The Captain's Chair

31st December 2006, 18:08
It was (and probably still is) common practice for a high wooden chair to be fixed on the bridge of a Royal Naval ship for the sole use of the Commanding Officer as he would spend so much time when at sea on the bridge itself. I have also seen one fitted on a USA Aircraft Carrier, all leather upholstery and fully adjustable that would not have looked out of place in the space shuttle. Not being familiar with the situation in the MN were such chairs provided for Masters? I'm sure I'll get lots of comments about "we never saw the old man at sea" etc but would be most interested to learn a little about the hours a Master would spend on the bridge during a voyage.

Cap'n Pete
31st December 2006, 19:24
On merchant ships fitted with modern fully integrated bridge systems there are normally two chairs fitted into a central console system, with banks of monitors in front and engine/radio controls between the seats. Radar controls are normally built into the armrests and the steering system is positioned forward of the engine control. The captain normally sits in the starboard seat and the watchkeeping officer in the other, except when the pilot is onboard.

The problem with such seats is, of course, the possibility that the watchkeeper may fall asleep. Dead man alarms, normally motion sensors, are fitted to prevent such an occurrence.

Deep sea, the watchkeeping officer is discouraged from sitting in these chairs. However, it can sometimes be difficult to control/monitor the radar/engine control systems from a standing postion.

31st December 2006, 19:38
Very many thanks for that Cap'n Pete. I find it interesting that the Captain sits on the starboard side, whereas the chairs in the RN that I have seen have been on the port side. With all the modern technology that has been introduced, in recent years there must have been great changes on ships' bridges. I also note with interest your comment about the danger of watchkeepers falling asleep.
Again thank you for the information and God speed and Good sailing in 2007.

John Briggs
31st December 2006, 22:02
Cap'n Pete has given a good overview of how the bridge is set up nowadays. In the "nostalgia times" before even bridge control of engines there was certainly a Captains chair on the bridge. Usually a high wooden chair, it was the only place you could sit down on the bridge. There were exceptions to this as there was usually a chart room settee and on some Australian ships anyway the helmsman sat down on the job.

On long deep sea watches the officer on watch would regularly get a bit weary and make use of the Captains chair. Needed to keep a very good listening watch for the old man though, as you were in big trouble if caught.

31st December 2006, 22:15
On lake boats there is a captains chair and it is well used when "canaling" or locking.
On locking there is a mate for'd and a mate aft telling the captain the distances from the wall or face of lock and the whelsman and he adjust the headings as necessary.
All distances are given in feet and down to close including half a foot.
There also is a chair for the wheelsman.
Long transits make this a necessary feature and not a luxury item.
I have noted some captains being in the chair for the whole transits except for washroom breaks but I liked to move about as the muscles would stiffen up.
THey were comfortable and if you felt the noddies coming on it was wish to get up ang walk about.

Keltic Star
1st January 2007, 06:30
MN Deck Officers disease, varicous veins, by the time you became Master and had the right to sit in the bridge chair, you already had them.

Jim Cobban
1st January 2007, 06:38
Sailed with one Master who would lightly dust "his" chair with talcum powder.

1st January 2007, 14:27
MN Deck Officers disease, varicous veins, by the time you became Master and had the right to sit in the bridge chair, you already had them.

Really? I never knew anyone who had them. Even though we were on watch four hours at a time, we spent a lot of time walking up and down which is not the same as standing behind a shop counter all day.


Ron Stringer
1st January 2007, 16:27
On all the ships that I sailed on there was just such a high wooden chair and it was always kept on the starboard side of the wheelhouse, close to the after bulkhead. However, as far as I recall, it was always referred to as the Pilot's Chair and never as the Captain's Chair, the Master's Chair or the Old Man's Chair.
I never saw anyone (neither Captain nor Pilot) using it in anger. On various ships we (various 3rd Mates and I) did use to try to sit in it in heavy weather, when the ship was rolling or pitching hard - a bit like those mechanical rodeo bulls that were in some bars. Good for a laugh on the 8 - 12 at night, especially for the Mates as I am only 5' 6" tall (1m 68cm) and had enough trouble getting up on the seat when everything was steady.

K urgess
1st January 2007, 17:10
On arrival at the mouth of the Mississippi the pilot who was to guide us up to New Orleans insisted that the "Pilot's Chair" be moved out onto the starboard bridge wing just outside the wheelhouse door within reach of the dodger.

The ship, "Rialto", was an old triple expansion job of beloved memory but had a few engine problems and was due for an overhaul.

On being informed that our maximum speed was presently in the area of 6 knots (just enough to overcome the Mississippi current) the pilot (who must have been about 90, wrinkled like a walnut and about 5 foot and a peanut tall) climbed into chair, placed his baseball cap on back to front, took a firm grasp of the dodger and yelled into the wheelhouse "Well let her rip then Cap'n".

