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Watchkeeping and navigation

Watchkeeping and navigation


Watchkeeping, either underway, at anchorage or in port is a fundamental duty in the operation of a vessel, for the safety of life and property and the protection of the marine environment.

Watchkeeping is not only governed by the Code and Convention on

Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW 95), but should form an essential part of the vessel’s SMS under the ISM Code. Whilst the Master is in command of the vessel, the Officers of the Watch (OOW) are at all times responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel and compliance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (Collision Regulations).

2.14.2 watchkeeping underway Watchkeeping performance

The proper planning of watchkeeping by the Master must take into account

  • trading area of the vessel
  • turnaround schedule of the vessel
  • workload of the individual officers
  • weather conditions en route
  • navigational hazards en route requiring additional navigational duties
  • design and layout of the navigational instruments including the automatic steering.
  • frequently check the performance of his/her officers
  • alert the officers to omissions or non-conformities and require corrective action to be taken.

The Master and the responsible OOW must ensure that every watchkeeper is sufficiently rested prior to taking over a navigational watch to prevent fatigue. The mandatory rest times required by the Code and Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW 95) must be strictly observed. If these requirements cannot be met, procedures must be in place to ensure that the vessel remains in a place of safety, which may require delaying the vessel’s departure.

After commencement of the voyage the Master should ensure that every officer performs his/her watchkeeping duties and obligations with the utmost care and foresight. Careful preparation of the watch is essential, particularly when approaching confined waters or when manoeuvres such as embarkation of pilots are expected.

The Master should not hesitate to

Any indication of alcohol abuse, intoxication and fatigue should not be tolerated and corrective action must be taken immediately.

The Master needs to ensure together with the Chief Engineer, that a proper engine watchkeeping is maintained on non-automated vessels. This also applies to periods of ‘stand by engine’ on unmanned machinery space vessels (UMS). Master’s orders and instructions

The Master should also ensure that his/her written orders are properly counter-signed by the officer of the watch. Failure to do so may indicate a lack of information and represent a real hazard to the vessel and crew. Handing over the watch

The Master should instruct his/her officers not to hand over the watch

  • if the relieving officer or other watch members appear unfit
  • until the relieving officer is fully briefed
  • until the relieving officer is satisfied that the contents of any specific instructions are understood
  • until the vision of the relieving watch members is fully adjusted to the light conditions
  • unless the vessel’s position, course and speed are clear
  • until the relieving officer is aware of the navigational situation and the traffic
  • until manoeuvres initiated immediately prior to handing over the watch have been completed and the situation is clear.
  • takes over from the watchkeeping officer, or
  • handing navigational command back to the watchkeeping officer. Such a takeover or hand back needs to be reported in writing in the relevant log.
  • the vessel’s position has been verified, including the vessel’s intended course and speed
  • the traffic situation at the time of taking over the navigational watch has been properly assessed
  • the expected weather, tides, currents, visibility have been taken into account
  • any expected dangers of navigation during the forthcoming watch have been noted and precautionary measures taken
  • the status of all bridge equipment including the settings of the bridge and engine controls have been verified
  • the Master’s written orders are fully understood and acknowledged
  • appropriate instructions have been given to the other members of the navigational watch.
  • on small vessels
  • an unobstructed all round view is provided from the steering stand, and
  • there is no impairment of night vision.

If an officer of the watch is in charge and the Master attends the bridge, the Master should clearly state when he/she Taking over the watch

The Master should instruct his/her officers to take over the watch only if Proper lookout

The Master should instruct his/her officers to ensure that a proper lookout is maintained. The watchkeeping officer needs to be assisted by a lookout, especially in periods of darkness or restricted visibility. Some jurisdictions impose hefty fines if a collision or grounding is attributed to lack of a proper lookout and certificates of competency may be suspended or cancelled as a result thereof.

The helmsman – if used – should not be considered to be a lookout, as his/her duties are separate, unless

The provisions for proper lookout in the Code and Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW 95) must be observed.

The Master should check frequently to ensure that a proper lookout is posted, when required. The logbook should show the names and periods of the posted lookout.

