Bridge Watch keeping

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Aspects of Bridge watch keeping!!!

Bridge Watchkeeping

Upon departure from a port, when the vessel reaches deep and safe waters, a course is set and engines brought to maximum revolutions. The Master writes down his instructions in the bridge order book or advises verbally when he needs to be called. 

He then hands over the watch to the Officer in-charge of the navigational watch (00W). The 00W, having assisted the Master/Pilot to navigate through the narrow channels or confined waters of the port, now has the duty to: 

► Plot the position at the start of the sea passage, 

► Bring the distance measuring log in operation and confirm its reading and input, 

► Verify the ship’s intended track, 

► Verify errors of gyro and magnetic compass and adjust the course being steered, his  is then marked on the course board). 

► Recheck on the readiness of vessel for sea including: 

a) Securing of cargo gear, 

b) Battening down of hatches, 

c) Lowering of flags, 

d) Securing of pilot ladder, anchors, gangway, any loose ropes hanging override or any other loose items on deck. 

Though these processes should have been completed prior sailing, the same need to be checked again and a positive report about such securing obtained and entered in the log. 

When satisfied, the 00W shall inform the Master and take over the watch. 

At sea, the vessel is operational throughout the day and night. The vessel is navigated in accordance with the requirements of the planned passage. The 00W maintains the navigational watch during his hours of duty as per watchkeeping arrangement established by the Master. A series of activities are carried out during each watch. 

Handing over /Taking over a navigational watch At the end of the watch, the 00W hands over the navigation of the vessel to the relieving -officer. 

Handing/Taking over a navigational watch is of great importance. This is an appropriate time to check: 

► The position, 

► Set due to current and the wind, 

► Weather and visibility, 

► Course and speed, 

► Errors on the compasses, 

► Status of the navigational equipment, and 

The traffic in the area. 

Such checks allow correction to prevent continuation of any error. It also requires that the watch keepers should also check that: 

► The vessel is following the planned passage, 

► All the risks have been recognised and the preventive measures are being taken and 

► The equipment is functioning normally. 

Need to maintain the continuity in watch keeping 

In the performance of his duties, the 00W carries out a number of functions almost simultaneously. This naturally keeps him quite busy. Let us list out the number of tasks I functions that demand his attention. The Master being the overall in charge needs to be kept informed of progress of the voyage. The information that is required by the Master is normally recorded as standing orders or the specific orders in Bridge Order book or on some ships called Bridge Night order book. 

Navigational safety of the vessel requires that:-  

The position is monitored at all times, 

► The navigation instruments are working satisfactorily, 

► Appropriate lookout is maintained, 

► The pre-planned course is actually made good. 

Maintenance of internal security requires that:- 

► The safety of the crew is ensured, 

► General fire watch is maintained, 

►Engine room is kept informed of any changes 

Safety of the cargo requires that :-


► The hatches, tanks and openings are secured weather tight, 

► Ventilation is provided where required, 

► The deck cargo, where carried, is secured properly. 

General safety of the vessel requires that :-

Weather watch is maintained, Where necessary, precautions against wet weather, rolling or pitching, are taken in sufficient time so as not to cause damage to persons, the ship or the cargo 

Attend to information external to the ship including:- 

► Navigational warnings, 

► Latest weather reports, 

► Communications with charterers, owners, other vessels in vicinity, VTS, port control, pilots etc. 

Records to be maintained


Some of the orders may be of lasting importance and need to be noted in the bridge order book. For example, maintaining a minimum specified safe distance from all traffic during a passage across ocean. 

Orders / Information of current importance may only be marked as annotations on the chart or may be passed on verbally. These may include the times of calling the master at course alteration points The 00W needs to be aware of such orders / information. 

