Bridge Procedures




A perfect knowledge of the Bridge Procedures Guide published by the ICS Organisation, is of paramount importance. This booklet has to be carefully read and understood by all deck officers.

Special attention has been focussed on few important points and procedures.


The officer of watch is the Master's representative, and his primary responsibility, at all times, is the safety of the ship. He is responsible for ensuring that the planned passage is properly carried out during his watch. He must at all times comply with the International Regulation for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (several times amended), Master's standing orders and Master's bridge order book.

Master's standing orders must be periodically and carefully read, and should include such matters as :

  • specific instructions according to Master's personal experience(s)
  • calling the Master
  • reducing speed in the event of restricted visibility or other circumstances
  • posting look-out(s) and additional personnel in special circumstances
  • manning the wheel
  • use of automatic pilot
  • the use and continuous correction of charts, sailing directions,  lists of lights, navigation warnings and any other printed matter used for the navigation
  • the use of echo-sounders, radar, GPS and other navigational aids
  • drill for changing over steering gear
  • the need for checking information in order to reduce to a minimum the risk of "one-man" errors
  • radio communications

Master's bridge orders book should include instructions for:

  • night-time
  • pilot on board
  • when calling the Master
  • ship at anchor and readiness of main engine
  • restricted visibility
  • coastal navigation
  • landing
  • any special circumstance(s)
  • specific situations which may occur on a watch
  • etc.

The officer of watch is responsible for the maintenance of a continuous and alert watch and look-out, in this way he will in no circumstances leave the bridge until being properly relieved.

The Master is responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, and he has to make sure that all watchgoing navigation officers are adequately trained and fit for their duty. If not, special care has to be taken during the watch and proper training to be carried out for the familiarisation of the officer.


The officer of the watch continues to be responsible for the safety and navigation of the vessel despite the presence of the Master or any other officer on the bridge, until he has been taking over. This must be carried out with a clear statement by the reliever and a clear acknowledgement by the relieved.

The Master should ensure that following data are displayed and directly available on the bridge throughout the voyage:

  • The actual draught of the vessel permanently adjusted for the change of ballast condition
  • Posters stipulating :
    • ship's particulars
    • manoeuvring characteristics (stopping time, stopping distance, etc.)
    • operational status and characteristics of propulsion machinery and navigational equipment
    • appropriate warnings hanged on equipment controls when work is carried out in the vicinity of radar or radio aerials
    • required boarding arrangements for pilot

Operation and Maintenance of navigational equipment

Watchkeeping officers have to be completely familiar with navigational equipment. Operating manuals must also be regularly consulted for this purpose.

A record of defects has to be carefully performed and reported to the Master.

The Master has to ensure that maintenance is carried out according to manufacturers' instruction manuals. (See ICS, Bridge Procedures Guide, chapter 4).

Passage Planning

Passage planning is necessary to avoid undetected errors which may have disastrous consequences.

By comparing the actual track with the predicted plan, any necessary adjustment to course can be made.

Passage planning is customary elaborated by the navigating officer (usually the second officer) and checked by the Master.

When planning a passage in restricted waters it is wise to plan for the worst possible conditions,

for instance :

  • no visibility
  • heavy radar clutter
  • buoys which may have been shifted
  • ship breakdowns

The track should be planned to :

  • provide the maximum relevant clearances away from any obstructions
  • facilitate transit to the starboard side of a fairway for collision avoidance<
  • provide sufficient margins for corrections with respect to the ship's manoeuvring ability, bearing in mind weather conditions, current, tides and squat

The passage plan should show :

  • courses to steer with headings and leading lines
  • waypoints, distances between waypoints and important navigation marks
  • wheel over positions
  • permanent and temporary hazards to navigation
  • all charts and publications requested
  • eta's with the use of different speeds.

When using radar for changing of course, targets should be :

  • safe and easy to identify
  • radar conspicuous
  • located outside the clutter fieldlimited to a number sufficient for safe navigation

If relevant, prepare AMVER departure telegram.

Preparation for sea


Navigation with a pilot

The Master and officers of the watch are always responsible for the safe navigation of the ship. In this way, the presence of a pilot with up-to-date knowledge of the area, does not relieve them of their duty and obligations.

The officer of the watch should cooperate closely with the pilot to assist him where possible and to maintain an accurate check on the ship's position and movements. If the officer of the watch becomes unsure of the pilot's actions or intentions, he should seek clarification and, if still in doubt, should inform the Master immediately and take the necessary action before the Master arrives on the bridge.

