Standards regarding Watchkeeping on Merchant Ships, Part I

Bridge Equipment and Watchkeeping LinkinBio Nautical Watchkeeping

The fitness of Seafarers has always been the main concern over the course of years. Especially when the seafarer is on the watch or an in-charge of the watch, one should be fit for duty. IMO, ILO has taken initiatives for the well being and fitness of Seafarers. These Standards Regarding Watchkeeping on Merchant Ships gives guidelines regarding fitness



Fitness for the duty:

STCW’95’s Section A of Chapter 8 expresses guidelines on fitness for duty for a seafarer, which are:

  • All persons who are assigned duty as an Officer-in-Charge of Watch or as a Rating forming part of a watch shall be provided a minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24 hours period.
  • These hours of rest may be divided into no more than two periods and one of which shall be at least 6 hours in length.
  • The requirements for rest periods laid above need not be maintained in the case of an emergency or drill or in other overriding operational conditions.
  • Notwithstanding the provisions of Points 1 and 2, the minimum period of Ten Hours may be reduced to not less than 6 consecutive hours provided that, any such reduction shall not extend beyond two days and not less than 70 hours of rest are provided each seven day period.
  • Administrations shall require that watch schedules be posted where they are easily accessible.


  • The Officer-in-Charge of the navigational watch or deck watch shall be duly qualified in accordance with the provisions of Chapter II, and/ or Chapter VII of the STCW Code, appropriate to the duties related to navigational or deck watchkeeping.
  • The Officer-in-Charge of an Engine Watch shall be duly qualified in accordance with the provisions of Chapter III, and/or Chapter VII appropriate to the duties related to Engineering Watchkeeping

Voyage Planning with respect to the fitness of OOW

  • The intended voyage to the next ports shall be planned in advance taking into consideration all pertinent information and any course laid down shall be checked before the voyage commences.
  • The Chief Engineer shall, in consultation with the master, determine in advance the needs of the intended voyage, taking into consideration the requirements for fuel, water, lubricants, chemicals, expendable and other spare parts, tools, supplies and any other requirements.
  • Prior to planning each voyage, the Master of every ship shall ensure that the intended route from the port of departure to the first port of call is planned using adequate and appropriate charts and other required nautical publications necessary for the intended voyage.
  • The charts and publications used shall contain accurate, complete and up-to-date information regarding those navigational limitations and hazards which are of a permanent or predictable nature, and which are relevant to the safe navigation of the ship.
  • When the route planned is verified by master taking into consideration all pertinent information, the planned route shall be clearly displayed on appropriate charts (or electronic charts, for that matter) and shall be continuously available to the Officer-in-Charge of the watch who shall verify each course to be followed prior to using it during the voyage.
  • During a voyage due to some reason, if a decision is made to change the next port of call of the prior planned route, or if it is necessary for the ship to deviate substantially from the planned route for other reasons, then an amended route shall be planned prior to deviating substantially from the route originally planned.

Standards regardingWatchkeeping at Sea:

Parties concerning the safety of a ship, its crew and marine environment shall direct the attention of Companies, Masters, Chief Engineer Officers and of Watchkeeping Personnel to the following principles which shall be observed to ensure that safe watches are maintained at all times at sea.

  • The Master of every ship must ensure that watchkeeping arrangements are adequate for maintaining a safe navigational watch.
  • Under the Master’s general direction, the Officer-in-charge of the navigational watches is responsible for navigating the ship safely during their periods of duty, when they will be particularly concerned with avoiding collision and stranding.
  • The Chief Engineer Officer of every ship is bound, in consultation with the Master, to ensure that watchkeeping arrangements are adequate to maintain a safe Engine Watch.
  • Protection of the Marine Environment: The Master, Deck and Engine Officers, and Ratings shall be aware of the serious effects of operational or accidental pollution of the marine environment and shall take all possible precautions to prevent such pollution, particularly within the framework of relevant international and port regulations.

