What is the Responsibility of the Master after Abandoning a Ship?

The master of the ship is the overall in charge of the vessel at all times, even when he and his crew have to leave or abandon the vessel due to accidents such as fire, flooding, or collision.

When a mishap occurs and the extent of damage to the ship results in “Abandon the ship” order by the master, the crew must muster and leave the ship within no time using lifeboat or liferaft.

The “Abandon Ship” command is one which is promulgated on the PA system by the Master, and as opposed to other emergencies, which call for action upon hearing the emergency signal, this is one which is only acted upon after receiving a VERBAL ORDER FROM THE MASTER on the PA system.

Abandoning a Ship

If all other means of saving the vessel and personnel has been exhausted, it is only then that the ship should be abandoned. In that case:

  1. Inform the EOW (Engineer On Watch) by the ship’s telephone that ship is to be abandoned
  2. Transmit orders ‘Abandon Ship’ on the PA system- as mentioned above, done only by the Master
  3. Send out a distress call (further explained later)
  4. Activate the EPIRB and carry the SART onto the survival crafts
  5. Collect all relevant documents from the bridge (if time permits) – Logs and records which might come in use in accident investigation
  6. The Master can arrange the collection of all the documents of the ship’s crew such as CDCs, Passports, CoCs, STCW certificates etc. This would also entail the Master to carry any cash that remains.

Distress call

To promulgate distress signal, refer to this article.

Aside from this, the Annex IV of the COLREGS can also be referred to which extensively covers all distress signals that may be used. Read more here.

Once all the crew is at a safe distance from the abandoned ship or are rescued by other ship or rescue team, the master performs the following duties-

  • Request the rescue team or ship to cancel the Mayday order
  • Communicate the reason for abandoning the ship and request to issue a navigational warning as the abandoned ship may be a threat to other vessels.
  • Count the number of crew rescued and report it to the nearest coastal authority.
  • All information about accidents and survivors must be provided to the company and P&I club official once the rescue team reaches the nearest port.
  • Prepare a complete report of the event that leads to the accident, along with other senior officers and submits it to the company and Maritime Accident Investigation authority.

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. 


About Author

Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.


  1. What about the documents of seafarers like CDC, Passport etc.? If these documents are destroyed how a seafarer can return back to his country and how he can get back new documents?

  2. What about the documents of seafarers like CDC, Passport etc.? If these documents are destroyed how a seafarer can return back to his country and how he can get back new documents?

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