Bridge Watchkeeping on a Ship

General Duties to be performed by the OOW (Officer on Watch)

  • Compare compasses, all repeaters must be synchronized with Master Gyro. Including The Radars, ECDIS, etc.)
  • Keep proper lookout by sight, hearing, and all available means (Radar, ARPA, VHF, MF, HF, AIS, binoculars, etc.) be alert have a good perception of the environment (situational awareness.)
  • Plot the vessel’s position as per position plotting interval decided by Master or as per company’s instructions.
  • Keep a sharp lookout for suspicious boats, especially when plyinReporting to be done to SRS / VTS.g in pirate-infested areas/high-risk areas.
  • The ship’s position must be double-checked by means of alternative means of position fixing, visual fixes to be taken if possible.
  • Check UKC even though not in soundings, uncharted dangers may exist.
  • Acquire all targets and assess the risk of collision. Check for the presence of all the vessels in the vicinity and data pertaining to CPA, TCPA, range bearing, bow crossing range, bow crossing distance, visual bearing are of great use.
  • Use long-range scanning for early detection, use higher range to make landfall on the radar.
  • Abide by passage plan, alter course(s) as required, double-check the plotted course prior to alteration with due regard of observation of hood seamanship.
  • Abide by COLREGS, check the effectiveness of the action until the other vessel is finally past and clear.
  • All the displays on the bridge– tachometer, rudder angle indicator, ROTI, etc, also displays for course steered and course made good, speed through water and speed over ground.
  • Ensure vessel is not proceeding towards no. go areas.
  • Try out hand steering once in a watch.
  • Adjust settings on radar, autopilot etc, as and when required, adjust the dimmers of various displays as required.
  • Establish compass error once a watch also after major alteration of course, sights must be taken as per Master’s / company’s instructions.
  • If sole look out, then assess continuously if additional persons required on bridge.
  • Reporting to be done to SRS / VTS.
  • In case of selected ship (VOF), coded msg to be prepared and transmitted.
  • Reset BNWAS as required.
  • Abide by instructions pertaining to hold ventilation.
  • Acknowledge all alarms on bridge as and when required.
  • Read and sign the navigation & meteorological warnings received on EGC, Navtex, check if any information is relevant to own vessel.
  • Receive the weather fax and mark as required.
  • If any routine/ commercial message is received, inform the master accordingly (depending on the content / priority of the message.)
  • Continuously assess the state of visibility.
  • Keep eye on the state of seas, swell, wind, temperature, relative humidity, etc.
  • Check barometric pressure and compare it against the normal pressure of the area vessel is plying.
  • Look out for distress signals and those in distress.
  • Look out for dangers to navigation like ice, derelict, etc, and prepare a danger message.
  • Retard/ advance clocks / calendar as instructed.
  • Keep track of ballast exchange if in progress.
  • Navigation Lights: Switch on the navigation lights if not already done, ensure all these lights are burning properly.
  • Radar & ARPA: Switch on other radar, switch on the ARPA and start acquiring the targets, check AIS targets and compare data of both ARPA and AIS, adjust A/C rain & A/C sea as required.
  • Hand steering: Revert to hand steering, switch on other steering pump if not done earlier.
  • Stop works on deck: Stop any job which may prevent sound signal of other vessels to be heard properly. No one to be allowed on main deck, this is to prevent injury to personnel working on open deck in case collision / allusion (physical contact with fixed or floating objects.)
  • Open Bridge Doors: Ensure that the bridge doors are kept open and is without any obstruction for easy bridge wing access.
  • VHF: Ensure VHF channel 16 is switched on and is audible enough for all the safety related messages.
  • Keeping record: Keep record of all activities on the bridge.
  • Follow All Procedures: Follow all the important procedures as per SMS manual including compliance of any check list for restricted visibility, company instructions for bridge manning level must be complied with.Resting periods must be taken care, all precautions as per risk assessment to be fulfilled.
  • COLREG Rule-19: Always comply with COLREG Rule -19, if necessary; navigate with extreme caution till risk of collision is over keel.

