12 Ways to Master the Engine Room Watchkeeping Procedure

Watchkeeping is an integral part of the marine engineer’s duties on board ship. A lot of maintenance work can be reduced by following an efficient watchkeeping routine in the ship’s engine room. Moreover, it can also avoid serious accidents from taking place.

But what is the true yardstick for measuring the efficiency of a watchkeeping procedure?

A smooth-running ship is a product of efficient handling at the bridge and effective management in the ship’s engine room under any seagoing condition.

When a marine engineer is approved to be the in charge of the engine room, he is eligible and officially authorised to handle a ship’s engine of “Unlimited Power”.

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It is therefore important that the watch keeping procedure, a daily routine that has to be carried out every single day, is done in the most systematic manner to prevent any kind of breakdown.

Though there is no ultimate yardstick to measure the efficiency of a watchkeeping procedure, we have compiled a list of 12 ways which will help a marine engine on board ship to master the watchkeeping procedure.

Engine Room Watchkeeping Procedure

1.   Knowledge is the Base: The first and most important step to enhance your duties during a watch is to have a very strong knowledge base. One must know the basics of the machines and their operations, new trends and upcoming technologies, and maritime regulations along with their amendments.

Knowledge gives a great boost to the engineer’s confidence level and also results in more accurate job decisions. Engine room operation also requires information from other domains of engineering such as mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical and electronic systems, refrigeration etc. Knowing these fundamentals makes an engineer’s foundation stronger.

2.   Follow Your Instincts: It is commonly said on ships that in order to become a good watchkeeper, an engineer must use all the 6 senses- i.e. touch, hearing, smell, visuals, taste and kinaesthetic senses (6th Sense). All these senses when applied correctly help an engineer to understand the condition of machines in a better way.

Touch:  Feeling a machine for its temperature can tell you about the condition inside the machinery, for e.g.  High temperature means something wrong.

Hearing: It is always advisable to keep a track of sounds coming from different machines in the engine room as any abnormality would result in a change of the sound.

Smell: Another powerful sense that helps to determine a problem is -smell.  Burning of parts or accessories due to increase in temperature, oil leakage, chemicals etc. can be easily identified using this sense.

Taste: Your tongue can identify different tastes; and you can apply this characteristic to your watchkeeping routines, for e.g.  Tasting can help to identify the difference between seawater and freshwater as both of them are used as prime mediums for cooling on ships.

Visual: The most commonly used sense of all is the power of visualisation, helpful in identifying engine room and machinery conditions. Whenever you enter the engine room you must start looking for any kind of visual abnormality.

6th Sense: Considered to be the most powerful of all senses, your inner feeling (gut feeling) can sometimes prove to be a lifesaver during watch keeping. Listen to it when you feel there is something wrong in the engine room. However, don’t rely on it blindly; back it up with proper procedures.

3.   Go By The Book: Every Engine room is provided with hundreds of documents – Manuals, operating instruction, and safety and pollution prevention instructions just to name a few.  Follow them religiously during your watchkeeping procedures.

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4.   Interpreting logbook: A smart engineer would know the importance of engine room logbook and would also know how to interpret previous readings of different machines from the same.

Interpreting log means keeping a track of previous records of machinery parameters from the logbook and using them to analyse the present situation or to identify a problem.

5.   Clear Communication: Efficient communication between maritime professionals is an important factor for a safe and efficient operation onboard. If you are a watchkeeper, you must clearly communicate all kinds of operations and problems/ suspicions with your seniors and crew members.

An efficient engine room-bridge communication is also very important to make sure that navigational officers at the bridge can plan their procedures or stay prepared for any kind of situation.

6.   Take a Complete Round, Don’t Skip Any Machinery: Automation and alarm systems of machines are always helpful in detecting early-stage faults; however, it is a known fact that human vigilance is more capable of detecting and interpreting errors more accurately.

When on engine room round, all machines on all levels must be examined for proper operation. Moreover, also make sure that you note your findings in the logbook for future reference.

7.   Never Neglect Any Alarm: Alarm systems in the engine room are an indication or pre-warning of any abnormality in the engine room machines. Sometimes due to a technical glitch such as connection or electronic fault, an alarm would become faulty and give out audio and visual warnings after every few minutes.

This generates a habit among watchkeepers to ignore the alarm totally and to cancel it from the control room.  However, make sure that you are able to differentiate between the faulty and normal alarm, and also keep a track on the repairing work of faulty alarm so that you are aware when it is back to normal condition.

8.   Do Not Hide Faults: If you see any kind of fault while taking rounds or have committed a mistake, never try to hide it. Remember that even the smallest fault can become dangerous if unattended at the correct time. Always report the incident to your superiors and try to remove or repair the fault as soon as possible.

9.   Call for Help When in Need: In an engine room having hundreds of machines, faults are bound to happen. Sometimes you may feel that the fault is big and a single person won’t be able to handle it alone. In such situations, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Ship operation is all about teamwork and you should respect that and know its importance.

10.  Obey Orders: A good watch keeper must follow eligible orders from seniors, who have better experience and understanding of machines.  However, a smart watchkeeper should also use his/her own judgement when the need arises. Take inputs and advice from your seniors, but be confident while carrying out your duties.

11.  Follow Alcohol Policy: Never ever commence or carry out your watch under the influence of alcohol, as it may interfere with your decision-making abilities. Always follow your company alcohol policy.  In case you are under influence of alcohol, don’t be ashamed to inform your seniors.

12.  Avoid Fatigue: Fatigue is the biggest reason behind human mistakes on a ship. Always take proper rest in your free time and avoid working when tired. Though this is tough to follow most of the time, ask your seniors for a brief break so that you can freshen up and get back to work with more energy and enthusiasm.

These are the most important factors which decide an efficient watchkeeping procedure.

Do you know any more factors to enhance watchkeeping procedures on ships?

Let’s know in the comments below.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight.

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  1. Thank you very much for sharing this very useful guide in vessel engine room operations.

  2. NOT a good photograph under the heading of watchkeeping!

    Why not? Bad WHS procedures from the engineer……………..sleeves rolled up………..a definite NO,NO

    Also only the top button of the overalls should be undone………….not two buttons undone

    A hard hat in machinery spaces should be worn

    Appropriate gloves come in handy as well, these can prevent serious burns or scalds……….if you wish to feel a bearing temperature ( with the back of the hand – of course) remove a glove…………after checking replace glove.

    I wonder if the engineer has hearing protection…………..probably not

    Whilst I appreciate that this photograph may have been used for illustrative purposes, I personally feel that the engineer should have correct PPE…………..he is in a machinery space, therefore should be dressed accordingly……………..you are promoting good watchkeeping procedures and part of that is wearing correct PPE.

  3. Sir, As a TME what are the things we have to do during watch keeping in engine room…..and what to do in Watch keeping ….

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