Changes of status


Monitoring the changes in situation as the status of the situation may be different towards the end of a watch from what it was at the start of the watch. The changes in such situation may include 

► Change in draft due to ballast / deballast operation, 

► Changes in course, deviation to another port, 

► Change in the errors on navigational equipment, 

► Change in weather, 

► Change in movement of vessels in vicinity, etc. 

The relieving OOW should be familiar with these changes. All the aspects need to be watched and cared for by every watchkeeping officer, irrespective of his rank or experience. There is therefore a need to maintain continuity in the watch. This can be achieved only by ensuring that a proper handing/ taking over process is followed. 

Calling the relief 

The standby man on the bridge calls the relief. On most of the ships it is done on the internal telephone. Where it is necessary to send the standby man, the 00W should ensure that it is safe to do so.

 In order to provide the relieving officer sufficient time to freshen up and be ready, the time of calling is normally decided among the watchkeepers. Where there is any doubt, it should be clarified before the relief goes to sleep. 

Where necessary, follow up calls should be made for heavy sleepers and the relief should be informed of a change in weather conditions so that he arrives prepared with raincoat or dons warm clothing accordingly. 


Weather changes in some areas of the world can be quite dramatic and the person sleeping in his cabin would be unaware of the same. The relieving 00W should arrive early on the bridge in order to: 

a) Read, understand and sign the Master’s night orders, 

b) Sight the chart for any annotations, 

c) Inquire about any verbal orders, and 

d) In general, get used to the bridge situation. 

At night, the watch shall not be taken over till the relieving 00W gets used to night vision. 

STCW95 requires that the relieving officer shall personally satisfy himself regarding: 

► Standing orders and other special instructions of the Master relating to navigation of the ship; 

 Position, course, speed and draught of the ship; 

 Prevailing and predicted tides, currents, weather, visibility and the effect of these factors upon course and speed; 

 Procedures for the use of main engines to manoeuvre when the main engines are on bridge control; and 

► Ensure his watchkeeping team is fit and capable of performing the watch. 

Fitness for duty and fatigue 

It is a well-known fact that prolonged mental and physical activity or inadequate rest can induce fatigue. Fatigue causes an individual to become so tired that he is unable to carry out his duties efficiently. The danger of mental fatigue is that it can creep up on individuals without them being aware of it. Consequently, an individual may focus attention only on what he considers important whereas other peripheral warnings may go unnoticed. This is a dangerous situation particularly where the task on hand demands added vigilance. 

On specialised cargo carriers, prolonged hours of work is a common phenomenon, Masters many times alter the conventional watch keeping hours in order to provide sufficient rest to the watchkeepers and provide a change in routine. 

In order to maintain fitness for duty the administration and the management company should: 

► Establish and enforce rest periods for watchkeeping personnel; 

► Require that watch systems be so arranged that the efficiency of all watchkeeping personnel be not impaired by fatigue and that duties are so organised that the first watch at the commencement of a voyage and subsequent relieving watches are sufficiently rested and otherwise fit for duty. 

Note the words “at the commencement of the voyage” Very often the entire ship’s complement, including officers and other watch keepers, are busy in completing cargo operations and other essential tasks before sailing. The Master may therefore specifically rest some of the officers and watch keepers so that they can keep watch immediately on sailing. 

Fitness of relief watch 


When handing over the watch, it is imperative that the 00W ensures that the relieving officer and members of his team are in complete fitness and are capable of performing the navigational watch at sea. In this regard, the officer in charge of the navigational watch shall not hand over the watch to the relieving officer if there are reasons to believe that the latter is not capable of carrying out the watchkeeping duties effectively. In such case the Master shall be notified. 

This is not as easy as it sounds. If the relieving officer is your senior , you may have to use some tact to ensure that he goes back to sleep and the master makes some other arrangements.


The relieving officer shall ensure that the members of the relieving watch are fully capable of performing their duties. Whenever there is any doubt the Master shall be notified. Particular attention shall be given to the adjustment of night vision of the relieving team. Relieving officers shall not take watch until their vision is fully adjusted to the light conditions. 

