Bridge Manning Levels

Malcolm Macdonald
19th May 2011, 13:43
In the days before Sat Nav, Decca and Radar, how many officers were deemed necessary on the bridge of a 500-1,000 ton vessel coming into harbour (a pilot on request only) in daylight and secondly in darkness?

How many deck crew were normally on lookout?

And finally, were there laws stipulating manning levels on the bridge/helm in the period 1900-1940?

I am researching for a book.

Many Thanks
Malcolm Macdonald

david freeman
20th May 2011, 07:54
I am not sure if you are asking the right question? You are talking power assisted vessels or sailing ships Clippers etc.
You need to know the man power per watch and if on pasage or standby, or entering port limits. The R/o may be a required watch keeper until his radio station is sealed. Another factor is night passage or daylight passage? Officers and ratings comprise the watch?

20th May 2011, 08:49
In answer to the first part of your question, in my time it would be usual on a coaster of 500-1000 tons when entering port, to have the captain on the bridge alone, unless compulsory pilotage, the mate and one AB on the focs'le and two ABs aft. If a 2nd. mate carried then he would be aft with one AB and two ABs for'd with the mate.
In answer to your second question, again on coasters, one lookout would be posted, (normally on the bridge) in hours of darkness and in poor visibility. Bruce.

Tony Crompton
20th May 2011, 09:05
On a number of occasions I was on the bridge alone on small Dutch or German coasters.

"She's in the automatic Mr Pilot. Turn that little wheel if you want to slow down" "Shout down the ladder if you need me" and the master would go to get on with his paperwork!!

Happy days!! Tony

Nick Balls
20th May 2011, 09:08
To bring a note of Neil Munroe. In Para Handy's words the Vital Spark was once described as 'Four men and a derrick' While that is very funny it is also a rather accurate description of work on small coasters in the 1920's In the 1970's I also recall a court case on an English Coaster where the ship was discovered to be seriously undermanned. My own limited time on a small vessel of 400T saw us with a complement of only 5 people . So the answer about coming into port had to be , Skipper on the Bridge , mate and AB up forward , motorman and AB down aft. Approaching port in darkness would see Skipper and Mate on Bridge with AB as lookout , who would then go to stations as we approached the berth.

Malcolm Macdonald
22nd May 2011, 11:23
Thanks folks

I did mean a coastal vessel not a sailing ship and therefore the comments you give are most useful - even the Para Handy account.

If I remember it was Para Handy (Master), The Mate, Sunny Jim (Deckhand/Cook) and Macphail (Engineman) on the Vital Spark?

Of course if a puffer ran aground on a sandy beach it was no problem, at all, at all!


Pat Kennedy
22nd May 2011, 12:11
I was in a coaster in 1963 called Firth Fisher.
She had radar but the master didnt trust it so it was rarely used.
Approaching port, it was just the skipper in the wheelhouse with one AB on the wheel. No lookout was deemed necessary.

Nick Balls
22nd May 2011, 12:58
On a more serious note of course,it is extremely difficult these days to comply with both the manning scales and the regulations on 'hours of rest' particularly on smaller vessels. A small ship that has say an official manning level of 8 has to ensure that it complies fully with the hours of rest and the strict requirements for additional lookouts during the night. This puts the ships complement on a 6 on 6 off rota permeantly but fails to allow for any deviations in hours worked. Clearly this is simply never going to work these days where there is always a 24/7 schedule and when changes are bound to frequently occur.
The upshot of that is that until things are changed companies and crews will always break the rules and that is exactly what happens today! . Studies into the long term effects of long hours and shift work indicate that this way of operating is extremely bad for your health

When Para Handy said 'four men and a derrick' it really meant that Neil Munroe understood very well the hardships of life on a small coaster back in the 1920's ...another reason why the Vital sparks 'office' could never get a hold of the crew (They were having an unofficial day off !) ...Things have moved on but not far!!!!!!!!

22nd June 2011, 16:54
When I began sailing in 1975 the bridge watch consisted of a Mate, two Able Seamen and one Ordinary Seaman. Between sunset and sunrise, the ABs and the OS each stood an hour and twenty minutes on lookout on the bow. In addition, under conditions of reduced visibility, the Mate could assign whichever man wasn't currently on the wheel or on lookout to be an additional lookout on the lee bridge wing.

Normally, the ABs stood two-hour tricks on the wheel, and the OS was not required to steer. However, our policy was that, if the Mate was satisfied that the OS could steer, then all three seamen could each stand an hour and twenty minute trick on the wheel. Needless to say, the ABs always made sure the OS on their watch learned to steer!

I always found it interesting that I seemed to have much more time to actually stand my bridge watch before the advent of computers and GPS than I did afterwards. In recent years I seemed to spend more and more of my watch time engaged in other things, such as copying and transmitting weather reports, sending and receiving radio traffic, and additional record-keeping. One captain even assigned me the job of writing up the ship's clearance papers while on watch!

Donald McGhee
23rd June 2011, 05:20
Bridge was usually manned by the Watch keeper, Old man, and either an apprentice and a helmsman, or an apprentice doing helm, telephone, movement book and telegraphs all at once (they had three arms and were a rare breed).

The Navy of course needed half the crew to berth, whereas the MN usually had one man and a dog on the foc'sle and the ships cat and a boy aft.

23rd June 2011, 10:28
Serving on a couple of ships where reduced manning levels were applicable I found it difficult to understand the reasoning of those who formulate the rules. In winter we could sail from N. Russia with a full deck cargo of timber with a bosun and three ABs. However when we load in Ireland for the Canary Islands are required to engage two additional ABs, or make shorthand payment, as we are proceeding south of the latitude of Casablanca. When thinking about those who made the rules in Geneva ? I was minded of the old parish minister who always prayed for those "from whom the kindly light of reason has departed."

23rd June 2011, 11:03
Bridge was usually manned by the Watch keeper, Old man, and either an apprentice and a helmsman, or an apprentice doing helm, telephone, movement book and telegraphs all at once (they had three arms and were a rare breed).

The Navy of course needed half the crew to berth, whereas the MN usually had one man and a dog on the foc'sle and the ships cat and a boy aft.

On ships flying that house flag of yours it was old man,third mate apprentice,and Qm on the bridge(much the best place to be if securing to bore moorings.


6th July 2011, 20:10
Talking of 'apprentices doing helm, telephone, movement book and telegraphs all at once,' I recall a remarkable third mate who, whilst on the telephone, could work the telegraph with his foot - kicking the handle with exactly the force required to bring it to rest at the required angle. This could only be done at night, of course, while the old man was safely out of the way on the bridge wing.
(yes, that's right. The phone wire was just too short to reach the telegraph - or anything else. Another marvel of bridge design!)