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Bridge Watchkeeping Emergencies on a Ship

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch: The Steering Gear Failure

  • If on Auto-Steering, the first action is to change over to Hand steering.
  • The 1st suspect is ‘Telemotor failure’.
  • Switch over to other Telemotor ‘System’ (Marked as System 1 / 2).
  • It that still does not solve the problem, the next suspect is the Steering Motor.
  • Change from Steering Motor 1 to Steering Motor 2.
  • It that still does not solve the problem, next suspect is failure of both telemotor system.
  • Turn the mode selection switch to NFU (non-follow up steering)
  • Even if this does not work, it means that all means from steering from the bridge have failed and the last resort of Emergency steering from the Steering gear compartment has to be resorted to.
  • After each corrective step, the rudder would have to be tried out. Before doing it, pay heed to traffic around to avoid any Closed Quarter’ situation.
  • If in restricted waters with traffic around, if steering is not restored immediately,
    • Reduce to Minimum Steerage way.
    • Inform ships around through safety message and burn NUC lights or hoist NUC shapes.
    • Inform Master and the Engine Room.
  • Such efficiency can only be achieved by planned and frequent training by simulating steering gear failures.
  • Details of drills and their periodicity is strictly laid down in ships training manual.
  • Company Superintendents and Surveyors are very particular that these drills are carried out regularly and recorded correctly as per the ISM procedures.

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch: The Auto Pilot Alarm Sounds

  1. Check compass and rudder angle indicator and compare, if the compass moves to port the rudder should move to stbd.
  2. Check wake of the ship for yawing.
  3. Check course recorders heading for a straight line. It does not ring unless the difference between the course setting and gyro heading is more than the preset limit.
  4. Inform Master.

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch: Seeing a Man on Deck Falling Overboard:

The initial and early sighting of the fallen crew plays a vital role in increasing the percentage of saving his/her life. The actions for an MOB mentioned below are extremely urgent and must be taken without any delay to save the life of the person who has fallen overboard.

  1. Shout ‘Man Overboard on Starboard/Port side’.
  2. Change over to hand steering from auto and put the wheel hard over to the respective side (port or starboard).
  3. Release MOB marker from the side of the bridge wing to which MOB has occurred. This marker is buoyant and has a self igniting light as well as a self activating smoke signal.
  4. Press the MOB button on the GPS to mark the position of the casualty for future reference.
  5. Sound ‘O’ on the whistle (one prolonged blast). This is to let the Master and the crew knows about the emergency situation. Supplement this with the appropriate ‘O’ flag.
  6. Post extra lookout as soon as possible.
  7. Sound the General Alarm on the ship’s whistle to alert everybody to proceed to stations. This is to ensure that if the crew has not understood the one prolonged blast for MOB, they are alerted regardless and proceed to muster stations to assist in the recovery of the person.
  8. Thereafter, announce the MOB situation on the ship’s PA system.
  9. Inform the engine room of the situation and let them know that maneuvering will be required.
  10. Execute the Williamsons turn (explained later).
  11. Keep a keen eye on the RADAR/ARPA and put the VHF on Channel 16.
  12. Maintain a record of all the events in the Bell book.
  13. Carry out Master’s orders.
  14. The Chief Mate should take-over all decisions based on deck with regard to lowering survival craft etc.
  15. The Third Mate ought to assist the Master on Bridge.
  16. The officer in charge at the moment must send out an “Urgency signal” on all the communications systems to let ships in the vicinity know about the situation.
  17. Keep the lifebuoy (MOB marker) in sight.
  18. The rescue boat should be manned adequately with enough personnel to carry out the rescue operation.
  19. Portable handheld VHF must be carried by the officer in the rescue boat.
  20. Once the person is rescued, the rescue boat must be picked up upon arrival close to the ship along with the lifebuoy and hoisted back.
  21. Immediate first aid should be administered if required.
  22. An ‘Urgency Signal’ must be sent out to cancel the last transmitted MOB alert.
  23. Appropriate entries must be made in the Ship’s Logbook.
  24. The Master must carry out an enquiry with respect to the MOB incident and all entries made in the Ship’s Logbook.