Principles to be Observed in keeping a Navigational Watch

On every ship, the Officer-in-Charge of a navigational watch is the Master’s representative. And he/ she is primarily responsible at all times for the safe navigation of the ship and for complying with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (ColRegs). This shall include:


  • A proper look-out shall be maintained at all times in compliance with Rule 5 of ColRegs,1972 and shall serve the purpose of:
    • maintaining a continuous state of vigilance by sight and hearing as well as by all other available means, with regard to any significant change in the operating environment;
    • fully appraising the situation and the risk of collision, stranding and other dangers to navigation; and
    • detecting ships or aircraft in distress, shipwrecked persons, wrecks, debris and other hazards to safe navigation.
  • The look-out must be able to give full attention to the keeping of a proper look-out and no other duties shall be undertaken or assigned which could interfere with that task.
  • The look-out must be able to give full attention to the keeping of a proper look-out and no other duties shall be undertaken or assigned which could interfere with that task.
  • The duties of the look-out and helmsperson are separate and the helmsperson shall not be considered to be the look-out while steering, except in small ships where an unobstructed all-round view is provided at the steering position and there is no impairment of night vision or other impediments to the keeping of a proper look-out.

The officer in charge of the navigational watch may be the sole look-out in daylight provided that on each such occasion:

  • the situation has been carefully assessed and it has been established without doubt that it is safe to do so;
  • a full account has been taken of all relevant factors including, but not limited to:
    • state of the weather,
    • visibility,
    • traffic density,
    • the proximity of dangers to navigation, and
    • the attention necessary when navigating in or near traffic separation schemes; and
  • assistance is immediately available to be summoned to the bridge when any change in the situation so requires.

In determining that the composition of the navigational watch is adequate to ensure that a proper look-out can continuously be maintained, the master shall take into account all relevant factors, including those described in this section of the Code, as well as the following factors:

  • visibility, state of weather and sea;
  • traffic density, and other activities occurring in the area in which the vessel is navigating;
  • the attention necessary when navigating in or near traffic separation schemes or other routing measures;
  • the additional workload caused by the nature of the ship’s functions, immediate operating requirements, and anticipated maneuvers;
  • the fitness for duty of any crew members on call who are assigned as members of the watch;
  • knowledge of and confidence in the professional competence of the ship’s officers and crew;
  • the experience of each officer of the navigational watch, and the familiarity of that officer with the ship’s equipment, procedures, and maneuvering capability;
  • activities taking place onboard the ship at any particular time, including radiocommunication activities and the availability of assistance to be summoned immediately to the bridge when necessary;
  • the operational status of bridge instrumentation and controls, including alarm systems;
  • Rudder and Propeller control and ship maneuvering characteristics;
  • the size of the ship and the field of vision available from the conning position;
  • the configuration of the bridge, to the extent such configuration might inhibit a member of the watch from detecting by sight or hearing any external development; and
  • any other relevant standard, procedure or guidance relating to watchkeeping arrangements and fitness for duty which has been adopted by IMO.

Watch Arrangements on Deck

When deciding the composition of the watch on the bridge, which may include appropriately qualified ratings, the following factors, inter alia, shall be taken into account:

  • at no time shall the bridge be left unattended;
  • weather conditions, visibility and whether there is daylight or darkness;
  • the proximity of navigational hazards which may make it necessary for the officer in charge of the watches to carry out additional navigational duties;
  • use and operational condition of navigational aids such as radar or electronic position-indicating devices and any other equipment affecting the safe navigation of the ship;
  • whether the ship is fitted with automatic steering; whether there are radio duties to be performed;
  • unmanned machinery space (UMS) controls, alarms, and indicators provided on the bridge, procedures for their use and limitations; and
  • any unusual demands on the navigational watch that may arise as a result of special operational circumstances.

Taking over the watch

  • The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall not hand over the watch to the relieving officer if there is a reason to believe that the officer at the watch is not capable of carrying out the watchkeeping duties effectively, in which case the master shall be notified.
  • The relieving officer shall ensure that the members of the relieving watch are fully capable of performing their duties, particularly as regards their adjustment to night vision. Relieving officers shall not take over the watch until their vision is fully adjusted to the light conditions.

The Relieving Officers shall personally satisfy themselves regarding the:

  • standing orders and other special instructions of the master relating to the 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 maneuver when the main engines are on bridge control; and
  • the navigational situation, including but not limited to:
    • the operational condition of all navigational and safety equipment being used or likely to be used during the watch,
    • the errors of gyro and magnetic compasses,
    • the presence and movement of ships in sight or known to be in the vicinity,
    • the conditions and hazards likely to be encountered during the watch, and
    • the possible effects of the heel, trim, water density, and squat on under keel clearance.

If at any time the officer in charge of the navigational watch is to be relieved when a maneuver or other action to avoid any hazard is taking place, the relief of that officer shall be deferred until such action has been completed.

