Bridge navigational watch is one of the most significant ship-board operations for deck officers. When the ship is at sea, the bridge or the wheel house is the only workplace which is manned at all times.
As the navigating officers have to keep bridge watches round the clock, the practice of taking over of the watch by a relieving Officer of watch (OWW) from the present officer-of-watch is followed everyday.This short span of time, of taking over the watch is indeed a critical period, as the new OOW has to be aware of a lot of momentous information.
Here are some brief notes on the eight most important factors which need to be checked and reassured along with some good practices to be followed while taking over a bridge watch.
1. Ship’s Position – Speed – Course
The most important factor or the first thing to be checked after coming upon the bridge is the position and speed of the ship. Once you are satisfied with the position of the ship on the chart, it is a good practice to browse through the chart and the course to be followed till the end of your watch. Check for waypoints of course alterations, any reporting points, traffic separation schemes, shallow patches, or any dangers to navigation along the intended track marked on the chart.
Compare the course on the chart with the course in the passage plan.
Make yourself aware of the Engine RPM, Speed, Log speed, Course made good, Course steered. Any doubt or uncertainties are to be checked with the OOW.
2. Traffic Density
Now that you are satisfied with the position and course of the ship, without wasting time look outside the bridge to get a clear view of the horizon and check the number of vessels around. It is advised to take a walk all the way to both the bridge wings to get a view of the stern of the ship, as it is likely to be omitted. Once you have visually ascertained the situation outside, glance at the Radar screen for the targets around and for more information provided by the Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA). It is recommended to switch to higher range scales for early detection of the aspect of vessels coming down (if any).
If your ship is already in a situation such as overtaking, close-quarter, or a crossing situation, DO NOT take over the watch until the situation is over and the vessel is past and quite clear.
3. Weather Conditions and Night Vision
The next important factor to check is the weather condition. Make sure you are aware of a) Wind speed and direction and b) the set and drift of current, as these play an important role in the charting a good course. With the available information, try to foresee if restricted visibility or precipitation is expected during your watch.
During hours of darkness/restricted visibility, it is of utmost importance to be fully adjusted to the low lights, as it helps in the purpose of an effective look-out. Keep in mind that, it takes around 15 minutes for the eyes of an average person to get adjusted to low lights from artificial lights. Also ensure that complete darkness is maintained on the bridge during night watches.
4. Bridge Equipment and Dimmers
Ensure all bridge equipment are ready and intact. Any troubleshooting or exception is to be clarified with the OOW to be relived.
If needed, adjust and configure the required bridge equipment to your settings. It is found that different officers like to use the Radar with different orientation, CPA limits, alarm settings and displays which they are comfortable with.
Check the degrees of rate of turn set on the Auto-Pilot and make adjustments if necessary.
During hours of darkness, all bridge equipment and other displays should be dimmed to absolute minimum. Switch the display of equipment to night mode. This will help in effective look-out and prevent back scatter of lights.
5. Logbooks – Checklists – Daily orders
Make it a habit to check the latest entry of the logbook while taking over the watch. All the necessary information found there should be noticed. Any misgiving entries should be clarified with the OOW in no time. Do not forget to note the gyro-error as well.
It is also important to check and sign the ‘change of watch’ checklist. The same should be complied as well.
It is a common practice onboard to issue Master’s daily orders in addition to the existing Standing orders of the Master. Such daily orders will contain special guidelines and information about navigating the present leg of the voyage, and hence should be read with good care and the same should be signed and complied.
If prior to arrival or pilot boarding, confirm while taking over the watch, weather you are supposed to prepare the required checklists or pilot cards or give notices to engine room or deck crew.
6. Readiness of the Look-out/ Helmsman
It is a requirement to have an Able seaman for look-out duties as a part of the bridge team. He is also required to steer the ship in certain situations of emergencies, landfall, approaches to port or constrained waters.
In open seas or day light hours, the OOW could be the sole look-out of the watch. In such cases, ensure that the look-out/ helmsman is readily available on the walkie-talkie in case to call on any emergency situation. It is a good practice to radio-check his availability while taking over the watch.
7. Miscellaneous Activities on Deck or Engine room
If there is any out-of-ordinary jobs in progress or ready to commence on deck or engine room, such information has to be passed on to the OOW. It is also his responsibility to demand such information. The miscellaneous activities can be, but not limited to the following:-
a) Tank entry/ Inspection / Cleaning
b) Cargo Hold Entry
c) Bilge well entry/ routine alarm checks.
d) Fire watch/ Hot works / Welding on deck
e) Working aloft
f) Working on monkey island
g) Working on masts
8.Inform the Master if Required
The relieving officer has the authority to demand on any information regarding the navigation of the vessel and to elucidate on any uncertainty. If such uncertainties exists or there is lack of confidence about the situation from where you take over the watch, or that you are not satisfied with the hand-over, DO NOT take over the watch. You have the privilege to call the Master and wait until he is upon the bridge.
Even though the factors discussed above sounds like a long, time consuming process, it can be efficiently checked and done in 10-15 minutes of time. It is always a good habit to reach the bridge 10-15 minutes before your watch. Such acts not only reflect your officer-like-quality but also help the other OOW to get relieved on time.
The above points are some of the many important ones, which are helpful for a smooth and efficient takeover of a navigational bridge watch. While you’re busy doing the same, don’t forget to fill your cup with some hot coffee and positively wish yourself a good watch!