Master Standing Instructions & Night Orders

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Why Master Standing Instructions is Important??

Master standing order and night orders

Various conventions, codes and guides provide the framework within which officers’ duties shall be performed in nearly all cases of routine and many extraordinary circumstances. Operational procedures will be based upon the owner’s navigation policy and these should work without conflict within the safety management system. This will apply to every ship. 

The master should provide his own standing orders – which will be supplemented on a daily basis by night orders – to spell out to his officers his own personal requirements. This may be with regard to the particular ship, her trade, the bridge team and their experience. These standing orders may reflect points that have caused him concern in the past and lessons he has learned and will set the standard that he requires from his watch keepers. 

Among the mass of written guidance on board, this is the opportunity for the master to set down quite simply the ground rules for exactly what he expects the officers to do in different circumstances, to reinforce practices that he expects to be followed and to create a relationship in which a mutual confidence is established. The officers will know when the master wants to be called and the master will know that they will do so. 

It is advisable to consider carefully the special circumstances, which exist every time a master takes over command. These will relate to the particular ship and to the officers and crew serving in her. There is a temptation to use just one set of tried and tested master’s standing orders without any adjustment for each ship. 

This would be a mistake and a lost opportunity to address the special needs and the circumstances of each different command. 

The purpose of good operational procedures is to ensure that a mistake – be it an error or an omission – by one person does not put the ship into danger. It is human to make mistakes and this applies as equally to the master as it does to everybody else on board. It is the duty of the officers to check their own work and to verify the work of others at hand-over. When a pilot is carried he must, equally, be told if you think he has made a mistake which might adversely affect the safety of the ship. 

In Port

► Follow the instructions of the chief officer with regard to ballast, cargo being worked, repairs carried out etc. This supports the chief officer’s authority with the ship in port. 

► Ensure that access to/from the ship is kept as safe as possible, well lighted and the gangway net properly rigged; make sure watchmen are on deck and shore people do not smoke in unauthorised places. The chief officer will see that the gangway and safety net are set up on arrival but it is then up to the 00W to keep it that way. 

► Keep the ship alongside and moorings tight; replace any ropes that break and call me if the ship starts ranging or weather becomes adverse. Some officers don’t appreciate that mooring winches have much more holding power ‘on the brake’ than they do ‘on heave’ and if the ship comes off the berth in strong winds, it can make things worse by trying to heave her back alongside. 

► Never hesitate to call for shore assistance (tugs, pilots, fire brigade or ambulance) in any emergency and keep engineers advised. In practice the captain or chief officer will be aboard if cargo is being worked but makes sure the 00W knows he has authority. 

► There are many thefts from ships in port and stowaways are a major problem. Try to check on people coming aboard, that they do have business on the ship and, if in doubt, take them to the person they wish to see or send watchman with them. The co-operation of everybody on board is necessary to try to minimise thefts and stowaways but the example of a duty mate who takes this task seriously motivates others on duty. 

Before arrival and sailing

► Test all the bridge gear in accordance’ the checklist; switch on both steering motors, radars and check alignment of radars, gyro repeaters and course recorder. Prepare pilot information card. 

► Give the engine room one hour notice’ meaning that at the end of the one hour on arrival we shall want to manoeuvre; and likewise one hour before ‘stand by’ on departure. This is best defined to avoid confusion and of course the engine room has to be advised of this. 

Log Books

► Entries must be clear and accurate; names of all persons involved in any incidents must be given fully and he must sign entries by the 00W or duty officer. This is invaluable a few years later if there are any claims made. 

► If the wind is force 7 or more, put the weather in every two hours and the barometer every hour if it is changing much, plus remarks on water coming aboard etc. In port, ensure that weather remarks continue to be made in the log book. In cyclone areas or adverse weather, further detail would be given in the night orders. 

► While the log book only needs the important times, keep a complete movement book with details of tugs, whose lines, moorings used fendering of the quay, which side alongside and number of the berth. Routine again, but so often records are incomplete.  

At Anchor

► Keep a good check on position of this ship and others close by – ships may drag soon after anchoring, when the tide changes, when the weather freshens or when the brake won’t hold with a lot of yawing. The danger is not only of this ship dragging but of others drifting down to us. The bow stopper must always be in use when at anchor. In adverse weather it is helpful to paint a link on the aft side of the gypsy so it can easily be seen if the brake renders. 

