Houston Pilots Guide to Bridge Design

I did a quick google search to check if “chase the compass” was a common expression and found this.

From Houston Pilots: Guide to Bridge Design

The Houston Pilots have written this article in an effort to assist ship owners, builders and naval architects in the design and layout of ship bridges. It is intended to be a guide for avoiding common mistakes and as a checklist to remind the parties involved of areas they might have overlooked.

A lot of info in a short document, the result of a lot of piloting time:

Here is section IV # 4 for example:

  1. Install a quick rudder, 20 seconds from hard port to hard starboard. A rudder that is slow getting into position detracts from its turning ability. Due to strong, rapidly changing hydrodynamic effects as vessels pass each other in a narrow waterway it is often necessary to shift the rudder quickly at critical points in the maneuver. In an emergency situation it is often necessary to put the rudder hard over in one direction to clear the bow from danger and immediately shift rudder hard over in the opposite direction to swing the stern clear. Those seconds from hard over to hard over are the longest seconds in a mariner’s life.

With regards to “quick rudders”, the ships I was involved with being built in Korea were equipped with Rolls Royce steering gear where both pumps could be put on line at the same time. This made for an extremely fast rudder response (like under 15 seconds). Great for close in maneuverability. Unfortunately one Captain in particular liked to preform prearrival tests in this mode which put tremendous stress on the equipment.

Those seconds from hard over to hard over are the longest seconds in a mariner’s life.

This cannot be over stated. Halving the rudder- and engine response times has an effect similar to halving vessel displacement or doubling the space around you. It goes far beyond the time you spend waiting for the rudder to come over, and plays into confidence and patience when planning and executing a maneuver, freakishly transforming a boat’s character.


Might have been Conrad that said “In matters of importance the captain and mate think alike”. That was about the age of sail.

Given what complicated mechanical beasts ships are today I don’t have any substantial disagreements with the (good) chief with regards to operation of the ships equipment. Not to say we haven’t have some lively discussions.

In the end when there is disagreement we dig out the manuals, in most every case that’s the last word as far as I’m concerned. In the end it’s not about rank it’s about expertise.

1 Like

My favorite quote from a Houston pilot is “Nothing goes faster than an almost stopped ship”