The Master should inform the pilot of the ship's characteristics using a pilot card. (See Bridge Procedures Guide, ICS, Annex I.)

This card should be completed as directly by the Master and handed to the pilot on boarding.

The Master should request information from the pilot regarding local conditions and his navigational intentions. This information should be in form to enable the Master or officer of watch to monitor the planned passage.

Prior to pilot disembarkation, the Master has to ask for all useful information from pilot station up to open sea.

Use of the Main Engine

The officer of the watch should bear in mind that the engine is at his disposal for assistance in manoeuvring. He should not hesitate to use it in case of need, although timely notice of an alteration of engine movements should be given when possible. Therefore a full understanding and knowledge of the main engine bridge control panels are requested. (Ref. : Makers Manual / Automation List, etc.) The officer of the watch should also be fully aware of the manoeuvring capabilities of the ship, including her stopping distance.

Proceeding to anchor

By proceeding to anchor, good care has to be taken to the Master's standing orders and to the ship's characteristics.

At anchor watch, the officer of the watch should :

  • take good care of all Masters standing orders
  • ensure that the vessel exhibits the appropriate lights and shapes (Colregs, Rule 30) and that in restricted visibility the appropriate sound signals are made (Colregs, Rule 35f)
  • maintain a continuous and alert look-out
  • check ship's position and distance with other vessels in close vicinity
  • observe weather, tidal and sea conditions
  • notify the Master if the vessel drags its anchor and undertake all necessary remedial measures
  • notify the Master if visibility deteriorates
  • in bad visibility keep a proper radar watch. In case of an approaching vessel sound, in addition to the prescribed fog signals, three blasts in succession, namely one short, one prolonged and one short blast (the letter R) to give warning of your position and of the possibility of collision
  • watch for any oil pollution
  • ensure that a periodical inspection of the vessel is made and that anti-piracy precautions are maintained, as Master's standing orders.

Procedures at ea

Maintain a continuous and alert watch :

  • following of Master's standing orders
  • look-out : ships, sea and landmarks, any floating object
  • identification of ship(s) and shore lights
  • monitoring of course and steered wheel
  • radar and echo sounder observation
  • changes in weather / visibility
  • when AB(s) on the bridge: clear instructions to perform a safe watch and a proper look-out
  • monitoring of bridge-located systems:
    • fire detection
    • machinery condition
    • radio communications (GMDSS, VHF)
    • ballast control (if any)
    • inert gas control (if any)
    • navigation lights (if relevant)
    • emergency panels (fire detection, watertight doors, etc.)
    • signalling equipment
    • flags and shapes (if relevant)
  • proper records in deck log book

Changing over the watch

Helmsman / automatic pilot

The officer of the watch should comply with the requirement for the operation an testing of the steering gear and automatic pilot contained in SOLAS 1974. Chapter 5, reg.: 19, 19-1 and 19-2.

Good care has to be taken to change over in due time from automatic steering to hand steering. The officer of the watch must not hesitate to call an helmsman on the bridge if required.

Navigation in heavy weather or in tropical storm areas

As previously mentioned, the Master must be advised of any deterioration of weather conditions.

Navigating in ice

As previously mentioned, the Master must be advised of any deterioration of sea conditions.

Procedure for arrival in port

Landing planning

Study of the prevailing conditions taking into account national or local instructions, supported by

  • largest scale available chart(s)
  • Sailing Directions
  • A.L.R.S, Volume 6: Vessel traffic Services, Port Operations and Pilot Services
  • Guide to Port Entry
  • agent's information and instructions

(Ref.: Arrival in port: international safety guide for oil tankers and terminals, Chapter 3)

See also: Formalities on arrival

Emergency procedures

All watch officers must be familiar with EMERGENCY PROCEDURES (Ref. : ICS. Bridge Procedures Guide, Part C) :

See also : Emergency Procedures


Position reporting is imperative to ensure a proper follow-up of vessels in the quality and safety policy of a good Company.

The Master must regularly report to the Company the position and the ETA of his vessel :

  • according to the charter-party requirement, a copy has to be forwarded simultaneously to the Company two times a week (e.g. on Mondays and Thursdays)
  • if the ETA has changed for more than 6 hours
  • in any case of deviation