1st January 2007, 18:44
That is an old one Fubar. Trader

K urgess
1st January 2007, 19:02

Easter Saturday, 5th April, 1969.
Ellerman Wilson Line's ss Rialto (1948) of Hull
Master N. O. Cook.
Just before our problem with a burning Chinese freighter and the barge it collided with!(Ouch)

Cap'n Pete
1st January 2007, 19:51
May I explain why the captain sits in the starboard chair on a modern merchant ship. Ship's give way to other ships on their own starboard side, meaning that the captain has a better view when an alteration of course is required.
Also the bridge consol system is always placed to starboard of the centreline. This is because the pilot, particularly in the Panama Canal, requires an open view from the conning position which must be on the centreline. A pilot's chair is provided but this is not a fixed chair in case the pilot requires to stand instead.
If you look at the bridge structure of most modern container ships you will see that the bridge front "bulges" forward, slightly to starboard of the centreline. This is where the bridge consol is located, thus giving the captain and the OOW/pilot an unobstructed view not only forward but to port and starboard as well. There are normally open windows aft as well, giving a 360 degree view - almost!

Many modern container ships do not have lifts even though the bridge is six or seven decks from the main deck. (The bridge has to be this high to allow the watchkeepers to see over the top of seven high container stowed on deck). Often a chair is placed half way up the stairwell marked "pilot's chair". This always raises a laugh from the pilot providing, of course, that he has enough wind left from his climb up from the pilot boat.

1st January 2007, 23:05
Some of the coasters I was on in the 60's had a chair for the captain/mate
and quite often a sort of "barstool" or a fold down wooden seat for the helmsman, engine controls and radar were usually on the starboard side.
The river folks always had chairs, but then they would steer for up to 12 hours or longer ...
We took either 1 hour or 2 hour turns , depending on the circumstances.

Keith Adams
2nd January 2007, 00:34
Never saw a chair for anyone on the bridge of any ship I sailed,other than the
Canadian Pacific liners in the 50`s ... just unheard of... got into the habit of pacing up and down on the lee wing... to this day I still pace the same way as
a habit...helps me relax and think nice thoughts!Snowy

jim barnes
2nd January 2007, 00:53
sailed on the Pool Fisher and she was all hand steering and no seat for the helmsman, on the salvage tugs the helmsman had a rope suspended from the deck head to hang onto? most ships had a Captain or Pilots high chair. sorry but never had a chair while steering

2nd January 2007, 12:20
the Windsor one of Watts Watts had a seat at the wheel,first british ship i had been on that had one, took many a walk around the binnacle on those that didnt

Mad Landsman
2nd January 2007, 19:42
Maybe the stool that I photographed in the wheelhouse of SS Sheildhall falls into this category.

21st February 2016, 09:23
botany bay 1979 i broke my leg middle indian ocean and used two upturned brooms as crutches to move around.i still managed my bridge watch and was allowed to sit in THE CHAIR for my watches

28th February 2016, 12:07
Many moons ago as a first trip 2nd mate, mid Atlantic, calm and low swell, I came up for the midnight to four. Having checked all was well and taken over the watch I made a mug of tea, piece of toast and went out on to the stb'd wing. Lovely clear and star filled night and just the thing for an appreciation of such bounty given by nature, so back into wheelhouse, picked up the captain's chair and gently carried out to the wing. Sat down, drank tea, consumed toast and gazed to the heavens. A short while later I was nudged by the lookout who said he wanted to call the watch. I exclaimed that we'd only been up here for a moment. He showed me his watch - 0345! A lesson learned is a lesson never forgotten and it never was; I was extremely lucky. No more chairs for me after that episode.

29th May 2016, 09:18
I served on several US destroyers. All had a "captains" chair. Depending on the captain, sometimes the OD would use the chair in the captains absence.

29th May 2016, 10:46
It's very rare now to board a vessel that doesn't have at least one purpose built chair on the bridge close to the radars etc.
Most masters are very quick to offer me the chair but there are occasions when I do prefer to stand, especially if I'm unfamiliar with the vessel. This said the former applies to small ships around the 100 metre LOA bracket whereas when I board a bulk carrier of say 180 metres and above there is usually a "Captain's Chair" on one side of the bridge which can prove very useful for me to hang my coat on!
During my 15 years in Bank Line it was a hanging offence to be caught in the chair!!!! (Let alone be caught listening to the world service on the fax machine, still that's for another day.)

29th May 2016, 12:12
Maybe the stool that I photographed in the wheelhouse of SS Sheildhall falls into this category.

No shortage of "stools" on the Sheildhall in her working life

kewl dude
29th May 2016, 19:35
Captain Albert

Posted this picture the end of March.


Koningsdam is the first HAL ship with a bridge cockpit design.jpg (71.0 KB)

2 Navigators in the front and Captain and Staff Captain on the 2nd row, the front row chair to right is for a pilot when needed.

Greg Hayden
Vista, CA USA

Hugh Ferguson
29th May 2016, 20:01
In the Glen boats the "chair" was invariably tucked away at the rear of the wheelhouse; I don't EVER recall it being used by anyone other than a pilot and it was always referred to as the Pilot's chair: 'twas more like a stool with a backrest.

29th May 2016, 20:08
Know them well, we did the simulator course in Almare in the Carnival Centre for the arrival of the Royal Princess into Belfast and thereafter did the pilotage.
Good set up but you have to trust the kit as there's no time to dash like Usain Bolt from one wing to another!
The coffee wasn't that good though.