► Normally full anchor watches will have to be kept but if cargo is being worked while at anchor the opportunity must be taken at regular intervals to check the ship’s position. Always a problem but deck and bridge have both to be watched. 

► Ensure the lights/signals are correctly exhibited; usually a VHF watch will have to be kept and if you’ve been away from the bridge for a time check with the shore station that they have not been calling us. 

► If another ship tries to anchor too close or starts to drag, try and get them on the VHF or flash them with the Aldis lamp. 

► At the moment of letting go the anchor, try to get a position on the chart and note the ship’s heading – that way the swinging circle can best be worked out on the chart. If the scale of the chart is good enough, it gives a circle within which the ship should remain and is handy when weighing anchor in a crowded anchorage. 

At Sea

► Make sure the navigation lights are on at night and that a good lookout is kept at all times. The seaman on watch is always available to the 00W and should be used as a lookout at night, in rain or in fog. Usually single seaman watches are kept at sea but the 00W must know that a man is available to him if required during daytime. 

► Comply fully with the regulations for preventing collisions with other ships and use sound signals when within two miles. 

► In an emergency do not hesitate to use the engines but, if at all possible, warn the duty engineer first and call me. Try to avoid close quarter situations by early and substantial course alterations and in open waters give all traffic plenty of room. Nothing is gained by passing too close. Running UMS, it is preferable to have the duty engineer in the engine room first if that is possible. 

► Respond to any requests from the engine room to reduce speed and, in. the event of a blackout with other ships around, try to get maximum helm on quickly and switch on emergency NUC lights. Not always possible but, if it can be done; this is the best way of reducing travel as running the way off may take a long distance. 

► On taking over the watch, check the position, check the course to steer and the course actually being steered; check the distance to go to the next alteration, soundings or picking up land. In the night watches, please read and initial the night orders. The routine of using the night orders every night is preferred as it reduces the risk of something being missed if the book is sometimes used, sometimes not. 

► Compare magnetic and gyro compasses at least every hour and take azimuths every watch. This is not an outdated routine, but good navigational practice. 

► Change to hand steering and back each watch (tests both) and check the course recorder. Aim for the minimum use of rudder but don’t fiddle with the settings unless you think you can improve the situation. Small alterations, of course, may be done on the autopilot but always change to hand steering for bigger alterations. When a helmsman is engaged in hand steering, keep a close watch on him  until you are sure of his ability, both in steering and following helm orders. The ability of helmsmen due to the small amount of experience they gain (both in general and in any particular ship), causes concern, particularly in canals and restricted channels. 

► Use the navigational aids fully (including the echo sounder) but as a backup to 8. visual position fixing and do not rely on the aids to the point where common sense is ignored. Always check the chart details for WGS details when using GPS in coastal waters and In restricted waters always use visual bearings and radar distances. We passed through the era of ‘radar assisted collisions and may now be into that of ‘GPS assisted stranding’. When a ‘black box’ (voyage data recorder) is fitted, continue to fix positions on the chart, particularly in restricted waterways. 

► If not already running always put the radar on in good time if there is rain around or visibility is doubtful. In open waters the best use of radar is in tracking ships from 12 miles so that their movement is assessed by 8 miles and there is then plenty of time to alter course if necessary and to make sure the alteration is having the desired effect. This clearly spells out the philosophy required by the master to avoid close quarter situations – the other ship may be fast, may not be keeping an efficient watch and may unexpectedly alter course. 

► Approaching heavy rain or fog, have a good look around, switch on radar, warn the engine room, call up the seaman for lookout, switch on the navigation lights, fix the position of the ship, switch on fog signal to automatic and call me. Extra manning or plotting routines will be arranged then, depending on the locality/situation. Specific arrangement for bridge manning in fog is wise for ships trading to the USA, and a lookout forward may be required. 

► Keep the ship on the course lines laid off on the chart and allow set as necessary to do so (and use GPS for this in open waters). In coastal waters bring the ship back to the course line and use set to keep her there, rather than simply laying off a new course line to the next waypoint. The passage planning notes should help with tides/currents. The whole point in laying off courses is that is the route we want to follow; laying off new ones when the ship has set inside can take her much closer to dangers than was the intention. 

► Fix positions regularly and continue to do so even when there is a pilot on board to ensure the pilot’s route is safe. Ensure that pilot’s instructions are correctly carried out by helmsmen and look after the pilot with coffee etc. We are still fully responsible for the navigation of the ship despite the presence of the pilot and position fixing and track monitoring continue in just the same way as without a pilot aboard. Language difficulties or unusual expressions sometimes confuse helmsmen. The ability of each helmsman must be verified. 