The engines are not stopped immediately to keep the person away from the propeller. The same is the case for wheel hard over to the side of the casualty as it is done to keep the stern away from the casualty. Screaming about the MOB at the instant that the mishap is realized is of paramount importance to use all manpower available for immediate use. The lifebuoy also adds to the lifesaving process as the smoke signal leaves a conspicuous mark by the day or night. It is also important to pick up the lifebuoy to not confuse any other ships passing by about the status of the MOB. They must not assume that there is a MOB in the vicinity and proceed towards helping the person when he has already been rescued. Entries in the Ship’s Logbook hold great legal importance and should be made carefully. Always try to succeed in the first attempt as even a little delay can cause a human life.

The Williamson Turn:
  1. Note the position of the ship
  2. Put wheel hard over to the side of the casualty
  3. After the ship has aletered course by about 60 degrees, put wheel hard over to the other side
  4. When the vessel is 20 degrees short of the reciprocal course, wheel on midship
The Scharnow Turn:
  1. Put the rudder over hard toward the person
  2. After deviating from the original course by about 240 degrees, shift the rudder hard to the opposite side.
  3. When heading about 20 degrees short of the reciprocal course, put the rudder amidships so that vessel turns onto the reciprocal course.
The Anderson Turn:
  1. Stop the engines.
  2. Put the rudder over toward the person
  3. When clear of the person, go all ahead full, still using full rudder.
  4. After deviating from the original course by about 240 degrees (about 2/3 of a complete circle), back the engines 2/3 or full.
  5. Stop the engines when the target point is 15 degrees off the bow. Ease the rudder and back the engines as required.

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch: On observing another vessel dragging her anchor onto you:

  1. Sound ‘U’ on the whistle: This will also attract the attention of other ships, if any, in the vicinity but none of them would know who is sounding the whistle and for whom the signal is intended. The other ships would thus be alerted and become witnesses.
  2. Inform Master: On hearing the whistle, the Master of the own ship would rush to the bridge.
  3. Call up the other ship by VHF. At this close range, the other ship’s name wold be clearly visible. Inform him that he is dragging anchor on to us.
  4. In case the OOW on that ship does not respond to VHF calls, flash ‘U’ at him by the Daylight Signaling Lamp. When he responds, ascertain by VHF, what action he is taking.
  5. Inform the engine room: ‘This is an emergency. Get engines ready as soon as possible and let us know when you are ready. Switch on power to the windlass’.
  6. Call anchor stations urgently.
  7. Call for a messenger on the bridge because the quartermaster would be manning the wheel.
  8. Switch on steering motors.
  9. Switch on radar/ ARPA.
  10. Keep a record of all happenings, and their timings in the Bridge Notebook.
  11. Carry out Master’s orders.

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch when underway: Approaching Rain with reducing visibility / Sight a fog bank ahead:

  1. Inform Master.
  2. Inform E/R ‘We are entering fog. Get engines ready for maneuvering and let us know as soon as ready’.
  3. Observe visually and make a note of the movement of all traffic in sight.
  4. Switch on ARPA and commence plotting.
  5. Switch on navigation lights.
  6. Change over to hand steering.
  7. Switch on the other steering motor also.
  8. Post double lookouts – one on the bridge as lookout-cum-messenger and the other on the forecastle, monkey island or crow’s nest as appropriate (consult Master regarding the deployment of the second lookoutman).
  9. Try out pneumatic whistle, electric klaxon and manual foghorn by giving a very short blast on each.
  10. Stop all noise on deck so that fog signals of other ships would not get drowned by noises on board the own ship.
  11. Keep open the outer doors of the wheelhouse so that fog signals of other ships may be heard.
  12. Commence sounding fog signals before entering fog.
  13. Reduce to ‘Safe speed’ before entering fog.
  14. Restrict hold ventilation.
  15. Record all happenings in the bridge notebook.

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch: In restricted visibility you pick up a target on your radar:

  1. Stop Engine.
  2. Take her all way off.
  3. Start radar plotting.
  4. Compete radar plotting.
  5. Find out best course of action.
  6. Do not alter course before completing radar plotting as because this is a scanty radar information.

