Staggered watch change

I am wondering if anyone has input or can point me in the right direction to look for documentation that supports what I was taught. I have been told that many maritime employers stagger the starting times for the AB and for the Deck Officer so that there is never a complete loss of situational awareness on the bridge, as can be the case when everyone is changing watches at the same time. I am working with NOAA and here they don’t use Mariners as Deck Officers but rather Commissioned Uniformed Officers. The one that I am currently talking to doesn’t see a risk in everyone changing watches at the same time. I would like to supply him with some other sources that state the risk in different ways, I am hoping that Gcaptian community can help on this, Thanks.

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If you search for “pilothouse resource management” you get a hit for 46 CFR 140.640. Mind you this falls under Subchapter M, Operations (towing vessels).

a) 4) Take actions (to include delaying watch change or pausing the voyage) if there is reasonable cause to believe that an oncoming watchstander is not immediately capable of carrying out his or her duties effectively.

Not exactly the same situation, but on a broader scale is taken as something that is adaptable on any vessel as part of “pilothouse/bridge resource management”. I’ve worked on ships that change helm/lookout at the same time as watch officers and ships that staggered it. On ships that did it at the same time I’d usually come up early. I didn’t really give a shit if the guy relieved me early as well. Some people feel obligated to do that.

Anyway, sure it can be a distraction and poor bridge resource management if you have a bunch of people “blah blah blah…steeering 150…you have three radar targets with less than a mile CPA… permission to relieve the lookout!”


If you think it is becoming a problem in other words a “shit show”, and the lower level officers aren’t managing the watch well, maybe bring it up with the bos’n and he/she/whatever can talk to the XO. There might be more CFR examples out there, but I’ve procrastinated enough this eve.

I always sent one guy up early to see what was what while the rest of us got dressed and got the coffee going etc.

What exactly are you guys doing at watch change? I have witness hundreds of bridge watch changes over the decades & the only time I seen bridge officers or AB’ lose situation awareness during changing a watch was because the people changing watches were morons. All other times the person getting off would stay on watch until he was free to do a proper turnover. Don’t change watch during critical operation is the normal SOP.

And whats going on with the AB’s at NOAA? Everywhere I’ve seen the AB’s are sipping coffee, pointing at things on the horizon & shooting the breeze about the days activities at watch changes. You make it sound like you’re performing open heart surgery every 4 hours or something. If you are in the middle of a transfer during a watch change it should be noted on the DOI or work permit & the job should stop or pause for a proper turnover.

If you do change your Captains & COs minds about what time you should change watch I will be very surprised. This sounds like one those arguments that can’t be won because its not worth fighting. Telling your Captain & CO what the peanut gallery on gcaptain has to say about their already made decision won’t help your case or career any at all.


I’m going to relate this to my sea time in the US Navy.

Generally, all the watchstanders changed at the same time. Bridge watch came through CIC to get the entire surface and upcoming evolutions picture before heading to the bridge.

During some tense times in the Med in the late '70s and early '80s, we would have two Staff Watch Officers on watch in CIC at a time. Since there were only four of us, we stood a six-and-six watch. In that case, we did stagger the watch, so the senior watchkeeper and junior watchkeeper were relieved three hours apart. It worked very well for “keeping the bubble” during tense times, as well as not having two tired watchkeepers at the end of six hours.

I have also used this system with two watchkeepers, on staggered relief, on long sailing yacht transits. Of course, as skipper, I was on call any time needed.

Open ocean, most AB’s I’ve sailed with will make some small talk and tell the other guy there is no traffic and the headings by gyro and magnetic. In traffic there should be some more detail on the targets and their proximity, aspect, and anything else he and the mate on watch have been doing outside of the SOP.

Officers in my opinion should spend a minimum of 5 minutes checking the position, discussing weather, getting visual as well as radar information on traffic in the area, and becoming generally comfortable with the situation before relieving the watch. In any case if there is a course change or a maneuver for traffic is underway, the guy on watch should complete the evolution before putting the ship back on track and then turn over the watch. The KEY thing that should take place after both watchstanders have taken the watch is they should have a conversation about what the situation is at hand. I always want my AB to know exactly what I’m planning and what targets are of main interest to me. If no one is talking on the bridge it is a very bad thing. And I don’t mean about what was for dinner or how much of a curmudgeon the old man is. Think out loud. It’s all being recorded after all.

To the OP. Try talking to the watch officer immediately after watch change and that may quell your concerns with situational awareness. If you think the officer is fucking up, take it up the chain of command. Mariners typically fear change so wholesale changes to the watch schedule are an uphill battle in my experience.

A little off topic but I’ve always enjoyed exercising 46 CFR 35.01-60 Person excluded.
Masters and pilots shall exclude from the pilothouse and navigation bridge while underway, all persons not connected with the navigation of the vessel. However, licensed officers of vessels, persons regularly engaged in training, regulating, evaluating, or learning the profession of pilot, officials of the United States Coast Guard, United States Navy, United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Maritime Administration, and National Transportation Safety Board may be allowed in the pilothouse or upon the navigation bridge upon the responsibility of the master or pilot.

“Johnnie (usually the deckhand), get the f*** outta here I’m trying to concentrate”. Usually when they come up to BS at night and then get on there phone and the glare really gets you.

So wow there are lots of comments in a short time and yet none that actually address the question that I asked. This is all about mitigating risks, yep that is BRM. what we are doing right now (AB and OOD changing at the same time) has not caused any accidents, that doesn’t mean that it is the safest way. What I am looking for is something besides common sense to illustrate that there is risk in turning over everything at the same time, yes the risk might be small, but it is simply mitigated, so why not do so. I am not trying to change the CO’s mind, this is for another newer executive officer. Nothing has become a problem, just trying to practice basic BRM and reduce any risk that is manageable. Thank you for the CFR references, unfortunately none of them are direct enough so far. I will continue to look. If I can not find anything then it is not a big deal as the risk is very minimal, yet …

I’m relatively a baby when it comes to experience compared to a lot of guys on here, but in 22 years sailing I’ve never seen this on any ship I’ve worked.

The only time I’ve seen anything even similar to that was DPO tour changes on a drill ship where there are two DPOs on watch at all times and two are on 0000-1200/1200-2400 and two are on 0600-1800/1800-0600.

What “maritime employer” did you hear about doing this? Maybe there’s someone from there on here that could reference the documentation you’re asking about.

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