COLREG Rule No 04 & 05

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Part B – Steering and Sailing Rules

Section I – Conduct of Vessels in any Condition of Visibility

Rule-4: Application

Rules in this section apply to any condition of visibility.

Rule 4 tells us that vessels operating under any and all conditions of visibility are required to follow Rules 5 through 10. In other words, these Rules apply all of the time. 

Rule-5: Look-out 


Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision. 

STCW’95: Mandatory standards regarding watch keeping, including standards for keeping a proper look-out, are contained in Part A, Chapter VIII of the STCW Code. 

Lookout: The term, as used by the Rules, denotes not a person but rather the systematic collection of information. Responsibility for maintaining a proper lookout lies with the vessel’s operator, not with a subordinate designated as “lookout.” The vessel’s operator–that is, Master, Watch Officer, or Person in Charge–is the lookout manager. 

Sometimes, it’s stressed that a lookout man should be stationed forward if weather is good in order to ensure no distraction to him. But this is also true that a lookout man stationed forward may not perform his duties properly due to lack of diligence. 

Purpose of Lookout: The purpose of the lookout is to collect the information needed to avoid collisions. 

Duty of the Lookout: Traditionally, the duty of the lookout was to watch out for vessels, lights, and other objects (such as reefs, shoals, and icebergs) by sight and hearing alone and to report their presence to the vessel’s operator promptly. The lookout was allowed some discretion on what to report in crowded waters and would be assigned no other duties that would interfere with this important function. 

Today, a proper lookout is a team effort. It is the Master’s duty to ensure that a proper lookout is maintained at all times. That duty cannot be delegated. 

When a lookout man is stationed forward, he must use his discretion and report the lights or objects which are likely to bring risk of collision, especially small craft which may not have been observed from the bridge. 

Interference on Sight & Hearing: Good eyesight is affected by environmental factors such as ambient light, weather conditions, water spray, or wind. Fatigue can also affect vision, as can moving between extremes of light. 

Similarly, hearing may also be impaired. The noise of wind and wave and ship’s machinery may mask the sound you want to hear. The blast from a ship’s own whistle blocks out other noises and will temporarily, perhaps permanently, reduce the hearing of the lookout. Hearing testing would be advised.

All Times: The duty to keep a proper look-out applies also when a vessel is at anchor, especially if there is a strong tide running, or if other vessels are likely to be passing by. 

Proper and appropriate: These are vague terms. This rule doesn’t provide a precise guidance on adequacy of the lookout. However, STCW Code gives us a detailed guideline on determining the strength of lookout. 

Proper Look-out: A proper lookout is that which is sufficient to prevent a collision, without any allowance for good luck, in the prevailing circumstances and conditions 

By Sight & Hearing and all available means: Sight, hearing, and “all available means” are tools of the lookout. Some of the available means are Binoculars, Radar (including long range scanning), VHF, Bridge-to-Bridge radiotelephone, Automated radar plotting aids, Differential GPS (DGPS), Satellite Navigation Equipment, Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), radio transponders, Vessel traffic services, Navigation and piloting instruments, sound receivers to receive fog signals etc. 

Prevailing Circumstances & Conditions: Some examples are:- 

• A lookout in the open ocean can be less intense than one in coastal or inland waters. It cannot, however, be abandoned—mid-ocean collisions do occur. 

• A lookout on a vessel at anchor is required, with the level of effort depending upon the location of the anchorage, depth of water, type of ground tackle, wind, currents, waves, and so forth. The lookout should determine whether the anchor is dragging and should warn other vessels of the anchored vessel’s presence. 

• The means and methods for maintaining a lookout vary with night and day. At night, lookouts should make greater use of binoculars and radar. Masters should post observers away from the vessel’s own lights so as not to impair the night vision of the lookout. During the day and in good visibility, a vessel can be seen at a much greater distance, as indicated by the fact that a masthead light for the largest vessel need be visible for only six miles and for the smallest vessel, only two miles. During daylight, and under the most favourable conditions, the watch officer on a large vessel may perform the lookout alone. 

• The size and arrangement of a vessel have a direct bearing on the efforts required to maintain a proper lookout. On small vessels where there is an unobstructed all-around view and where there is no impairment of night vision, the craft’s operator may both steer and keep the lookout. Unobstructed view, simple controls, no distractions, and high manoeuvrability are important here.

• Visibility is generally the key factor in maintaining a proper lookout. As the visibility decreases, the level of effort to maintain a proper lookout increases tremendously. Sight needs to be augmented by hearing, radar, and radiotelephone. Unless you are in the open ocean, you should seek precise navigational information. In the case of low-lying fog, at least one person should be positioned high enough to see over the fog. 

Full appraisal of the situation: It is this broad objective that you should keep in mind when managing the lookout. If there is not enough information to assess the situation, you should tap all your resources to gather more. If you are still unable to acquire the information you need, then you should take steps immediately to reduce your requirement for information–for example, by slowing or stopping. Otherwise, you are violating 

Rule 5. This is not one of those circumstances where doing more with less is a virtue. A lookout man should be always aware of what is happening on his own vessel keeping a check that all navigational equipment required for keeping the vessel on course are functioning correctly. 

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