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Watch Standing Responsibilities

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

WATCH STANDING RESPONSIBILITIES ... It is likely that every experienced boater is familiar with the term “Watch Standing” ... however, only a few have a deep understanding of, or have been trained in the art of actually Standing a Ship’s Watch on a recreational vessel, a commercial vessel, a military ship, or a paddle craft ... So ... what does an experienced Watch Stander do ? ... In practice, a Watch Stander has 5 primary responsibilities. These are Lookout Watch, Night Lookout Watch, Helm Watch, Towing Watch, and Anchor Watch. In addition, if you are standing a watch you should make yourself aware that the Navigational Rules both International and Inland specifically require that every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight, and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions, so as to make a full appraisal of the situation, and most importantly minimize the risk of collision. Note: Even though it is not a specific requirement, the entire crew must perform lookout duties unless directed otherwise ... Watch Standing Responsibilities ... The ship’s captain or mate are responsible for assigning the various watches to the appropriate crew members as listed above. Be Prepare before Leaving the Dock ... This means using all of the available equipment needed to improve the chance of detecting a hazard before an incident occurs. These items include binoculars, sunglasses, and night vision equipment. Of these listed items binoculars give a Watch Stander the best available chance to increase his or her capability to better identify dangerous situations in close proximity to the vessel ... Eyes Are a Lookout’s Tools as well ... While binoculars are a very valuable, you should be aware that binoculars can also reduce a watch stander’s field of vision, or how much the eye can see. To combat this effect an experienced watch stander will switch between using binoculars and eyes to make sure nothing goes unnoticed ... Sunny Days ... When the sky is sunny, the horizon is often difficult to see due to the sun’s reflection on the surface of the water. A good pair of sunglasses will remedy this distraction ... Night Vision ... Many lookouts prefer to use night vision equipment. Such equipment enhances the Lookout’s ability to detect objects in the dark. Night vision is also effective if there is sufficient background light that outlines objects that exist between the background light and the ship. When using night vision equipment, it is important to remember that pointing a bright light in the direction of another bright light might diminish the night vision while simultaneously damaging the equipment ... Report What You See ... An experienced Watch Stander will report what they see, hear, smell, or touch with as much detail as possible. Example items are ... Color, Shape, Size and Proximity. After dark the lookout is required to be able to identify the color and meaning of all navigation lights in proximity to the vessel ... Saving Marine Mammals ... Marine Mammals such as sea turtles are difficult to detect when standing a Watch. An experienced Lookout will search for clues such as blows, spouts, dorsal fins, heads, splashes, turtle shells, and flukes. Relative Bearings ... Experienced lookouts report using relative bearings only. The relative bearing of nearby objects depends on its location in relation to the Watch Stander’s location on the vessel’s hull. They start scanning at zero degrees or straight off the bow, sometimes referred to as being dead ahead. So, the ship’s bearing starts at 000 degrees. Bearings are increase by moving in a clockwise direction around the vessel all the way to 360 degrees. Straight out from the starboard beam would be 090 degrees. Dead Astern would be 180 degrees. Straight off the port beam would be 270 degrees ... Crew Assignments ... The Skipper is responsible for assigning and stationing lookouts properly in order to comply with the requirements outlined in this Boating Safety Tip. Lookouts must report what they see to the Skipper. This list includes everything they see, smell, hear as well as what they think they see, smell or hear. If in doubt, Report It ... A sharp lookout is often the first means of protection for the boat to avoid trouble, not t0 mention locating situations to investigate such as vessels, or people in distress, law enforcement, and pollution mishaps ... Examples Are ... Ships, Land, Obstructions, Lights, Buoys, Beacons, Discolored Water, Reefs, Fog Signals, Whales and Sea Turtles ... Experience ... It is most important for the Skipper to consider the experience level and abilities of the individual crew members when making assignments. In the past, the inappropriate assignment of crew duties has contributed to mishaps including fatalities ...Guidelines ... These must be used to stand a proper Lookout Watch ... A ... Remain alert and give full attention to the assigned duty ... B ... Remain at your Station until relieved ... C ... The captain should teach the crew how to use the boat’s electronics and assess the crew’s strengths and weaknesses. This will then help create a duty roster to pair experienced crew members with requits when standing watch ... D ... It is important to refresh the batteries in all flashlights and handheld devices. Top up with fuel, water, and provisions with food and beverages that keep watch standers alert and engaged ... E ... If expecting a long, and rough passage, pre-prepare meals so the watch standers can be fed quickly. Offer caffeine in whatever way the crew prefers (coffee, tea, soda) ... F ... When provisioning, it is necessary to ask all crew if anyone has health issues or allergies that other crew members should be aware of. G ... Scanning ... This is a time proven method used by experienced Watch Standers. It is a step by step method of visually searching for objects in the sea near your vessel. Scanning also reduces eye fatigue. All watch standers should make themselves proficient at Scanning ... H ... Scanning Methods ... There are two common scanning methods that should be used by all Watch Standers. The first is to slowly scan the horizon from left to right and back again. The second is to scan the horizon using a top to bottom motion followed by a bottom and up motion. In both cases the Watch Stander uses his or her eyes. The result is the overlapping motions cover a larger area so that fewer objects are missed ... I ... Do not look directly at the horizon ... Instead look above it. Then slowly move your head from side to side while keeping eyes fixed with you head’s movement. This will give any stationary objects in the field of vision the appearance of moving. This makes objects easier to see. Another technique is to scan in small steps of about 10 degrees and have them overlap while moving across the field of view ... J ... Fatigue, Boredom, and Environmental Conditions that Affect Scanning ... To prevent this, periodically focus on a close object such as whitecaps or the bow of the boat ... K ... Fog Scanning ... In the fog, a contact may be heard long before it is seen. In this case it is important to position the lookout where they will not be hindered by background noise and other distractions. Usually the bow is the best, if conditions allow. In severe fog a second lookout may be stationed to cover the aft portion of the vessel ...L ... Night Watch ... Even though the duties for day and night watches are the same, safety and caution during night conditions are especially important because it is more difficult to pick up unlighted objects such as rocks shoals and buoys ... M ... Remember ... Smart Boating is Safe boating ... You can learn more from Captain Steve Stolze by visiting While there explore the Website while you Navigate through Captain Storm long’s Tall Tales Blog

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