Understanding Watch and Watch Keeping


All the machines of the ship’s engine room needs to be checked on a regular basis when the ship is at sea. In order to carry out these functions the following measures are taken

  • A day’s hours are divided into equal intervals of time
  • Each interval is allotted to all the responsible officers
  • These intervals are also known as watches
  • Each watch is usually a four hour period
  • Thus any 12 hour period will have three watches i.e. 12-4, 4-8 and 8-12

Therefore, if there are 4 responsible officers on board then each officer will have two watches per day with a rest period of minimum eight hours. In most of the ships, officers also work for additional hours apart from these 8 hours, wherein they carry out the maintenance work of different machinery.

The roster of watch keeping for all the officers is prepared by the chief engineer. The type of machinery allotted to an officer depends on the type of the ship, type of the machinery and experience and qualification of the officer. The person in charge of the watch at a particular time acts as the chief engineer’s representative and is responsible for the safety and efficient operation of the ship.

Carrying out a watch

A watch will be carried out by one of the engineer officers with a junior engineer or rating as an assistant. The officer in charge will be familiar with all the operations of the ship and engine room machinery, including safety techniques and equipments. It is also necessary that the officer is familiar with the location and operating procedures of all the safety equipments and should be able to distinguish the various alarms. The officer will also be aware of all the procedures to be followed after an alarm and an understanding of the communication systems. Also, it is imperative that he is aware of all the emergency escape routes leading from the engine room.

At the start of the watch, the officer will keep a watch on all the operational parameters of engine room machinery and also keep a systematic record or log of the same. At the end of every watch the engineer will take note of any special order or operation condition of a particular machine. He would also take readings of each and every tank in the engine room and maintain a log of the same. He would keep a close watch particularly on the level of bilges. In case some work is in progress on a particular machine, he would inform about it while handing over the watch to the next officer or mention a note in the engine control room.

Inspections would be made on regular intervals of time especially on the main engine, steering gear and auxiliaries. Apart from these, bilges level would also be checked and the pipelines would be inspected for any kind of leakages. If oily water separator is running, the water being discharged to the sea would be manually checked. Various bilge tanks would also be maintained by transferring the bilge to the main tank using bilge pump.

Also, the orders from the bridge would also be carried out diligently and proper care would be taken especially during maneuvering or stand by conditions. Fuel tanks level would also be monitored on regular intervals of time to ensure that the fuel level doesn’t go beyond a certain level. Fuel oil consumption and lubrication oil levels would also be properly noted down at the end of each watch. Most, importantly engine’s exhaust temperatures would be observed and maintained around a common value.

This was a general overview of the duties that are followed by a watch keeping officer. In future article we will talk in detail about some more routine activities and precautions that need to be taken by a watch keeping engineer.