Key elements of handing over & taking over

As stated earlier, maintenance of continuity is paramount. The changing over of watch is an opportune time to check all aspects of navigation and to ensure that no errors or omissions are being carried over.

The errors or omissions though not intentional could cause serious consequences and therefore need a closer review. The types of errors or omissions that have been made for:-

► Ambiguity in position fixes due to error in the Plotting methods; 

► Position fixes from various sources not matching 

► Position fixes being obtained from only one source and not being verified by other navigational aids, 

► Charted depths not matching with the obtained soundings. 

► Error on equipment, such as error of compass, being wrongly applied, etc. 

The watch-keeping officer may carry on with these errors without realizing the same. This is the reason that the relieving officer is required to review the status all over again. 

These errors are not figments of imaginations. An officer laid a course on the chart as 256° but set the autopilot to 265°. The error was observed only at the handing over process. 

Distractions could be caused due to 

► Workload, stress or fatigue Unexpected VHF call which occupies the full attention of the OOW and results in the exclusion of more urgent needs 

► Unexpected calls from engine room, 

► Inadequacy and confusion due to lack of experience 

These errors, if not rectified in time, could result in formation of an error chain. An effective way to detect an error is by cross checks. Error thus detected can be eliminated. The effective time to correct such errors is at the time of handing over / taking over watch as the crosschecks can now be carried out by a second person. 

Check on errors are traditionally explained as “a stitch in time saves nine” or ” but for the horse shoe nail the battle was lost” 

This process of error proliferation occurs every day and some times it is fatal. The key elements to successful handing / taking over and to reduce possibility of errors therefore are: 

► Carry out ‘Checks’ on navigational status, 

► “Plan’ for eventualities during the watch, and 

► ‘Be Prepared’ for taking appropriate action. 

Process of handing / taking over a watch 

► Receive true course, gyro course and compass course from the outgoing OOW.

► Ensure helmsman /lookout is capable of carrying out his duty and has taken over duty properly.

► Read, understand and sign the Master’s standing /night orders.

► Check the ship’s position, planned course and course being steered by gyro and magnetic compass. Ensure the course board is updated with current courses.

► Check error on compass and that it is being applied correctly

► Verify the speed and draught of the ship. Ensure present draft is prominently displayed on the draft board

► Observe prevailing weather and sea condition, visibility, sea-state, tides and their effect on present course

► Understand the operational status of all navigation equipment

► Be aware of the presence and movement of all traffic in vicinity

► Be aware of conditions and hazards likely to be encountered during the watch

► Be aware of the effects of heel, trim, water density and squat on under keel clearance 

► Understand the state of internal ship systems, engine and cargo monitoring, communications and crew availability

► Ensure that the required lookout and helmsman, as appropriate, are on duty, alert and properly instructed.

► Obtain from outgoing 00W verbal instructions, if any, and occurrences of importance during previous watch. 

► Read log entries made by outgoing 00W

► Take full charge of the watch on time 

► If at any time the OOW is to be relieved when a manoeuvre or other action to avoid any hazard is taking place , the relief of that  officer shall be deferred until such action has been completed. 

► Obtain a Positive report about rounds made in commodation, remote areas and where necessary on deck.

► Read the log entries made at the end of watch by OOW, copy them in your technical journal and explain them. 

Carry out 'Checks' on navigational status


In order to perform efficient checks on the navigational status of the vessel the 00W should report to bridge about 15 minutes before commencement of watch and check the navigational situation including but not limited to the following: 

1.Inspect the chart to ensure: 

a) Appropriate scale in use  

b) Charts in use are corrected up to date, 

c) Inspect and actually verify the course/s laid; 

d) Inspect the set/drift experienced, 

e) Check the charts to see which lights will be seen during the watch and which navigational hazards to expect during the watch.  