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch: Own Ship is Dragging Anchor:

  1. Inform Master.
  2. Inform engine room ‘This is an emergency, get engines ready as soon as possible and let us know when you are ready. Switch on power to windlass’.
  3. Call anchor stations.
  4. Call for a messenger on the bridge because the quartermaster would be manning the wheel.
  5. Switch on steering motors.
  6. Switch on radar/ ARPA.
  7. Try out pneumatic whistle and electric klaxon.
  8. The VHF would already be on, while at anchor, guarding Channel 16.
  9. Keep a record of all happenings, and their timings in the Bridge Notebook.
  10. Carry out Master’s orders.
  11. If the Master is ashore, the Chief Officer would automatically take charge of the situation.
  12. In the rate circumstance of both of them being ashore, the Second officer would have to manage. In such a case, the following point would be of great importance:
    1. The length of cable paid out is only to ensure that the pull on the anchor shank, while it is on the sea bed, is horizontal. Once that is assured, paying out more cable would NOT help.
    2. Heaving up anchor, manoeuvring the ship, and re-anchoring should ONLY be a last resort by the Second Officer.
  13. Inform harbor control by VHF, ‘My ship is dragging anchor. Require a pilot immediately to re-anchor’.

Prepare your vessel for encountering heavy weather/ rain at Sea:

  1. Inform Master.
  2. Inform Chief Officer.
  3. Inform Catering Staff.
  4. Inform Engine Room.
  5. Secure all movable equipment on the bridge.
  6. Switch on ARPA and commence plotting.
  7. Switch on navigation lights. Later on, clouds may result in partial darkness; rain and/or spray may result in decrease of visibility.
  8. Switch on second steering motor also.
  9. Try out pneumatic whistle, electric klaxon and also foghorn.
  10. Keep a record of all relevant actions/ events in the Bridge Notebook.
  11. Inspect the chart and ensure that the intended course is safe bearing in mind the following points:
    1. More under keel clearance would be required because of pitching, rolling and heaving.
    2. The ship would be more difficult to manage in bad weather and hence it may be necessary to give dangers a wider berth than in calm weather.
    3. Failure of main engine, failure of generators, failure of steering systems, etc, in bad weather, as some of the possibilities that must not be overlooked.

Actions to be taken while on Navigational Watch: During open sea watch you observe the barometer falling rapidly:

  1. Prepare for the onset of stormy weather with strong winds.
  2. Inform Master.
  3. Inform Chief Officer.
  4. Inform Catering Staff.
  5. Inform Engine Room.
  6. Secure all movable equipment on the bridge.
  7. Switch on ARPA and commence plotting.
  8. Switch on navigation lights. Later on, clouds may result in partial darkness; rain and/or spray may result in decrease of visibility.
  9. Switch on second steering motor also.
  10. Try out pneumatic whistle, electric klaxon and also foghorn.
  11. Keep a record of all relevant actions/ events in the Bridge Notebook.
  12. Inspect the chart and ensure that the intended course is safe bearing in mind the following points:
    1. More under keel clearance would be required because of pitching, rolling and heaving.
    2. The ship would be more difficult to manage in bad weather and hence it may be necessary to give dangers a wider berth than in calm weather.
    3. Failure of main engine, failure of generators, failure of steering systems, etc, in bad weather, as some of the possibilities that must not be overlooked.

On a navigational watch at sea, signals likely to see or receive, if a vessel in vicinity is in distress:

Mentioned below are the Distress Signals which are used by Vessels: Use of these signals except for the purpose of indicating distress is prohibited:

Distress Signals which are used by Vessels
Distress Signals which are used by Vessels

On a Navigational Watch at sea during night, action will you take if the ‘smoke detector’ indicates a fire in No.2 hold:

Fire in a cargo hold at Sea:-

  1. Sound the Fire Alarm.
  2. Shut off the blowers of that hold.
  3. Announce on the PAS (Public Address System). ‘Fire in No:2 Hold.’
  4. Mark the position quickly, for future reference, by pressing the ‘Man overboard’ button on the GPS receiver. Such a button is available on most types of receivers.
  5. The Master would come rushing to the bridge after hearing the fire alarm, possibly before the announcement on the PAS.
  6. Inform the Engine room, ‘Fire in no:2 cargo hold. Open water on deck’. In many ships, the fire pump is started from the bridge.
  7. Mark the own ship’s position, by a cross on the chart, for ready reference by the Master. Clearly write the latitude, longitude, ship’s time and UTC of the incident.
  8. Consult Master whether to change over to hand steering.
  9. Keep a record of all events and their timings, in the Bridge Notebook.
  10. Entries in the Mate’s Logbook should be made at a subsequent, convenient time.
  11. Carry out Master’s orders.

