When an Officer on Watch (OOW) assumes responsibility for the safe navigation and operation of a vessel, their duties extend beyond just being present on the bridge. The OOW plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of the ship, crew, and cargo throughout their watch. In this article, we will explore the key duties that an OOW must undertake after taking over the watch. So, let’s dive in and uncover the responsibilities of an OOW in the maritime domain.

Duties of Officer on Watch (OOW) After Taking Over Watch

The Officer on Watch, often referred to as the OOW, is a licensed mariner who assumes command of the vessel during their designated watchkeeping period. Their primary responsibility is to maintain a safe navigation environment and oversee the efficient operation of the ship. Let’s examine the duties of an OOW after taking over the watch.

Assessment of the Current Situation

Upon taking over the watch, the OOW must assess the current situation and gather relevant information to ensure a smooth transition. This includes reviewing the ship’s position, course, speed, and any other relevant navigational parameters. The OOW should also familiarize themselves with the vessel’s current operational status, including the condition of machinery, equipment, and personnel.


Effective communication is crucial for the safe operation of a ship. The OOW must establish and maintain communication with the relevant personnel on board, such as the Captain, other bridge team members, engine room, and crew members involved in deck operations. Clear and concise communication ensures that everyone is aware of the ship’s status, any changes in the situation, and any instructions or orders that need to be relayed.

Navigational Monitoring

One of the primary responsibilities of an OOW is to monitor the vessel’s navigation. This includes keeping a constant watch on the ship’s position, course, and speed. The OOW should also be vigilant for any navigational hazards, such as other vessels, navigational aids, weather conditions, or any other factors that may affect the ship’s safe passage. Regular radar and chart monitoring, as well as proper use of electronic navigation aids, are essential for effective navigational monitoring.

Collision Avoidance

Preventing collisions at sea is of utmost importance. The OOW must maintain a vigilant lookout to detect potential collision risks. This involves monitoring radar, visual observations, and other available resources to identify other vessels, floating objects, or navigational hazards. If necessary, the OOW should take appropriate actions, such as altering course, adjusting speed, or communicating with other vessels to avoid any potential collisions.

Safety and Security

As the OOW, the safety and security of the ship, crew, and cargo are the highest priorities. The OOW should ensure that all safety and security procedures are followed diligently. This includes monitoring and reporting any safety hazards, ensuring compliance with international regulations, and conducting regular safety inspections on the bridge and other key areas of the ship.

Recording and Documentation

Accurate recording and documentation are essential for maintaining a comprehensive record of events and activities during the watch. The OOW must maintain an updated logbook, recording details such as the ship’s position, course changes, speed alterations, communication records, weather conditions, and any significant incidents or observations. Proper documentation provides a valuable reference for future reference and aids in incident investigation if necessary.

Emergency Preparedness

The OOW must be prepared to respond to emergencies promptly and effectively. This includes being familiar with emergency procedures, alarm systems, firefighting equipment, life-saving appliances, and communication protocols. The OOW should also be aware of the locations and operating procedures of emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers, lifeboats, and distress signals, ensuring that all necessary measures are taken to handle emergencies and ensure the safety of all personnel on board.

Bridge Team Management

As the OOW, effective bridge team management is essential. The OOW should coordinate and delegate tasks to other members of the bridge team, such as helmsmen, lookout personnel, and navigational officers. Clear instructions and regular communication help maintain a cohesive and efficient team, ensuring smooth operations and enhanced situational awareness.

Monitoring and Adhering to Regulations

The OOW must be well-versed in maritime regulations and guidelines. They should monitor and ensure compliance with international and local regulations, such as the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs), specific port regulations, and any navigational restrictions in the area of operation. Adhering to these regulations helps maintain safe navigation and prevents any potential legal issues.

Continuous Professional Development

To excel in their role, an OOW should engage in continuous professional development. Staying updated with the latest industry practices, attending training sessions, and keeping abreast of technological advancements in navigation and communication systems are crucial for enhancing skills and knowledge. The OOW should also be aware of any changes in regulations or guidelines that may impact their duties.

A list of main duties of an officer on watch (OOW) is provided below. However, this is not an exhaustive list and the duties may change according to the requirements.

