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The Bridge



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Before the trip, I suppose I imagined the bridge to be a constant source of activity.  I quickly discovered, however, that it is usually very quiet, with only a watch officer usually present during the day, and an officer along with an accompanying crewmember present during the night.  The exception occurs when the ship is entering or leaving port, in which case at least the Captain, pilot and a helmsman are also present.

The electronic navigation system onboard includes simplified built-in charts, nevertheless, detailed conventional paper charts are used by the watch officers to track progress by hand.

While at sea, the First, Second, and Third Mates each rotated through four-hour shifts of watch duty on the bridge (four hours on and eight hours off).  The officer who has the 12:00 to 4:00 shift is on duty from Midnight to 4:00 AM and from Noon to 4:00 PM.  Their time on the bridge is spent watching for other ship and boat traffic using radar and binoculars.  I am guessing that the extra crewmember on the bridge at night is there to help look for other vessel traffic or perhaps to make sure the watch officer doesnt fall asleep.

The Captain didnt have a scheduled watch, but was always in command when the ship was entering or leaving port.  I suspect the bulk of the Captains time while at sea is spent handling such things as officer and crew payroll, customs and immigration forms, and other paperwork related to the ships operations.

The electronics revolution certainly hasnt bypassed the freighter industry, and as a result, the workload on the bridge has gone down quite a bit over the last few decades.  Of course the ship had an autopilot, but what was impressive was that the autopilot, radar, GPS and compass were tied together.  The ship's entire course was programmed into the navigation unit, and the ship was capable of following this course, including turns, all without manual intervention.

The radar display not only showed radar returns, but also indicated the programmed course, shipping lanes, and the location of visual aids, such as lighthouse beacons that had been programmed in.  It also detected whether any other ships appeared to be on a collision course, and sounded an audible warning, well in advance of any possible contact.  In spite of this automation, one of the watch officers duties was to chart the ship's progress using pencil, on a conventional paper chart in the navigation area.  The ship did have a sextant as a navigational backup, but I wondered if this had ever been used.

The bridge had a large radio alcove on the port side, in the aft section of the bridge, but this area didnt receive much use.  At one time, ships employed a radio officer to run all the navigation and communications gear, but with electronics so simple to operate these days, it hardly requires a dedicated officer just to do so.  Sextant (section-end indicator)

Continue to the next section of Freighter Bum: Road Test.



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