The lookout should be encouraged to report any concerns arising during watchkeeping to the officer of the watch. Any observations by the lookout should be taken seriously and appropriate acknowledgements should be made and actions taken. Compliance with Collision Regulations and Traffic

Separation Schemes

  • General
    • result in considerable fines, penalties and even jail, which can be imposed on the Master and the officer of the watch long after the contravention took place
    • result in certificates of competency being suspended or cancelled.
  • Safe speed – use of engines
  • Frequent navigational fixes
  • Use of radar and AIS – limited use of VHF

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (Collision Regulations) and Traffic Separation Schemes must be strictly followed. Any deviation from the rules and regulations may • seriously impair the safety of the own vessel and other vessels

The Master should instruct his/her officers that any reasonable deviation from the rules and regulations should be properly reported to the supervising coastal authorities and their permission obtained beforehand.

In instances of fines being levied on the vessel, the Master or the crew please see section 3.7 Fines.

The Master should encourage and emphasise that all officers should maintain a safe speed at all times. The Master should also ensure that the OOW is fully aware of the vessel’s manoeuvring characteristics, including stopping distance so that proper and effective action can be taken at all times to avoid a collision.

The OOW must always make use of the vessel’s engines to reduce the speed, whenever the situation requires, which gives more time to assess the situation.

The Master should ensure that frequent navigational fixes are taken by the OOW during the watch to assess the proper position of the vessel. Fixes should be taken by more than one method. Officers should avoid relying on the Global Positioning Systems alone but should verify the position fixes by other methods.

Radars and Automated Identification Systems (AIS) should be used by the OOW irrespective of the state of visibility to become fully familiar with the systems in use. The Collision Regulations require the OOW to make use of all navigational equipment at all times to assess whether the situation can develop into a collision.

Before the OOW intends to make use of the VHF to verify the situation, the AIS should be used to its fullest extent. The uncoordinated use of VHF may shorten the valuable time available to properly assess the situation and take evasive action. Weather reports

The Master should ensure that weather reports are received regularly and are properly evaluated. It may be useful to review weather charts and synopses with the officers for training purposes, and to encourage them to regularly collect weather reports. Keeping proper logs

The proper and complete keeping of mandatory as well as additional logbooks is essential. Should a dispute arise a properly kept log is the best evidence to support the Company’s position. Distractions by domestic radios and entertainment devices The Master should ensure that the watchkeeping personnel must not be distracted by the use of domestic radios, CD players, television sets, mobile phones and similar devices to ensure that they concentrate fully on the duties of a navigational watch. Regular soundings

If the vessel is not equipped with automatic sounding gauges, regular – at least daily – soundings of all tanks, bilges and wells should be taken and recorded in the ship’s records to evidence regular monitoring of the vessel’s condition.

Proper soundings will indicate any irregularity in the vessel’s state and condition and may prevent disastrous consequences to the vessel, the crew and the cargo. Vessel’s behaviour during passage – parametric rolling

For further details please refer to IMO MSC/Circular 707 Guidance to the master for avoiding dangerous situations in following and quartering seas.

Handling a vessel in extreme conditions is a matter of experience combined with basic knowledge of the laws of physics. The Master should ensure that his/her officers always monitor the behaviour of the vessel in heavy weather. If heavy weather is anticipated, the Master should carefully plan together with his/her officers how to monitor the vessel’s behaviour and what actions may be required bearing in mind the prevailing circumstances.

Heavy weather causing damage to the vessel may not only affect the vessel’s safety but that of the crew, the cargo and, in the case of structural failure, the marine environment. The officers should also be made aware of particular areas where extraordinary high waves may occur.

Continuous observation of changes in trim and/or the vessel’s rolling periods is required to avoid excessive rolling, known as parametric rolling. This is an unstable phenomenon which can quickly generate large angles of roll coupled with significant pitch and yaw motions when the following elements are present

  • the vessel is in head or near head seas
  • the natural period of rolling
  • the wave length is of the order of the vessel length
  • the wave height exceeds the critical level (the height which will allow the vessel’s natural pitch/roll cycle to harmonise with the period of oncoming waves)
  • the roll damping is low.

Roll damping is dependent on speed. Bow seas result in lower speeds, thus lower roll damping which results in larger roll motions.

The Master should refer to the Company’s SMS and the underlying procedures when navigating in heavy weather.