Actions to fight an Engine Room fire while your vessel is at sea:

  1. Raise the alarm.
  2. Inform the master.
  3. Reduce the vessels speed & engage manual steering. Display NUC (NOT UNDER COMMAND) lights, Weather reports, open communication with other vessels in the vicinity and send urgency signal.
  4. Close all ventilation, fire and watertight doors.
  5. Muster all crew- take a head count. Emergency fire p/p running.
  6. Isolate all electrical units. Commence boundary cooling.
  7. Fight fire by conventional means.
  8. Main fire party to be properly equipped. Back up party ready at all times.
  9. C/O not to enter as he monitors progress and communication with the bridge. Proper communication between bridge and engine room. Keep bridge informed accordingly of sequence of events.
  10. At all times fire fighters to be well equipped with breathing apparatus and fireman suit. Checks on apparatus must be carried out prior to entering space.

Actions in case of Engine Room fire at Port:

  1. Raise the alarm.
  2. Inform the master
  3. Display NUC (NOT UNDER COMMAND) lights, Weather reports, open communication with Port Authorities.
  4. Close all ventilation, fire and watertight doors.
  5. Muster all crew- take a head count. Emergency fire p/p running.
  6. Isolate all electrical units. Commence boundary cooling.
  7. Fight fire by conventional means.
  8. Main fire party to be properly equipped. Back up party ready at all times.
  9. C/O not to enter as he monitors progress and communication with the bridge. Proper communication between bridge and engine room. Keep bridge informed accordingly of sequence of events.
  10. At all times fire fighters to be well equipped with breathing apparatus and fireman suit. Checks on apparatus must be carried out prior to entering space.

Procedure to enter Engine Room After Fire:

  • After the fire has been assumed to be extinguished and before removing the carbon di-oxide by exhaust blowers, a re-entry using breathing apparatus and fireman’s outfit has to be done.
  • Re-entry is usually done from the lowest space in the engine room and probably from the emergency escape.
  • Care is to be taken not to allow the carbon dioxide to escape.
  • The entering personnel must enter with a fire hose and extinguish any local spots of fire.
  • If confirmed that the fire is out then the exhaust blowers can be run and the gases removed.
  • However fire patrols must be kept for a long period after the fire until the engine room is manned again.

Five likely causes of a fire emergency on board with their precautions:

Fire causes and precautions:- It is noted that the maximum number fires on ships initiates in the ship’s accommodation area due to negligence of the ship’s staff. A ship accommodation is an area where the crew member’s cabin is located along with galley, recreational room, meeting room etc. The best way to avoid incidents of fire on ship is to take preventive measures than to suffer later.

  • Do not smoke cigarette sitting or lying on the bed and also, do not keep or throw live smoking buds in the dust bins.
  • Try not to use essence stick or candles inside the cabins. If they are used, make sure they are lit up during your own presence and while your going out of the cabin, are blown off
  • Never use hot plate or heater for cooking purpose inside the cabin.
  • Never use loose or open wire (without plug or naked wire).
  • Always make sure electrical circuit is never overloaded i.e. too many connection in one socket.
  • Never put your clothes near or on room heater or lamps.
  • Do not bring oily rags inside your boiler suit pocket into the cabin.
  • Never leave iron unattended when ironing clothes in laundry room.
  • Always make sure all the electrical circuits in accommodation are in sound condition to avoid short circuit fire.
  • Chief cook should make sure that galley is always attended when hot plate is on.
  • Never leave oil pan unattended in galley.
  • Toaster and kettle must never be over heated.
  • If any welding or gas cutting operation is carried out inside accommodation, all the precaution that are necessary, must be taken.
  • In tanker ship, accommodation ventilation suction should be away from cargo holds as their vapour can enter inside the accommodation and create a flammable atmosphere.
  • All the visitors coming on board when the ship is at port must be briefed about the fire hazards.