Performing the Navigational Watch:

  • The Officer-in-Charge of the navigational watch shall:
    • keep the watch on the bridge;
    • in no circumstances leave the bridge until properly relieved;
    • continue to be responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, despite the presence of the master on the bridge, until informed specifically that the master has assumed that responsibility and this is mutually understood; and
    • notify the master when in any doubt as to what action to take in the interest of safety.
  • During the watch the course steered, position and speed shall be checked at sufficiently frequent intervals, using any available navigational aids necessary, to ensure that the ship follows the planned course.
  • The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall have full knowledge of the location and operation of all safety and navigational equipment on- board the ship and shall be aware and take account of the operating limitations of such equipment.
  • The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall not be assigned or undertake any duties which would interfere with the safe navigation of the ship.
  • Officers of the navigational watch shall make the most effective use of all navigational equipment at their disposal.
  • When using RADAR, the Officer-in-Charge of the navigational watch shall bear in mind the necessity to comply at all times with the provisions on the use of RADAR contained in COLREGs, in force.
  • In cases of need, the Officer-in-Charge of the navigational watch shall not hesitate to use the helm, engines and sound signaling apparatus.
  • However, timely notice of intended variations of engine speed shall be given where possible or effective use made of UMS engine controls provided on the bridge in accordance with the applicable procedures.
  • Officers of the navigational watch shall know the handling characteristics of their ship, including its stopping distances, and should appreciate that other ships may have different handling characteristics.
  • A proper record shall be kept during the watch of the movements and activities relating to the navigation of the ship.
  • It is of special importance that at all times the officer in charge of the navigational watch ensures that a proper look-out is maintained. In a ship, with a separate chart room, the officer in charge of the navigational watch may visit the chat room, when essential, for a short period for the necessary performance of navigational duties, but shall first ensure that it is safe to do so and that proper look-out is maintained.
  • Operational tests of shipboard navigational equipment shall be carried out at sea as frequently as practicable and as circumstances permit, in particular before hazardous conditions affecting navigation are expected. Whenever appropriate, these tests shall be recorded. Such tests shall also be carried out prior to port arrival and departure.

The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall make regular checks to ensure that:

  • the person steering the ship or the automatic pilot is steering the correct course;
  • the standard compass error is determined at least once a watch and, when possible, after any major alteration of course; the standard and gyro-compasses are frequently compared and repeaters are synchronized with their master compass;
  • the automatic pilot is tested manually at least once a watch;
  • the navigation and signal lights and other navigational equipment are functioning properly;
  • the radio equipment is functioning properly in accordance with Paragraph 86 of STCW/Chp. VIII; and
  • the UMS Controls, Alarms and Indicators are functioning properly.
  • Officers of the navigational watch shall be thoroughly familiar with the use of all electronic navigational aids carried, including their capabilities and limitations, and shall use each of these aids when appropriate and shall bear in mind that the echo-sounder is a valuable navigational aid.
  • The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall use the radar whenever restricted visibility is encountered or expected, and at all times in congested waters having due regard to its limitations.
  • The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall ensure that range scales employed are changed at sufficiently frequent intervals so that echoes are detected as early as possible. It shall be borne in mind that small or poor echoes may escape detection.
  • Whenever radar is in use, the officer in charge of the navigational watch shall select an appropriate range scale and observe the display carefully and shall ensure that plotting or systematic analysis is commenced in ample time.
  • The officer in charge of the navigational watch shall notify the master immediately:
    • if restricted visibility is encountered or expected;
    • if the traffic conditions or the movements of other ships are causing concern;
    • if the difficulty is experienced in maintaining course;
    • on failure to sight land, a navigation mark or to obtain soundings by the expected time;
    • if, unexpectedly, land or a navigation mark is sighted or a change in soundings occurs;
    • on the breakdown of the engines, propulsion machinery remote control, steering gear or any essential navigational equipment, alarm or indicator;
    • if the radio equipment malfunctions;
    • in heavy weather, if in any doubt about the possibility of weather damage;
    • if the ship meets any hazard to navigation, such as ice or a derelict; and
    • in any other emergency or if in any doubt.
  • Despite the requirement to notify the master immediately in the foregoing circumstances, the officer in charge of the navigational watch shall in addition not hesitate to take immediate action for the safety of the ship, where circumstances so require.
  • The Officer-in-Charge of the navigational watch shall give watchkeeping personnel all appropriate instructions and information which will ensure the keeping of a safe watch, including a proper look-out.

Standards regarding Watchkeeping on Merchant Ships, Part- I

Also read, Difference between SOLAS A Pack and SOLAS B Pack

Standards regarding Watchkeeping on Merchant Ships, Part- II