Watchkeeping. How good are your watchkeepers?


Safe navigation sounds simple, but the reality is it all comes back to the watchkeeper, the person in the helm seat.

Watchkeeping How good are your watchkeepers?

While it sounds cool to be in charge of the vessel for a while the very real fact is that you have the safety of the vessel and lives of all the people onboard in your hands while doing a watch!

Think about that for a minute, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters all want to get back home safely but for them to do that YOU have to do your job.

I’ve personally walked into the wheelhouse of a trawler that was trawling and found no body there! The vessel was running on auto pilot and while alarms were set the bottom line is there was no one on watch.

That made me sick to the stomach to think that my life and the lives of all the other crew members was in the hands of a couple of alarms that no one was there to monitor.

If you’re on watch you must take it seriously and do your job to protect the vessel and all those onboard. It’s not a time to lay back and rest, take a snooze or watch a video. Your job is to protect the vessel and all those onboard while you’re on watch.

Any person on watch must know and understand the navigational equipment, the different alarms and what they mean, the radios and when to call the Master.

For commercial vessels they should have a watchkeeping procedure in the vessels SMS, if not you better get on now.

This procedure needs to have a handover step and details of tasks when underway or at anchor. I’ve been to far too many incidents, some with minor injures and other where a death has occurred, or a vessel has been damaged or lost.

Here’s a DO NOTS to remember when on watch…Don’t

  • just sit in the helm seat for your watch period
  • watch TV or a video
  • play on your phone or tablet
  • rely on you radar

More important are the DO’s which are…Do:

  • get up and check out the sides and astern regularly
  • stay on the planned course
  • maintain safe navigation
  • monitor machinery alarms
  • Monitor high water alarms (if fitted)
  • Remain aware of other conditions that may affect the vessel or its safety

The above dot points are based on being underway but what about when you’re at anchor?

There’s a few critical steps that you need to follow, these are:

  • Record the vessels position (if not already noted) in the vessels Log Book
  • Ensure the vessel is not dragging the anchor or shifting
  • Maintain a lookout at all times

Shorlink’s Recommendation

Number one is to ensure you have an appropriate hand over process in place, don’t just say “stay on this course and call me in 4 hours”.

Next is to have a series of steps for the watchkeeper to follow when underway and also when at anchor.


Do not, I repeat do not let anyone stand watch without doing to two following things:

  1. Ensuring they have been fully inducted into all the navigation equipment, alarms other vital points relevant to your vessel;
  2. Never allow a new watchkeeper, who has been properly inducted, to stand a watch alone. Ensure an experienced watchkeeper is with them until they are deemed competent to stand watch alone.

Remember, if you’re on watch and start to feel tired or are falling asleep wake someone immediately because is not only your life it’s the life of all those onboard in your hands!