  1. Compare the compasses: This is done in order to have a precise estimate window within which the compass errors can affect the course to be steered and thereafter, made good. In case a gyro fails, the OOW must be aware of the extent to which the the error of the magnetic might affect the course being followed/to be followed. Also, a comparison of the repeaters is essential to know if the repeaters are aligned with the master gyro and showing the correct reading which is needed when reading from the bridge or when calculating the compass error using the Azimuth
  2. Check soundings by the echo sounder. Needless to say, the UKC and the depth of water at any point is imperative to the safe navigation of the ship. While a record is made of the depth if need be and if instructed by the Master to do so, it is also necessary for the OOW to account for the errors of the echo sounder to ensure that the correct reading is obtained (basically, avoiding under or over reading of the depth). This is especially crucial when in shallow waters as failure to understand the actual depth can have devastating effects such as grounding of the vessel.
  3. Ensure that the lookout is alert: Not just the lookout but also the helmsman should be alert at all times. Rule 5 of COLREGS puts special emphasis on lookout and states 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 of the risk of collision.” Again , the importance of this can be best explained when considering the vessel in restricted visibility (RUle 19 of COLREGS) wherein the role of the lookout man is paramount.
  4. Check the position: The OOW must check the position plotted by the outgoing OOW and not depend entirely on the displayed information on the chart. While this is not to question the outgoing OOW, it is necessary to do so for personal convincing and rechecking it to ensure that there has been no errors. The precious positions affect the future position and therefore, in order to maintain maximum accuracy of the plot, this must be done.
  5. Discussing with the outgoing OOW: Navigation of the vessel is extremely dynamic and therefore all conditions at any given time affect the ship in a certain way and also helps us to ascertain the trend with regard to the movement of the ship and the surroundings. The current OOW must discuss with the outgoing OOW if there has been any unusual activity, any changes in the CTS, any points where the Master needs to be called or informed, any weather warnings or messages, any VHF communication with other ships etc. Also, the current OOW must ask the outgoing OOW if the Master or the Chief Officer has left any verbal instructions to complied with or any night orders that there might be confusions with.
  6. Read log entries: The OOW must read any log entries made by the outgoing OOW before he leaves the bridge. If there is any confusion, he must ask the outgoing OOW of its explanation. Remember that the current bridge watch is under the responsibility of the current OOW so to reduce the margin of error as much as possible, this checking and rechecking must be done.
  7. Draft: The ship’s draft must be displayed on bridge, updated when there are any changes, for ready reference by the OOW. This is to be aware of the UKC at all times
  8. Gyro and its error: Most of the equipments on the bridge might have some errors associated with it. While they are ALL important to factored in, the gyro is something that is used at every second of the bridge watch to plan, execute and monitor the courses and any changes associated with it. Different makes of the gyro call for different inputs and some might requires input to be fed to it which means that the OOW must take precaution to ensure that its done accordingly after accounting for all errors. Needless to say, this is all under the Master’s purview and jurisdiction eventually.
  9. GMDSS: The GMDSS watch is crucial to the safety and must be maintained on the stipulated frequencies as per regulations. Additionally, all MSI promulgated via the NAVTEX or the SAT C EGC or the VHF must be checked at all times. Whether or not such information affects the ship immediately is not the primary task at hand but to obtain, read and understand such a message to determine if it affects the ship is what the OOW must do.
  10. General rounds of the ship: Soon after handing over the watch, the OOW relieved may take a round of the ship to ascertain that fire safety is maintained, there are no signs of breach, nothing unusual, no unsecured articles in the accommodation; having completed this, the outgoing OOW must inform the current OOW that such an inspection has been carried out satisfactorily and that nothing is amiss or if anything is amiss.

Additionally, the OOW must keep the following in mind:

  1. Check navigational equipment in use at regular interval of time
  2. Following a proper navigation plan to avoid any kind of collision according to COLREGS
  3. Must know how to use Automatic Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA)
  4. Must know how to use Electronic Chart and Display System (ECDIS)
  5. Should be conversant with the ship’s speed, turning circles, and ship handling characteristics
  6. Prepare, execute, and monitor a safe passage plan
  7. Ensure handing over of the watch is done according to shipboard operation procedures (ISM)
  8. Asking for support whenever required
  9. Contact master when need arise
  10. Should be fully aware of all safety equipment on board ship
  11. Must use helm and signalling apparatus whenever required
  12. Must know how to use all equipment meant for prevention of pollution at the sea and safety of lives
  13. Should not leave the bridge unattended during his watch


The duties of an Officer on Watch (OOW) are multifaceted and critical for the safe and efficient operation of a vessel. From assessing the current situation to ensuring effective communication, monitoring navigation, and adhering to regulations, the OOW plays a pivotal role in maintaining the safety and security of the ship, crew, and cargo. By fulfilling these duties diligently, the OOW contributes to smooth operations, accident prevention, and overall maritime safety.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Q: What qualifications are required to become an Officer on Watch (OOW)? A: To become an OOW, individuals usually need to acquire the necessary maritime qualifications, including relevant certifications, such as Officer of the Watch (OOW) certification, and seafaring experience.
  2. Q: Can an OOW take command of the vessel in emergency situations? A: In emergency situations, the OOW may assume command of the vessel until the Captain or senior officer takes over or provides further instructions.
  3. Q: What are some common challenges faced by an OOW? A: Common challenges include adverse weather conditions, heavy traffic areas, navigational hazards, communication issues, and maintaining situational awareness during extended watchkeeping periods.
  4. Q: What is the role of lookout personnel in the OOW’s duties? A: Lookout personnel play a crucial role in assisting the OOW by continuously observing the surroundings, reporting any potential hazards or incoming vessels, and maintaining an effective visual lookout.
  5. Q: How does an OOW handle communication with other vessels? A: Communication with other vessels is typically done using standard maritime communication protocols, such as VHF radio. The OOW should follow established procedures and maintain clear and concise communication to ensure effective coordination and collision avoidance.


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