Watch standing should be just that

Jun 18, 2013 by Guest Writer

You served up another very good article [“Yes, crew do know how to stand watch,” page C1, May 2013]; I do hope it’s closely read by your young and aspiring deck officers and captains. Watch standing was my business for several years in the Coast Guard ( Quartermaster), so I do have my opinions on what is correct and what is wrong:

Correct watchstanding underway

Be vigilant at all times

Do maintain a proper navigational paper dead reckoning (DR) plot ( I know it’s tough on smaller yachts to use a chart table, but do your best)

If running in pilot waters, at night, or foul weather get a co-watch stander to help out.

Keep a darkened wheelhouse.

Keep your eyes forward, when not monitoring radar. Maintain night vision at all cost.

Guard emergency radio frequencies

Visually inspect engineering spaces regularly( as per captain’s orders)

Check navigation lights frequently; at night and in obstructed visibility.

Show respect for your shipmate and relieve the watch a little early. This act of kindness will pay back in spades.

Incorrect watchstanding underway

Multi-tasking( tasks not related to your primary duty)

Listening to music, watching TV, etc.

Being totally dependent on electronic interfacing ( one black box telling another black box what to do in navigation)

Tolerating “penny arcade glare” in wheel house from ambient light from electronics ( radar set, GPS etc.)

Not being ready for  your watch: Be properly dressed, have a snack and get your coffee. Be wide awake, not groggy. Be a professional.

Regarding the watch as a routine event; remember “stuff” happens and emergencies could occur on your watch.

One quick story: On a routine delivery offshore Mexico (near Manzanillo) we were running at night (early 1970s) on a 60-foot sportfisher with three men on crew. The captain and I were off watch while third man was on the flybridge. Captain goes up to relieve helmsman ; finds watchstander fast asleep. Well, with one fell swoop. this guy was thrown over the side from a boat going 11 knots. (The boat stopped and picked up errant watchstander and he was OK. Well, I certainly don’t agree with this crazy behavior from the old grizzled captain 40 years ago.  But, I think the act of sleeping on watch was taken very serious by this old school skipper. In this  high tech era, the art of watchstanding, has been dropped from the priority list of safety at sea. There are just too many recent examples of incorrect watchstanding (cruise ships in Italy and ferry sinking in British Columbia five years ago and tragic deaths that followed.) Both these accidents occurred with GPS equipped bridges and no proper navigation plotting (D.R. plot)  was involved by the aforementioned ships.

Go ahead and call me a dinosaur… I still believe nothing beats a visual fix.

Watchstanding is an important and grave responsibility.

John Meade

One thing I noticed that was neglected in the watch standing duties [“Yes, crew do know how to stand watch”]; was “a lookout that shall have no other duties” which is interpreted by IMO as excluding the person on navigational watch. That means all they do is look out, not check engine rooms or interior, their only duty is allowed to be as a lookout. This is usually pretty tough to accomplish with minimally crewed yachts lol, and basically means you need three man watch teams to meet the letter of the law.

Capt. Henning Heinemann

I am appalled that “What do you do on watch?” is a question that is even being asked.

Being on watch is just that, on watch. When on watch, you are entirely responsible for the safety of the vessel, its crew and its guests, if there are any aboard. Your entire attention should be devoted to this, for the hugely responsible and important task it is. You should not be doing anything else other than looking out for traffic, any other hazards and monitoring the vessel’s instruments and course.

This is something I drum into my students’ heads.

Alison Rese

Owner/chief instructor

Super Crew

South Africa

Thanks for sharing your story [“Drug use impacts more when you work and live with users,” page C3, April 2013]. Maybe someone should start a “Yacht-nonymous Group.” Then possibly some of these folks would benefit from talking to others in similar situations.

Sounds like it’s sadly spiraling out of control.

Dhardra Blake

Former Stew/Chef


Regarding your story about Yacht Path [“Yacht Path doesn’t pay; yachts arrested,” page A1, April issue.]

It’s about bloody time. On my previous vessel, I used Yacht Path to ship a 30-foot tender from Ft. Lauderdale to Europe. With all the delays and rescheduling, the process took 72 days. I got a lot of lip service but couldn’t get my tender delivered in time for one owner’s trip, one 10-day charter, and several day trips. I will never use this company again, restructured or not.

Capt. David “Mac” McDonald

M/Y Lady Lola