2.14.3 Anchoring – watchkeeping at anchorage

For further details please refer to Gard News 177, Anchoring – Getting into a safe haven or into a potential disaster? General

Anchoring or lying at anchor should be carefully prepared with the same vigilance and awareness as berthing or unberthing. The consequences of an anchor not holding ground can be disastrous and may result in damage to the vessel, the environment and finally a costly salvage operation, if not the total loss of the vessel itself. Anchoring as part of the passage plan

Anchoring should be part of the vessel’s passage planning. Following key factors need to be taken into consideration prior to any anchoring manoeuvre and must be communicated to the crew involved in such operations

  • bottom conditions and depth of water versus length of anchor chain
  • draft of the vessel
  • the importance of detailed maps and local knowledge
  • how to handle inaccurate or lack of information
  • positioning aids used, precision and errors
  • prevailing and any change in the weather conditions such as winds, currents, tides
  • traffic density
  • the point of no return off the lee shore.
  • designated anchor positions
  • restraints imposed by the coastal state or port authority
  • topography both ashore and underwater
  • nature of anchorage surface
  • winds, currents and swell
  • duration of stay at anchor
  • density and proximity of other traffic• state of engines and anchor equipment. Proper selection of anchorage

When selecting a proper anchor position, the following points need to be taken into account Watchkeeping at anchorage

The Master should ensure that, whilst the vessel is at anchorage the same principles are applied to watchkeeping as en route in addition to the requirements under the vessel’s SMS and the SSP. This is particularly important at anchorages which are exposed to sudden

changes in the weather requiring immediate action to avoid the anchor dragging or similar problems, damaging the vessel and/or third party property.

A contingency plan must be in operation whilst at anchor in case of a shift in weather or other conditions. Watchkeepers should be alert to the slightest indication of a change in position or noises or vibrations coming from the anchor cable and should immediately initiate the contingency plan.

The watchkeeping officer should be able to immediately call upon a lookout, e.g. in times of poor visibility.

Whilst at anchor an alert watch must be maintained, i.e.

  • constant monitoring of the vessel’s position
  • carefully monitor for drag
  • watching the radio communication
  • observing the movements of other vessels
  • the surrounding area
  • carefully observe any change in the weather, which may necessitate the watches to be strengthened or leaving the anchorage in time.
  • warning must be given immediately – light and sound
  • the engines brought on stand by
  • the Master called, and • the anchor crew mustered.

If another vessel is approaching on a collision course and avoiding action cannot be taken

19 Maintenance of anchor gear

The importance of maintaining the entire anchor gear in good condition cannot be over-stressed. The condition of the gear must be carefully checked prior to anchoring. The anchor brake lining must not be worn and additional chain stoppers must be in proper shape and fit for use. The maintenance of the anchor gear should be in accordance with the maintenance plan under the vessel’s SMS. Securing of anchor gear during passage

After leaving the anchorage the lashing and securing of the anchor gear must be performed with the utmost care for the forthcoming voyage. All chains must be in place, shackles secured and the brakes tight to avoid accidental running out of the anchor with the anchor

  • slamming against the vessel’s structure causing structural damages to the shell plating, or
  • dragging unnoticed over the ground and damaging power and/or telephone cables and other supply lines.

Regular safety rounds should – if the weather permits – include the condition of the anchor gear.

2.14.4 watchkeeping in port

For further details please refer to Gard Loss Prevention Circular No. 04-03: Typhoon season precautions.

The Master should ensure that, whilst the vessel is in port, the same principles are applied to watchkeeping as en route, in addition to the requirements under the vessel’s SMS and SSP. This applies especially to ports exposed to a sudden change in the weather conditions requiring immediate action, to avoid lines parting or similar problems damaging the vessel and/or third party property.

Any necessary maintenance should not prevent the operation of safety systems and other systems required in port, e.g. for cargo handling.

Whilst in port safely moored alongside, the vessel’s navigational lights need to be switched off to avoid confusing other vessels under movement. Leaving the navigational lights alight whilst moored alongside contravenes the Collision Prevention Rules and may incur a liability if another vessel is confused and causes damage.

2.14.5 Stay in shipyard or dry-dock

When the vessel is to stay in a shipyard or a dry-dock, the Master and his/her officers should maintain the same safety and security standards as if in port. The Master and his/her officers should request that the same level, if not increased, safety precautions and safe working practices should be strictly applied by the dockyard workers to prevent not only personal injuries but also damage to the vessel itself, such as a fire or stability accidents. Close cooperation between the vessel’s deck and engine officers and the shipyard engineers is required.

Dry-docking and undocking should be a critical procedure under the Company’s SMS and need to be carefully planned and executed in strict conformity with these procedures.

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