► Never respond to calls on VHF to ‘ship on my starboard bow etc for any action unless you are positive of her identification (an Aldis lamp may be used for such identification at night). Even then, do not agree to any action that contradicts normal safe practices. This is a frightening habit in some ships but is better controlled rather than banned, as it is going to happen anyway. 

► Do check and identify – lights and buoys can shift very easily – so try not to use them for position fixing without are used for the using the land as well. In some overseas ports foreign charts  channels and for these we may receive no corrections. 

► The man overboard response and manoeuvring data are posted on the bulkhead in the wheelhouse; you should be fully familiar with the former to respond immediately and be aware of the stopping distances and turning circles of this ship. The manoeuvring data is posted and available to pilots; the ‘man overboard’ response regarding release of the bridge wing ‘man overboard’ and Williamson turn should be detailed if they are not already available. 

► The 00W, particularly at sea, should be aware of the situation regarding cargo ventilation or work being carried out on deck. If weather worsens, the deck work may have to be suspended and a watch should be maintained to ensure the safety of those working on deck. Instructions will be specifically given with regard to cargo ventilation but the 00W should be directly aware of the work being carried out on deck (whether routine or of a specific nature) and must be aware that he is the one person able to keep an overview of such work and the safety of those doing it. 

► Rounds of the decks must be made after securing the anchors on any departure. These include ropes, forecastle doors, deckhouse and superstructure doors and lights, hold/tank access hatches, ventilators, any items stowed on deck being adequately secured and equipment left on deck being collected and secured. Rounds of the decks are to be made each evening at the end of the working day but before darkness and these are to be entered in the log. It is then a matter of naming who shall make the rounds; after sailing it will either be the chief officer or the officer on the forecastle for unmooring and at sea either the chief officer or the 1200-1600 00W. It is a good practice to involve other officers in addition to the chief officer in these basic routines that .are only too often neglected in many ships. 

► My presence on the bridge does not mean that I have taken over control from the 00W. My handover to the 00W or my takeover from the 00W will be made clear on each occasion. 


► All the deck officers should be familiar with the steering systems and changeover procedures, with all the bridge gear and with all the lifesaving/fire fighting equipment, regardless of whose duty it is to look after them. All the publications watchkeeping, passage planning, codes of practice and manuals etc – are there for your guidance. We may all think we’ve read them, but it is wise to look through them again from time to time. The background of the officers varies and ability to read pages of English may be limited; the deck officers are bridge watch keepers firstly and secondly have their individual duties and responsibilities. 

► If the weather gets bad and we may have to slow down or alter course, call me. solid water washing aboard will damage deck fittings and ships do not slow themselves down in head seas (the power is being used to drive the ship into the seas rather than through the water). If we are losing more than 25 % of our speed (comparing rpm and tog) it may well be time to do something about it. The safety of the ship, the crew and the cargo are always the first considerations and are all in your care while you are on watch. Remove the theory that ships slow themselves down. If the officers cannot sense when the ship is going too fast in heavy weather, give them a mathematical guideline to follow. 

► Call me any time if in any doubt whatsoever – for navigation, traffic, weather, breakdowns, safety or anything else. I would rather be called many times, apparently unnecessarily, rather than just once too late. 


Many of these ‘standing orders’ help the anticipation of the 00W and explain what is wanted – another master may have somewhat different ideas. Nevertheless it helps the officers to know just what the master who is relying on them not only to manage but also to call him if they are unsure of anything expected from them. 

In the first night orders I would ask the officers to read and sign the standing orders if they are fully understood – and would go through them with the officers together explaining the ‘whys’ if there was any difficulty with English reading. 

Night orders would give courses, rpm, manned / UMS, clock changes (always at 0200 as far as the log book is concerned) and anything that was going on – fire pump under repair, cargo ventilation, gas freeing, hatch lids or doors that are deliberately left open, etc. A copy is normally sent to the owners for their retention. 

The aim of providing these standing orders and night orders is to spell out the framework within which the 00W or duty officer is expected to work. It avoids any questions of ‘but I wasn’t told to do so’ by the officers. For all of us in the bridge management team removes any opportunity for anybody to suggest that we have been negligent in the conduct of our duties. Any such suggestion would be an affront to our individual professionalism. 

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