2. Compare the above observation to ensure that it is according to the passage plan.

3. Read, understand and sign Master's night orders 

4. Plot present position and ensure that it conforms to earlier charted positions, in so doing verify:

 a) The depth obtained from echo sounder matches with charted position (adjusted for vessel’s draft and location of transducer) 

b) Position obtained from other sources conforms to charted position 

c) Check azimuth book for error obtained and that it is being correctly applied 

5. Check the steering including:

► Course being steered correctly 

► Auto-pilot settings are appropriate as per weather conditions 

► Auto-pilot is steering well as per present settings 

► Course board is updated for current courses 

► Check on operational status of navigational equipment including: 

► Time and course being displayed on the course recorder is set correctly 

► Check that VHF watch is being maintained on channel 

► Check latitude/speed input to gyro is correctly fed 

► Check navigation lights sentinel for bulbs glowing and test failure buzzer.

6. Check that the inputs to radar , GPS, course recorder are appropriate 


Normally most integrated navigational equipment relies on data that is supplied automatically. However, this needs to be checked. One way to ensure is to ascertain that the logs and gyros are working in efficient condition. Remember we are moving to an automated world to ease our labour but this brings along more monitoring in any case. 

7. Use and check of main engines 


The main engines are under the control of the 00W. This brings some responsibilities as each ship’s engines have peculiar requirements and it is necessary to familiarise with them. However, all said and done the engines are at your disposal. Be familiar with the procedures for the use of main engines to manoeuvre when the main engines are on bridge control. Check the tachometer for the rpm and the status of engine to ensure that they are in accordance with planned passage. Check that the UMS control settings are appropriate. 

8. Check on the operational condition of any safety equipment being used including: - 

► Smoke detector 

► Inert Gas System 

► Engine room fire alarm on UMS vessels and the emergency STOP device 

9. Frequently step outside the wheelhouse and make yourself familiar with the situation. Simultaneously ensure that: 


► Navigation lights are burning brightly, 

► Shore lights and navigational marks in the vicinity are identified, 

 The presence of other vessels in vicinity is detected by sight or by hearing, 

► The movement of traffic in vicinity is identified and verified with the radar picture. 

 Ensure that the lookout is alert and aware of his functions. 

Planning for eventualities during the watch 

Having looked at the routine checks, we should now see the situations, which arise unplanned or for which we should be prepared. 

A vessel on a coastal passage is likely to pickup shore lights, navigational marks etc. As a part of the passage plan, it is necessary to know its characteristics and calculate the raising / dipping distances and the likely bearing at which it will be raised. At the same time, the lookout should be informed of approximate direction in which this light will be picked up. 

Navigational watch can be efficiently and effectively executed if it is properly planned. Upon confirming the present position on the chart, the 00W should work out estimated positions at certain time intervals, say every half an hour, and at the end of the watch. He should inspect the chart to identify: 

■ The depths to be encountered during the watch, 

■ Any significant depth changes and times of its occurrence, 

■ The conditions and hazards likely to be encountered during the watch, 

■ Any lights, conspicuous buoys, landmarks that may be picked up during the watch, the characteristics and time of its occurrence and estimated time of arrival at such positions 

■ Check on the operational condition of all navigational equipment likely to be used during the watch, 

■ Familiarisation with the weather forecast and tidal streams to be encountered. 

■ Inspect and confirm safe passing distance off dangers 

■ Plan of action to enter or leave a traffic separation scheme 

■ Reporting of positions to vessel traffic services, if any 

Planning for eventualities during the watch 

Be prepared for taking appropriate action Being prepared means to keep the situation under control. Situations do vary from time to time. OOW should be aware of the changes. Some of these are discussed below: 

Deviation of the vessel from the track. 

The vessel is likely to deviate from the track due to forces of current and wind. The OOW should Plot the vessel’s position frequently to detect the deviation and apply corrections to bring the vessel back on the track. 