While navigating in Coastal and Congested Waters

  • Including above pointers
  • The largest scale chart on board, suitable for the area and corrected with the latest available information, shall be used.
  • Fixes shall be taken at frequent intervals, and shall be carried out by more than one method whenever circumstances allow.
  • When using ECDIS, appropriate usage code (scale) electronic navigational charts shall be used and the ship’s position shall be checked by an independent means of position fixing at appropriate intervals.
  • The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall positively identify all relevant navigation marks.

Taking over a watch at sea in good weather

  • Be on watch about 15 min before, at night time it helps to adjust the night vision.
  • Read and sign any orders from master in night order book/ bridge order book, check for any other verbal instructions by the Master/mate.
  • Inspect all the charts likely to be used in the watch for the following:-
  • Check courses to be steered and distances marked on the chart, also check the courses and distances as per the passage plan for the voyage.
  • Ensure the largest scale chart to be used.
  • Check courses are plotted clear of dangers to surface navigation.
  • Check the no go areas, mark them if not done.
  • Check the unit of depth and that the courses are plotted clear of shallows in accordance with company’s UKC policy. Info regarding draft & display to be available on the bridge.
  • Check:
    ETA to the next alteration of course
    wheel over positions, abort points & contingency anchorages.
    Info related to Parallel Indexing.
    Land/island on the chart,
    Radar for conspicuous objects, check for approximate time for the landfall on the radar.
    Navigational marks and their characteristics, sector light, etc,
    The general direction of the buoyage system.
    The charts to find info regarding geodetic datum, the geodetic datum may be unknowns and so significant to surface navigation.
    Any reporting to be done by SRS / VTS.
  • Check for any instructions marked by master regarding notices to E/R, removing anchor lashings etc.
  • Read all relevant notes on the chart:- local magnetic anomalies, correct, submarine exercise areas, firing zones, PSSA, Marpol special areas, information pertaining to offshore installations, sand waves etc.
  • Check the source data, very old survey may be unreliable for the soundings.
  • Check the T & P notices relevant to the chart.
  • Check if any low pressure marked on the chart (including forecast for that low.)
  • Check if clocks/ calendar to be advanced.
  • Refer to routeing chart for all the climatological info, check normal atmospheric pressure for the area where the vessel is navigating.
  • Check last position plotted and means of position fixing, always check the position plotting interval, it should be as per Master’s / company’s instructions.
  • Check tidal info by means of tide tables, tidal stream atlast & tidal diamonds.
  • Ensure all the relevant publications are available for use.
  • Read and sigh the navigation & meteorological warnings received on EGC, navtex, check if any information to relevant to own vessel.
  • Check the updates related to piracy, especially when plying in pirate infested area/ high risk area.
  • Check the weather fax received during previous watch, check if any information is relevant to own vessel, any weather fax to be received in the watch (time & freq. as per ALRS.)
  • Check if any commercial message is received and if Master informed.
  • Check the state of visibility. Check the manning level of the bridge is as per company’s instructions. Manning level may be there for weather conditions.
  • Ensure watch keeping, ratings are fit for watch, if sole look out, OOW must know how to call them just in case.
  • Understand the traffic situation, consult the outgoing OOW but must verify visually, also by means binoculars and radar, check ARPA info some targets may have to be acquired if not done by outgoing OOW, always check the manning level of the bridge is as per company’s instructions for traffic situation.
  • Check CPA/ TCPA limits on ARPA, true vector/ relative vector.
  • Check ARPA is sea stabilized or ground stabilized.
  • Check gyro & magnetic courses steered by auto pilot/ auto pilot, course might have altered due to traffic.
  • If set was allowed, ask when it was allowed, check difference between gyro course and course made good.
  • Check the tachometer & note down RPM, if CPP check the pitch of the propeller, if on main eng. On UMS mode, the duty eng. Must be known (duty eng roster is sometimes available on bridge).
  • Check BNWAS to know the dormant period, confirm who the backup officer is.
  • Ensure VHF is switch on and level of volume is audible enough.
  • In case of selected ship (VOF), find if coded msg to be prepared.
Note: Watch should not be taken over when course is being altered for traffic or in case of a way point.
  • Check GPS is on which geodetic datum, confirm cross track limits.
  • Check various settings on ECDIS.
  • Check VDR/ S-VDR remote module for any alarm.
  • Check auto pilot for the settings.
  • Check the radar picture & all settings and all the targets on PPI.
  • Identify the shore lights, some of vessels may not be visually identified due to shore light.
  • Exchange courses, compass compasses.
  • Check if any action to be taken to abide with COLREGS.
  • Change settings on auto pilot if required.
  • Change settings on radar if required.
  • Complete checklist for taking over watch & relevant procedures in the SMS to be complied with.

