Record keeping and planning on the ships bridge

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 12 August 2017


Although VDRs represent modern methods of recording events on the bridge, the written and printed word is still a big factor in bridge management and safe operation. Certain books are considered necessary even if their presence is not mandatory.

Copies of SOLAS and MARPOL might be on board but kept in the master or mate’s cabin but more practical publications such as COLREGs and the Signals Code should always be within easy reach. Some books such as the ITU list of call signs are a requirement under GMDSS but might be consulted by the bridge team for routine operational reasons.

Information about the ship’s manoeuvring characteristics is important to the navigating team and to any pilots that may board the ship at any time. In accordance with IMO Resolution A.601(15) Provision and Display of Manoeuvring Information on Board Ships and A.751(18) adopted on November 4, 1993 Interim Standards for Ship Manoeuvrability, Manoeuvring information should be presented as follows:

Pilot Card

The Pilot Card to be filled in by master is intended to provide information to the pilot on boarding the ship. This information should describe the present condition of the ship, with regard to its loading, propulsion and manoeuvring equipment, and other relevant equipment. The contents of the Pilot Card are available for use without conducting special manoeuvring

Wheelhouse Poster

The Wheelhouse Poster should be permanently displayed in the wheelhouse and should contain general particulars and detailed information describing the manoeuvring characteristics of the ship, and be of such the size to ensure ease of use. The manoeuvring performance of the ship may differ from that shown on the Poster due to environmental, hull and loading conditions.

Manoeuvring Booklet

The Manoeuvring Booklet should be available on board and should contain comprehensive details of the other relevant data. The Manoeuvring Booklet should include the information shown on the available manoeuvring information. Most of the manoeuvring information in Booklet can be estimated but some should be obtained from trials. The information in the Booklet may be supplemented in the course of the ship’s life. The manoeuvring information should be amended after modification or conversion of the ship, which may after its manoeuvring characteristics or extreme dimensions.

Plotting a course

Since the purpose of navigation is to get safely from one place to another, perhaps the most essential item in this regard is the passage plan which can exist both in written form and also as an electronic version programmed in to an ECDIS or track control system. Proper passage planning should take in to account not only the shortest or most economic route but also hazards that may be encountered on the voyage. Passage planning is a lesson taught to navigators at most nautical colleges and the IMO has produced its own guidelines on the subject.

The guidelines produced above were formulated in 1999 before the advent of emission control areas and so do not cover factors such as switching fuels to meet local requirements. In fact, in order to avoid having to comply with rules that mean burning more expensive fuels, some ships are now routed so as to remain outside of ECAs for as long as possible. This added dimension to passage planning is something that navigators must be aware of.

The advent of ECDIS has brought about a major change in the way passage planning is undertaken on some ships with some systems having passage planning features that can produce plans more or less automatically taking into account various parameters entered into the system by the navigating officer.

These features are intended as improving safety but they have been identified as being implicated in a number of grounding incidents over the last few years. Nevertheless, the features of some ECDIS equipment is also helpful in ensuring compliance with emission regulations as ECA boundaries can be entered as a planning parameter. The same will apply to areas where discharges of things such as sewage or scrubber wash water are forbidden.

In most cases where an ECDIS has been implicated in an incident the problem has not been a failing of the feature itself but more a matter of unfamiliarity and misunderstanding of messages and alerts generated by the passage planning feature. ECDIS also permits passage plans to be stored and used again for future voyages. While this can be a labour saving feature there should always be a validation of the passage plan for each voyage. In particular, attention should be paid to checking that the ENC data has been updated for new hazards and also that the stored plan is appropriate for changed parameters such as increased draught or limited manoeuvrability.

Electronic records

Reference has already been made to the ship’s log which is officially referred to as the Record of Navigation Activities. Some administrations have begun to permit vessels to maintain an electronic log book and of course more comprehensive navigational and bridge conversation information than was ever recorded in a paper log book can be found on a properly installed and functioning VDR.

An advantage of an electronic log (which can be for all logs including engine, radio etc) is that the information can be transmitted ashore on a regular basis so that in the event of loss of the vessel, the log records could still be accessible. There is a time saving element in that where information must be recorded in more than one logbook, an electronic system can do this automatically. Since log book entries are usually quite short, the time saved may be minimal but the use of an electronic system will mean that there will be no conflict in entries which can sometimes occur when entered manually. If an electronic form of log is permitted, there must be some means for information to be accessed by authorities and possibly by insurers and others with an interest in the vessel.

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