 29 last year.

Mr Jackson has since received a caution for failing to keep a good lookout on the Solent but a prosecution was not brought as he was not a 'professional master'.