Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System mandatory

Sep 18, 2012 by Guest Writer

New yacht requirements have been underway for subjects ranging from asbestos and bilge pumps to electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS) and the carriage of cargoes. In June of 2009, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) made these amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. This convention is more commonly referred to by its acronym, SOLAS. The resolution issued by the IMO, MSC.282(86), outlines new requirements that are aimed at merchant shipping, but also affects new and existing yachts.


The most prominent amendment that affects yachts is the requirement for installation of a Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System (BNWAS). BNWAS is a new safety system made mandatory in SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 19. The purpose of BNWAS is to monitor bridge activity and detect operator disability which could lead to marine accidents. The system monitors the awareness of the Officer of the Watch (OOW) and automatically alerts the master or another qualified OOW if for any reason the OOW becomes incapable of performing his/her duties.


Those readers that have sailed in the merchant marine (or merchant navy depending on your nationality) may remember this device. We used to call it, “the dead man’s alarm.” And that was precisely what it was, a dead man’s alarm. If the OOW was unresponsive to the notification, a further alarm was dispatched throughout the ship. Hopefully, it had not been bypassed by a tech-savvy deck officer. Because annoying alarms are never bypassed, right?
The new BNWAS is a series of warnings and alarms set to initially alert the OOW and, if he is not responding, then to alert the master or another qualified OOW. Additionally, the BNWAS may provide the OOW with a means of calling for immediate assistance, if required. The BNWAS should be operational whenever the ship’s heading or track control system is engaged, unless inactivated by the master.


So when does the BNWAS regulation affect you? It is already in force. It became effective on July 1, 2011 in a tiered level of implementation based upon ship type. For the majority of yachts, specifically those certified to carry less than 12 passengers, you are considered a cargo ship for regulatory purposes. Those certified to carry more than 12 passengers, even though you may look, smell, and act like a yacht, for regulatory purposes, she is actually a passenger ship, regardless of tonnage.

Furthermore, for yachts, the BNWAS regulation assigns compliance dates based upon a yacht’s construction date.
New yachts are those with their keel laid on or after July 1, 2011. Existing yachts are those built before this date.
New yachts of 150 gross tons and upwards must already have the BNWAS installed and operational. It was due on July 1, 2011.

For existing yachts, it is broken down by tonnage with different due dates:
July 1, 2012: 3,000 gross tons and greater
July 1, 2013: 500 gross tons up to 2,999 gross tons
July 1, 2014: 150 gross tons up to 499 gross tons
The equipment to be installed must be type-approved to the IMO performance standard. Each classification society and some flag-states have additional rules for the type of equipment allowed to meet this requirement.

Type approval is very important. Do not assume that if you are classed with one society that any approved system will be accepted. The interpretations for BNWAS differ significantly between the classification societies. The same is true with the flag-states. And for our do-it-yourselfers, a homemade motion detector system from the hardware store will not be satisfactory.

Based upon the complexity of the installation and particular needs of each yacht, it is recommended that the BNWAS is installed during a shipyard period versus waiting until the mandatory date.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or Comments on this column are welcome at