What is Bridge Navigational Watch?



The practice of ship navigation is essential for safe and efficient maritime transportation. It is a system that ensures that during the voyage, a vessel stays on course, avoids collisions, complies with international regulations, and minimizes fuel consumption while keeping to schedules.

This is accomplished by a set of personnel on the ship’s navigation bridge who handle the safe navigation of the ship at all times. So what is Bridge Navigational Watch?

Bridge Navigational Watch (BNW) is a system of watchkeeping and collision avoidance that is implemented on a vessel’s navigation bridge to ensure the safe passage of vessels in busy waterways and to prevent collisions. The watches are typically established in areas where there is a high volume of traffic, or where there are known hazards to navigation.

Ship navigation has come a long way since the early days of maritime exploration. From the ancient Egyptians using the stars to navigate the Nile to the development of radar and sonar in the 20th century, ship navigation has come a long way.

Today, sailors use GPS and other high-tech devices to navigate their vessels through treacherous waters, and the incentive to use these new systems constitutes the backbone of the principles of a safe navigational watch.

Officer on Navigational Watch
Officer on Navigational Watch

Principles Of Safe Navigational Watch.

A safe navigational watch is one where the lookouts are alert, and the vessel is operated safely.

The bridge of a large vessel is a busy place, with officers and crew constantly moving back and forth between the various stations.

There are usually some critical tasks that need to be performed in order to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew. The officer of the watch ensures that these tasks are carried out in a safe and efficient manner by coordinating the efforts of the other crew members and monitoring navigation. In order to do this effectively, there are certain basic principles that must be adhered to in order to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew,

The STCW, 1978, as amended, COLREGS, 1972, and SOLAS 1974 all have direct implications for watchkeeping practices and manning requirements for merchant ships. The requirements of STCW are outlined below.

  • The bridge is manned at all times by an appropriate number of qualified officers.
  • All personnel on the watch are familiar with the vessel’s layout, equipment, and emergency procedures.
  • Equipment is maintained in good working order.
  • lookout duties are performed diligently.
  • Safe navigation practices are followed.
  • All watchkeepers shall be provided a minimum of ten (10) hours of rest in any 24-hour period and a minimum of seventy-seven (77) hours of rest in any 7-day period in order to ensure fitness for duty.
  • Performing the navigational watch.
  • Watchkeepers are properly certified as per STCW requirements.
  • Watch arrangements. Handing over the watch and taking over the watch are properly spelled out and strictly complied with.
  • That in periods of restricted visibility, the vessel maintains the required safe speed bearing in mind the vessel’s manoeuvering characteristics.
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Recommendation on basic principles and operational guidance relating to navigational watchkeeping. Resolution A, 285 (VII) adopted on 23rd November- 1973

Proper Procedures In Taking Over The Navigational Watch.

Bridge navigational watch is one of the most crucial aspects of a deck officer’s job. Being at sea means the bridge is manned at all times, and navigating officers keep watch constantly.

This means that every day, depending on the watch arrangements existing on the particular ship, a new officer-of-watch takes over the watch from the current one. This brief period of transition is extremely important, as the new OOW needs to be well-informed of all relevant information.

When taking over the navigational watch, the most important thing is to ensure the safety of the vessel and its crew. Before handing over the watch, the Watchkeeping Officer must ensure that the Relieving Officer is able and fit to take on the duties of the watch.

If there is any reason to believe that the Relieving Officer is not capable of effectively carrying out the duties of the watch, the master shall be notified. It is essential that all relevant information is shared between the Watchkeeping Officer and the Relieving Officer. Handing over should be postponed when there is a maneuver being undertaken.

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Video: Taking Over The Navigational Watch

8 Factors Deemed Important For Efficiently Taking Over a Bridge Navigational Watch

1Ship’s Position–Speed–CourseProbably the first thing to be checked should be the position and speed of the ship. Check courses to be steered during your watch and note course alteration points and any perceived dangers along the intended track marked on the chart.
2Traffic DensityAscertain the traffic situation outside visually and by the information provided by the Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA)
3Weather ConditionsCheck the weather condition. Be aware of  Wind speed, direction, and set and drift of current
4Bridge EquipmentEnsure all bridge equipment are functional and adjusted and configure to suit your needs
5Logbooks – Checklists – Daily ordersCheck log book entries to know what has gone on in the previous watch. Read any standing orders and checklists.
6Readiness of the Look-out/ HelmsmanEnsure the lookouts are properly stationed as well as helmsmen are readily available.
7Activities on Deck or Engine roomNote any activities being carried out around the ship deck and engine room
8Adequate briefing from the relieved officer.Ensure the officer being relieved has properly briefed you to your satisfaction.

What is the purpose of BNWAS?

SOLAS regulation V/ requires the provision of a Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System (BNWAS), which shall be in operation whenever the ship is underway at sea.

A BNWAS is an automatic system that sounds an alarm if the watch officer on a ship’s bridge falls asleep on his navigational watch, becomes incapacitated, or is absent for an extended period of time. When the ship’s autopilot is turned on, the BNWAS is automatically activated.

For the first line of alert, in accordance with IMO Res. MSC.128(75), a sufficient number of visual indications (flashing lights) are to be installed and connected.

The basic principle of the BNWAS

The Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System monitors bridge activity and detects operator incapacitation, which could cause a marine accident. The presence of the watch officer is monitored by BNWAS’s watch safety system features.

At regular intervals, a watch officer must press the button on a Timer Reset Panel or use navigation equipment (e.g., ECDIS, Radar, etc.). Visual and audio alarms will be created in the wheelhouse if the officer fails to hit the button at pre-determined times.

If the officer fails to respond to the alarm, the system signals the Cabin Panels in other areas of the ship, alerting backup officers to the watch officer’s absence.


There are many reasons why safe navigation at sea is important. One of the most important reasons is to prevent accidents and disasters. According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence Casualty Statistics; Safety and Shipping Review 2021, the average annual vessel over 100 GRT losses per year stood at 49 per year in 2021. These accidents often result in loss of life, environmental damage, and economic losses.

Another reason why safe navigation is important is to ensure the efficient flow of trade. Around 90% of global trade is transported by sea, so it’s essential that the seas remain safe for shipping. If there were no rules or regulations governing maritime traffic, it would be a chaotic and dangerous place.

It is clear that we do need safe navigation at sea if we want to reduce the number of casualties and losses. Effective Bridge Navigational Watch ensures the safe passage of vessels in busy waterways and prevents collisions.

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