What is an Officer on Watch? How to become an OOW

What is an Officer on Watch?

An officer on watch (OOW) is a deck officer who is assigned the duties of watch keeping and navigation on a ship’s bridge. The three main duties of an Officer on Watch can be classified under watch-keeping, navigation and GMDSS radio watch keeping. 

What are the duties of an Officer on Watch?

Representing the ship’s master, the OOW is responsible for the safe and smooth navigation of the ship whilst keeping a watch on the bridge. Additionally, the Officer on Watch is accountable for the bridge team, who are there to support the OOW in the navigation process.

The main duties of an Officer on Watch are as follows:

Comparing the compasses

Comparing the compasses is done to identify compass errors and to have a precise estimate window within which the compass errors can affect the course to be steered. The OOW must be aware of the extent of the compass error in case of gyro failure and must compare the repeaters to check that they are aligned with the master gyro.

Checking the gyro for errors

The OOW is responsible for checking the gyro for errors, as the gyro is a piece of equipment used to plan, execute and monitor the course of the vessel. Different manufacturers of gyros require various levels of input, and it is the responsibility of the OOW to execute this and account for all errors.

Check soundings by the echo sounder

Data regarding the depth of water is imperative to the safe navigation of the vessel. It is necessary for the OOW to record any errors of the echo sounder and to ensure that the correct reading is obtained to avoid the under- or over-reading of the water depth. Checking the data from the echo sounder is especially important when in shallow waters, as failure to identify the correct water depth could result in the grounding of the vessel.

Ensure that the lookout is alert

Another duty of the OOW is to ensure that the lookout and helmsman are alert at all times. The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs) state 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.” This duty is especially vital during periods of reduced visibility, when the role of the lookout is vital.

Handover with the outgoing OOW

Navigation of the vessel is extremely dynamic and can be affected in many ways. Communication between the current and outgoing OOW is vital when discussing any unusual activity, weather warnings or messages, or communication with other ships. Before leaving the bridge, the OOW must also read any log entries made by the outgoing OOW. Any unclear entries must be clarified with the outgoing OOW, as the current bridge watch is the responsibility of the current OOW.

General rounds of the ship 

Following the handover of the watch, the relieved OOW may take a round of the ship to ensure that the vessel is running as usual without any breaches to fire safety and to ensure that no articles are secured in accommodation as well as general checks. Having completed this, the outgoing OOW must inform the current OOW of the outcome of their check and relay any important information.

Additionally, the OOW must keep in mind that they should be conversant with the ship’s speed, turning circles and handling characteristics, prepare, execute and monitor a safe passage plan, are fully aware of all safety equipment on board, and should under no circumstances leave the bridge unattended during the watch. The OOW is also required to follow the protocols of Global Maritime Distress and Safety System and COLREGs.

The aforementioned duties of an OOW illustrate a generalised approach to the duties on the bridge. The OOW is expected to be familiar with the type of ship they are aboard, alongside its duties. Responsible for communication and the smooth navigation of the ship, the OOW must be vigilant, versed in maritime safety and a competent crew member in order to carry out the OOW duties.

How to become an Officer on Watch

To complete the qualifications required to be an OOW, the RYA Yachtmaster coastal qualification is now the entry route for OOW yachts less than 3000GT, so Ocean Sports Tuition’s Yachtmaster Academy is an ideal way to start progressing towards a career as an OOW.

For more information about the activities that we offer, call us on 02381 242 159 or send us an email.

About Ocean Sports Tuition

Ocean Sports Tuition is a Southampton-based company offering boat charters and RYA-approved courses. We have been successfully delivering training on the South Coast and the Solent since 2004 and pride ourselves on providing excellent tuition and service to our customers. To find out more about Ocean Sports and our friendly team, click here.