09/043 - Home Trade Watchkeeping

12 Aug 2009 Resource

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Ship Type:


The ongoing discussions about fatigue generally seem to have forgotton the practices which have been developed in coasters over generations. They were the norm on the coast until recent years. I recall them here in case some of these traditional ideas may help those currently working ships with  small crews. The watchkeeping system for watch on/watch off on coasters was 5 hours on/5 hours off thus;

[0800-1200] [_1200-1700_] [_1700-2200_] [ 2200-0300 ] [ 0300-0800 ]

The 0800-1200 acts as a dog watch. The OOW's alternate watches so that they each work an average of 12 hours a day.

This pattern overcomes the disadvantages of;

·               4 on/4 off. This has inadequate time below for sleeping, eating etc.

·               6 on/6 off. This is too long a period to remain alert on busy coasts

Of course in an ideal world, watch on/watch off would not exist, but for short passages this system was generally found to be the best compromise.


We are frequently reminded of the neccessity of having a extra person on look-out. It is not neccessarily quite as simple as that. Less often mentioned is the fact that deckhands who are not trained in watchkeeping duties may not have an appreciation of the level of concentration required by the OOW. A few can be more of a distraction than a help. In ships with small crews of up to about half a dozen, a reliable response to the crew bell may be preferable to having an unqualified deckhand on the bridge.

A dead man's handle, which has to be activated at set intervals, can be effective in ensuring that  watchkeepers remain awake in the absence of a look-out on the bridge. This has been successfully used on some ships, as well as in the railway industry for generations.


Coasters frequently carried a Master, Mate and 2nd. Mate/Bosun. There is merit in considering replacing a deckhand with a 2nd.Mate/Bosun. The need for deckhands on modern small vessels is limited and their replacement with Trainees provides both career development and experience, at the same time as meeting manning needs.