Duties to be performed by OOW while approaching to the Port

  • The Master and all navigational watchkeeping officers should, well beforehand, thoroughly study the Sailing Directions (Often referred to as the Pilot Book) and the chart of the approaches to the port.
  • The passage plan for arrival at the port should be prepared and kept handy so that the OOW would be able to monitor the navigation of the vessel at all times, even when the Master or the pilot is directing the process. This serves as a second check on the navigational safety of the ship.
  • Communicate to the arrival port, by VHF, the ETA of the ship as and when instructed by the Master.
  • Inform the Master at the time indicated by him.
  • Give notice to the engine room at the time or charted position, as instructed by the Master. Inform Master when this has been done.
  • Synchronize clocks of the bridge, the engine room, and the auto-recorder of the bridge – ER telegraph.
  • Call up a seaman to act as the bridge messenger.
  • Change over to hand steering.
  • Switch on the other steering motor also.
  • Try out the steering system. After a long sea passage, it is necessary to try out the steering system for about two hours before reaching confined waters. This is done by:
    Changing over to hand steering and then putting the helm hardcover to one side and then the other whilst using one steering motor.
    The same is then repeated while using the other steering motor.
    If the ship is fitted with an electro-hydraulic steering system, it is necessary to try out the steering on the electric and the hydraulic systems separately.
    On ships fitted with a shaft generator, it would normally be necessary to inform the Engine Room before making sudden helm movements in order to prevent the generator from tripping off. If this happens, a diesel generator would automatically come on but, in an intervening couple of minutes, there would be no electric supply on the ship.
  • If fitted, take in the log (retract log sensor).
  • If daytime, keep flags ready – Red Ensign, courtesy flag, house flag, G, Q, H, etc.
  • If nighttime, try out the lights of the Christmas Tree by switching them on momentarily.
  • Try out a pneumatic whistle and electric klaxon by giving a very short blast on each.
  • Rig up the daylight signaling lamp and try it out on the mains and also the battery.
  • Check communication system to the forward and aft stations and to the steering gear compartment.
  • Have a Pilot Ladder, Lifebuoy with a rope attached, heaving line, and boat rope kept ready to be rigged (also floodlight at night).
  • Give adequate notice to the crew for coming on arrival stations.
  • Electric power to be switched on to the windlass.
  • Keep a record of all events and their timings in the Bridge Notebook. The important entries are to be copied into the Mates Logbook later on.
  • Keep ‘Pilot information card’ ready for presentation to the pilot as soon as he enters the wheelhouse. This card contains the necessary information regarding the ship’s particulars, navigational equipment, etc. in a standard format as given in the ‘Bridge Procedure Guide’ published by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). This card is separate from, and in addition to, the ‘Wheel-house Poster’ displayed in the wheelhouse.
  • After ringing Stand-By Below (SBB) on the telegraph, the Master would try out the engine by going astern. An entry, ‘Engine tried out astern’ should be made in the Bridge Notebook and later copied into the Ship’s Logbook.
  • Anti-pilferage watches to be arranged on deck to commence before arrival port.
  • While going alongside, the pump room blowers should be switched off. This is to prevent sparks from the funnels of tugs used from being drawn into the pump room.

