Collision Avoidance is an important aspect of seafarers’ navigational responsibilities. Officer on Watch (OOW) needs to comply with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), company guidelines, and master standing instructions at all times for Collision Avoidance.
When taking over the Navigational Watch, situational awareness is crucial for collision avoidance. The Officer on Watch (OOW) should receive a proper handover from the previous OOW, including information about the present conditions such as traffic density, concerning targets, and other relevant factors. A checklist is followed on the ships for handing over and taking over the navigational watch.
The Officer on Watch (OOW), in addition to monitoring outside traffic conditions, should also be aware of the bridge equipment’s operational conditions, current settings, limitations, and vessel maneuvering characteristics.
After taking over the navigational watch, OOW should make sure that all the checks are done properly as per the company checklist and navigation policy. Based on my personal sailing experience as a 3rd mate,
I have created a quick list of items to be checked and necessary information that you should be aware of when you are taking over the navigational watch.
- Compare compasses (gyro and magnetic).
- Check radar settings (such as sea stabilized or ground stabilized, CPA/TCPA limit, vector, trail, range scale, gain control, and sea and rain clutter settings during the navigational watch).
- Carry out a radar performance test (To check the efficiency of the radar).
- Check the ECDIS safety settings and the visual route. (Note: It is important to perform a visual route check as automatic route checks are limited to the XTL limit. Navigators must be aware of hazards beyond the XTL limit).
- Verify the current ECDIS route and user maps.
- Compare DGPS/GPS position with other electronic position fixing systems or alternative means.
- Ensure the proper functioning of the GMDSS distress communication system. Check that they are set to the correct frequency band, and inspect the battery and antenna.
- Verify AIS status, including AIS transmitting data, etc.
- Confirm that VHF is set to the required channel and check the VHF DSC status.
- Present NAV Area and MET Area for receiving navigational meteorological warnings.
- Verify that the echo sounder draft is updated, set on the correct range scale and that the depth alarm is properly configured.
- Verify that the course recorder is working properly.
- Verify that the navigation lights and other signaling equipment are working properly.
- Verify that the speed log, VDR, and other navigation aids are working properly.
- Check that Navtex is set to the correct receiving stations and that all the mandatory messages are selected.
- Check the vessel’s present course, next course, course alterations, vessel speed, heading (HDG), RPM, current, wind, steering motor/telemotor, and other relevant factors.
- Stay alert all the time and maintain a constant watch for any navigational, meteorological, and distress alerts during your watch.
Disclaimer: This list is based on my personal experience and serves as a quick reference for taking over a navigational watch. Always follow your company’s specific policies and requirements.
- Maintain a proper all-around lookout at all times, using all available means. A proper lookout ensures situational awareness, which is crucial for collision avoidance. Never hesitate to call for additional lookouts or notify the master in case of a sudden increase in traffic density or the sighting of any suspicious object.
- The best way to avoid a collision or a close-quarter situation is to take early action. So always take early action whenever possible.
- Do not hesitate to use engines. Remember the officer on Watch(OOW) has unrestricted access to the engines.
- To attract the attention of other vessels/crafts, do not hesitate to use sound/light signals.
- Continuously monitor targets until they are past and clear visually and on the radar.
- Do not hesitate to deviate away from the course line to avoid collisions if sufficient sea room is available. As far as practicable, when altering course to avoid a collision, alter by at least 30-40 degrees. Small alterations are not easily detected on radar.
- Hand steering is more effective than using auto-pilot. Do not hesitate to delay the changeover to hand steering when necessary.
- Avoid clusters of fishing boats and nets. Do not try to pass between fishing boats; they tend to change course at any time to protect their fishing nets.
- During emergency maneuvers, it is important to remember that a vessel can be turned around with a hard-over wheel within a distance of approximately five ship lengths.
- Use the ARPA Trial Manoeuvre facility if available to check the simulation of a potential manoeuvre.
- The master is overall in charge of the safety of the ship and navigation. In case of any doubt, do not hesitate to call the Master if you are unable to comply with the Master’s standing instructions and the company’s navigation policies.