Safe Lookout / Sole Lookout as per STCW:

  • Under the STCW Code, the OOW may, be the sole lookout in daylight provided that on each such occasion:
  • The situation has been carefully assessed and it has been established without doubt that it is safe to operate with a sole lookout.
  • Full account has been taken of all relevant factors, including, but not limited to:
    • State of weather.
    • Visibility.
    • Traffic density.
    • Proximity of dangers to navigation.
    • The attention necessary when navigating in or near traffic separation schemes.
  • When deemed necessary, assistance is immediately summoned to the bridge.
  • If sole lookout watchkeeping practices are to be followed, clear guidance on how they should operate will need to be given in the SMS.

Actions to be taken in case of dragging anchor & delay in readiness of the engines:

  • Inform Master.
  • Sound Uniform on ship whistle (two short blast followed by one long blast; to attract the attention of other vessel and to indicate that “You are running into danger.)
  • Stop all cargo operations and prepare vessel for manoeuvring. Let go cargo barges and crane barges if they are alongside.
  • Inform and alert Vessel traffic system (VTS) and other vessels nearby about the condition and inform about the actions taken. Seek permission for re-anchoring.
  • Start heaving up the anchor and once the vessel’s maneuverability is restored, shift the anchorage position where drifting can be safer or take to the open sea.
  • Deploy more cables or drop a second anchor (not recommended for big vessels) before the speed of dragging of the vessel increases.
  • This can stop the small vessel from dragging anchor at very early stage before the ship is pressed to leeward side with increasing speed.
  • If the scenario permits, let the vessel drag in a controlled manner. But this is not recommended in areas where offshore work such as oil and gas operations are being carried out, which can result in damaging the submerged pipe lines, cables etc.
  • Release the bitter end and let go the anchor completely, when weighing of anchor is not possible. A ship without minimum of 2 anchors is not considered to be sea worthy, a careful assessment is to be made prior making this decision.
  • If Weather permits, call (tugs) for assistance.

Responsibility of the OOW in the following in circumstances: Action on receiving storm warning

  1. Prepare for the onset of stormy weather with strong winds.
  2. Inform Master.
  3. Inform Chief Officer.
  4. Inform Catering Staff.
  5. Inform Engine Room.
  6. Secure all moveable equipment on the bridge.
  7. Switch on ARPA and commence plotting.
  8. Switch on navigation lights. Later on, clouds may result in partial darkness; rain and/or spray may result in decrease of visibility.
  9. Switch on second steering motor also.
  10. Try out pneumatic whistle, electric klaxon and also foghorn.
  11. Keep a record of all relevant actions/ events in the Bridge Notebook.
  12. Inspect the chart and ensure that the intended course is safe bearing in mind the following points:
    • More under keel clearance would be required because of pitching, rolling and heaving.
    • The ship would be more difficult to manage in bad weather and hence it may be necessary to give dangers a wider berth than in calm weather.
    • Failure of main engine, failure of generators, failure of steering systems, etc., in bad weather, as some of the possibilities that must not be overlooked.

While keeping bridge watch at sea, Actions to be taken when following alarms are activated: Gyro failure

  1. Inform the Master
  2. Change over to 2nd gyrocompass if available, Otherwise, following procedure to be followed.
  3. Change over to Hand steering for steering with magnetic compass.
  4. Apply Compass deviation value to magnetic compass course with the help Deviation card and observation,
  5. Consider effect on other navigational and communication equipment which have a gyro feed especially Radar/ ARPA and ECDIS and enter headings manually.
  6. Plot positions more frequently to confirm course made good and accordingly allow correction to course steered. In coastal waters, make good use of parallel indexing technique to keep vessel on charted track.
  7. Also secure True course run (Course made good) by plotting GPS position and verify with Heading of Magnetic compass.
  8. Reduce speed if considered necessary.

In the meantime, to check Instruction Manual for troubleshooting guide.


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