Duties to be performed by OOW while taking over an Anchor Watch

  • Read instructions from Master or Chief Officer.
  • Check the position of your own vessel to ensure she is not dragging anchor.
  • Check UKC, maintain VHF watch for instruction.
  • Check the distance of all other vessels at anchorage. Look out for other vessels’ dragging.
  • Look out for vessels approaching the anchorage area.
  • Check the wind, sea, swell, continuously assess the visibility.
  • Read & sign all meteorological warnings & nav warnings received during watch.
  • Establish compass error.
  • Check SAT-C for routine messages notify Master accordingly.
  • If bunker barge is expected, keep a lookout for the same, if bunker barge is already alongside, keep track of all timings, ensure no sheen is visible, if so inform master.
  • Keep a lookout for bunker overflow.
  • Abide by all the ISPS procedures, do not let unauthorized vessel(s) be alongside your own vessel.
  • Ensure appropriate lights & shapes are displayed.
  • Ensure appropriate flags are hoisted/ lowered.
  • Keep eye on the crew working on deck, stop any kind of unsafe practices, abide by all international & local regs.
  • Some boats/ launches may be expected carrying stores, crew, port officials, surveyors, auditors, inspectors, ship chandler, etc., ensuring these boats are tended to safety.
  • Test the controls as instructed.
  • Try out m/eng as instructed.
  • Keep track of vessel berthing/ unberthing intended berth.
  • Receive instructions from VTS/ Ports Control & notify all parties as instructed.
  • Follow Master’s standing orders, bridge orders, call Master & doubt.
  • Abide by the company’s SMS procedures, checklists, and all additional measures as per Risk assessments.

Duties to be performed by OOW while taking over a Navigational Watch at Sea; OR

Duties to be performed by OOW while talking over a watch in Restricted Visibility; OR

Duties to be performed by OOW while taking over a Navigational Watch at Night, while underway at Sea

Know your Ship inside-out: An efficient navigating officer must know each and every aspect of his or her ship in order to prevent any kind of accident. From dimensions to the characteristics of the ships, the officer should know how the ship will behave under different circumstances. For restricted visibility situations, it is important that the OOW know the stopping distance of the ship at any particular RPM in order to control the ship during emergencies.

Inform the Master:- During restricted visibility, it is important that the master is on the bridge. The OOW must call or inform the master regarding the navigating condition. The officer should also inform the engine room and ask the duty engineer to man the engine room in case it is on “unmanned” mode.

Appoint Adequate Man Power:
It is important that enough manpower is present on the bridge in order to keep a close watch on the ship’s course. Additional personnel must be appointed as lookouts at different locations on the ship.
If there is traffic in the area, the officer must inform the engine room to have enough manpower so that the engine is also ready for immediate maneuvering.

Keep the Fog Horn Ready:-
Ensure that the foghorn is working properly for the restricted area. If the horn is air operated, drain the line prior to opening the air to the horn.
Reduce Speed: Reduce the speed of the ship depending on the visibility level. If the visibility is less, bring down the ship to maneuvering RPM.

Ensure Navigation Equipment and Light Are Working Properly:
Ensure that all-important navigating equipment and navigation lights are working properly during restricted visibility. The OOW must ensure that the navigation charts are properly checked for correct routing and a good radar watch is carried out.

Stop All Other Works: Though it’s obvious, never multi-task during restricted visibility even if there are more than sufficient people present on the bridge. Also, stop all other deck work and order the crew to go to their respective rooms. This is to prevent injury to personnel working on an open deck in case collision or grounding takes place.

Open/Close Bridge Doors: Ensure that the bridge door is kept open and is without any obstruction for easy bridge wing access (Considering that the bridge wing is not enclosed). Also, in case of dust or sand storms, close all the bridge openings.
Shut Ventilation: If the ship is passing through a sand storm, the ventilation fans and accommodation/ engine room ports must be closed to avoid sand particles from entering the bridge, accommodation, and engine room.

Follow All Procedures: Follow all the important procedures for restricted visibility as mentioned in COLREG Rule -19. Also, monitor channel 16 in the radio and ensure that all important parameters of the ship such as latitude and longitude, time, speed, etc. are noted in the logbook.