Increase of traffic density 


Where the traffic density is increasing, call the helmsman to the bridge, switch on the Radar and if warranted alert the engine room. 

Reduction of visibility 


Call the lookout man or post additional lookouts, alert the Master and the engine room, if the traffic density is also heavy, alert other OOWs to assist you. When necessary make appropriate sound signals, switch on the navigation lights even in daytime as when close quarter situation develops, the navigation lights indicate the aspect better. Reduce speed to safe speed. 

Onset of heavy weather 


Call out the crew to tighten the deck cargo lashings, trim ventilators, ensure that all weathertight doors and hatch coamings and tank openings are closed properly, secure sounding pipes and air pipes, ensure that the anchors are properly secured and the spurting pipes are closed. Inform Master of the action taken and if the ship is labouring heavily, CALL THE MASTER. Under such circumstances the course and or speed needs to be adjusted to make the vessel ride comfortably. 

Vessel Arriving Port

The following is a checklist prepared on one of the ships for arrival port. Do check the list. Note in your technical journal the process of checking every item on the checklist 

Preparation for arrival in port 


■ Port information available 

■ Instructions for pilot/tugs/berthing received and acknowledged 

■ Latest weather reports obtained, 

■ Tides and currents for port / adjacent areas calculated 

■ Calculated / known minimum and maximum depths of water in port approaches ,channels and at berth. 

■ Large scale charts for port’s Pilotage water available. 

■ Master Pilot information exchange forms prepared. 

 Any restrictions on draught, airdraught within limits for bridges and berth, trim, speed, entry times, etc. 

■ Relevant approach charts and nautical •publications are corrected up to date and course laid off. 

■ The latest navigational messages received for the area, 

■ ETA sent to pilot station at appropriate time with all relevant information required e.g. details of dangerous /hazardous good carried. 

■ Pilot ladder ready. 

■ All navigational equipment has been tested 

■ Course recorder has been checked. 

■ Clocks have been synchronised 

■ Internal communication equipment has been tested. 

■ Signalling equipment, including flags / lights have been checked. 

■ Deck lighting has been tested. 

■ Mooring machinery tested, lines prepared. 

■ Manual Steering has been tested and engaged in sufficient time for the helmsman to become accustomed before manoeuvring commences 

■ The crew has been advised of the time of “stand by” for entering the port. 

■ The VHF channels for the various services (e.g. VTS, pilot, tugs, berthing instructions) have been noted and a radio check carried out. 

■ Cargo handling gear in state of readiness. 

■ Engine room has been notified at least one hour prior arrival.  

■ Tides and currents for port / adjacent areas calculated 

■ Engine tested for satisfactory operation ahead and astern. 

■ Steering gear system has been tested (both motors be running when manoeuvring). 

■ Anchoring/berthing, establish of proper anchorage. 

■ Which side to jetty? 

■ Ship or shore gangway. 

■ Mooring lines. 

■  Accommodation ladder. 

■ Cargo Documents ready. 

Need to take rounds in accommodation and on deck 

There are many parts of the ship, which are not visited regularly. Small deviations if any, not detected and corrected in time, may lead to a disaster. There is therefore, a need to ensure that everything is under control in remote parts of the vessel. 

Rounds should therefore be made in the accommodation, decks, galley, stores etc. 

Some vessels carry deck cargo. The lashing on these becomes loose due to vessel’s movement in the seaway. These need to be checked and tightened from time to time. 

The OOW upon being relieved should therefore take a round on deck and in accommodation. When taking rounds, the OOW should ensure that: 

a. No fire hazard exists 

b. No apparent sign of flooding of vessel 

c. Nothing unusual is detected including unsecured door, leaking hydraulic line, loose electric connection 

d. No loose or unsecured articles are detected in common rooms 

e. Deck cargo lashings are tight and are in order. If necessary, the crew should be called out and lashings tightened in presence and to the satisfaction of relieved OOW. 

A positive report of this should be made to the bridge.

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