What do Master’s Standing Orders mean?

Bridge Equipment and Watchkeeping LinkinBio Nautical Watchkeeping

Master’s Standing Orders are as important as other documents on board. As we all know ship handling and operations are complex and require utmost precision. It is therefore important that of the ship’s officers to ensure that high level of professionalism is being maintained at all the times.

The Master of the ship is ultimately in-charge and responsible for everything on board ship including the functioning of the vessel, safety of crew, the cargo and environment.Thus, it is obvious for him to promulgate his requirements with respect to the safety of navigation and other operations carried out on the ship.


Keeping this intention in mind, the Master puts his requirements into writing to avoid any confusion within the matter. Officers onboard thereafter, become conversant in the Master Standing Orders.

We are all familiar with the various Conventions, Codes, Rules, and Regulations that cover every aspect of ship’s activity, ranging from the daily routines as well as the rare circumstances that call for specialized actions. Master’s Standing Order is the abstracted version of it.

Master’s Standing Orders are a list of guidelines to make sure that the safe ship navigation is being carried out when at sea and ship operations when at the port. This set of guidelines by Ship’s Master consists of a set of aspects of navigation and rules of conduct for the officers. These Standing Orders are to be followed at all times by the officer on duty and is duly signed by every officer on board, making them liable to adhere to the orders. That is to mention that the Standing Orders are in force and applicable in the least times the ship at sea, at the port or at anchor. These Standing Orders to be read and signed by all the Officers.

Purpose of Master’s Standing Order

  • To lay down ground rules for the master‘s expectation from his officers in varying circumstances.
  • To reinforce practices that the master expects to be followed.
  • To create a relationship in which mutual confidence is established.
  • To ensure that the mistake of one person does not put the vessel in danger.
  • For the officer to check their own work and verify that of others when handing over or taking over the watch. This should apply to time under pilotage.
  • The officer will know when the master expected to be called and the master knows that the OOW will follow his instruction.

Every Master has his own aspects to be mentioned in the Standing Orders. However, a general Master’s Standing Order should consist of:

  • order to keep a good lookout
  • manning the bridge all the time
  • distress situations
  • protection of the marine environment
  • use of navigation equipment
  • passing distances
  • calling the Master
  • procedure for Master taking the con.

The Master’s Standing Orders should be followed by more detailed advice covering the following watch-keeping situations:

  • Ocean Passages
  • Coastal Passages
  • Traffic Separation Schemes and Confined Waters
  • Navigation during Pilotage
  • Restricted Visibility
  • Heavy Weather/ Ice/ TRS
  • At Anchor
  • In Port
  • While preparing for Arrival/ Departure

Content of Master’s Standing Orders

Master’s Standing Orders should consist of:

  • A set of instructions to OOW in written format.
  • Depends on the events expected at night.
  • Required to be written by the master before he is going to take a rest at night.
  • Generally includes the following points:
    • to comply with standing orders,
    • follow the laid courses. Check and plot positions at required intervals,
    • keep a proper lookout and comply with ROR,
    • calling master at the required position, if applicable,
    • anti-piracy watch if required.
  • Preparations before proceeding to pilot stations.
    • Inform ETA,
    • Slow down one hour (or as required for the engine) before end of passage position,
    • call master at the marked position,
    • rigging pilot ladders in time,
    • stand by crews in time,
  • Check the vessel’s position frequently if at anchor
  • Calling master if in any doubt.

Call the Captain any time you require assistance to maintain a proper watch or are in doubt. Call the master for fire alarms, bridge equipment malfunction, reduced visibility (less than 3 nm), severe or unexpected weather conditions. The OOW is free to call upon the Master at any time.

No OOW is expected to be able to handle all situations regarding the safe navigation of the vessel without the assistance of the Master in certain circumstances. It is of utmost importance to notify the Master in sufficient time to allow him to properly assess the situation.

Download the sample copy of Master’s Standing Orders here