Responsibilities of Deck Officer When Ship is At Anchorage

The operation of a ship is a complex activity, especially when it is being carried out away from immediate help and at the mercy of nature. Optimum performance can therefore only be achieved by using the available workforce in an efficient manner.

The very core aspect of watchkeeping is to minimize any prospect of human error and thereby reduce the risk of damage to the ship or cargo. More than often, the time at anchorage is considered to be a time to relax. However, depending on the area in which the vessel is operating in, the anchorage might be a time to be extra vigilant.

Seafarers who have been on a vessel anchored outside the Port of Calabar (Nigeria) can relate to the extent to which watchkeeping at anchorage is troublesome, or anchorage at Singapore for that matter where traffic is abundant and where small errors might lead to full-scale disasters.

machinery ebook

At anchorage, it is solely up to the Master to decide whether the watch is to be kept on a deck or on the bridge. As otherwise, the officer on watch (OOW) has to ensure that all measures are taken for the safety of the vessel, its cargo and crew.

Here are a few procedures for watchkeeping at the anchorage:

 1. Calculate the Swinging Circle

Swinging Circle (M) = L.O.A + Length of Cable – UKC


The swinging circle might vary with the changes in tidal levels and in the weather. However, it is important to have a fair idea of the radius around which the ship might move about.

ship at anchor

2. Follow the Master’s Standing Orders

Every ship’s master writes their own standing orders based on the ship, the experience of its officers, the trade patterns which in turn determine the standing orders. These orders reflect the Master’s requirements based on past experiences with the ship and his contemporary workforce, therefore making it imperative that the orders are followed to prevent any anomaly or to maintain a set grade of performance. Clearly, the master puts faith in the officer when saying “Call me if in doubt” and expects the officer to do so if required and in ample time.

3. Keep a Check on your own Ship and other Ships in the Vicinity

Keep a close watch on your ship and other ships in the vicinity lest they start dragging after anchoring. Dragging might occur due to changes in tidal levels, changes in weather or due to the brake giving away to a lot of yawing. The danger here is primarily to ensure that your own vessel does not drag and also to double-check if there are other vessels drifting towards your vessel. Use the bow stopper when at anchor to minimize any probability of a blunder.

ship with anchor

4. Keep a Constant Check on the Ship’s position. This point is generally laid down in the Master’s Standing Orders and almost always mentions the intervals at which the position must be plotted on the chart. Use the GPS or the Radar or both to determine the exact position of the ship, which, very obviously, helps to determine if the ship is stationary or dragging.

5. Display Appropriate Lights

This enables other vessels to know that you are anchored, therefore making it evident that they should not anchor too close to your vessel and also give them an indication of proximity if dragging occurs.

deck officer ebook

6. Keeping a Constant VHF watch

 If slated to receive a pilot on board or for information on vessels in the area, it is very important to keep a constant VHF watch. The coast authorities generally promulgate extremely useful information that might be integral to the safety of the vessel. Wreckages, vessel information, ETA to pilot etc are necessary data that optimize operational procedures.

Constant VHF watch

7. Alert Nearby Vessels When Required

If another vessel seems to be coming close to your own vessel, get their attention on the VHF or by flashing the Aldis lamp. Use any available means at the time to bring to their attention regarding the grave nature of the situation and avert any danger that may be impending.

Watchkeeping at anchorage might seem to be an easy task, for there is barely any movement. However, the very fact that the vessel is halted makes it vulnerable to a variety of dangers. As is done usually, the OOW must be vigilant at all times and use the assistance of additional lookouts if necessary.

Oil Tanker Cargo Operation ebook

In areas prone to piracy, the importance of alertness cannot be stressed more. The ship being stationery makes it open to attacks and pilferage. And very little can be left to the imagination in case the pirates attempt to board the vessel when it is anchored!

Responsibility and diligence in the part of the OOW will keep the vessel safe and away from harm. That is to say that the OOW should basically just do what he does on an everyday basis and thereby keep the dynamics going.

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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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. good day,

    Regret to mention related to ”anchor watch by OOW two things in our eyes are forgotten:

    1/ Visual check on the foc’sle regularely observing the chain position, straight or hanging or crabbing ?
    2/ Engine room staf on how much notice ref possible calamities when .f.e. weather is changing etc.

    Trust have served with above / Have a nice weekend
    Bon Voyage / Gerrit

  2. In Point No.1 i.e. calculation of swinging circle :Swinging Circle (M) = L.O.A + Length of Cable – UKC

    why UKC is subtracted ? Can anybody explain?

  3. It’s an approximate calculation.

    UKC is a vertical height and approximately considered as cable length to reach the seabed so it should substracted from the cable length.

  4. Swinging Circle (M) = L.O.A + b

    Where b = sq.root of (c2 – a2)

    Where a = depth of water
    c = cable length

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