What is an Officer of the Watch?

  • Patrick Maflin
    Patrick Maflin

The term Officer of the Watch (OOW) is used to refer to the officer who’s responsible for the operation of a vessel on the bridge.

This is critical in order to ensure safe navigation.

This role is assigned to a deck officer who is sufficiently qualified for the task and it involves various duties.

Let’s take a deeper look into this role and what their key responsibilities involve.


  1. What Does an Officer of the Watch Do?
  2. What Are an Officer of the Watch’s Main Duties?
  3. Required Qualifications & Training
  4. Why Become an Officer of the Watch?
  5. Conclusion
  6. Contact Us

What Does an Officer of the Watch Do?

Officer of the Watch on DutyImage credit: Pexels

The main responsibility of the OOW is to ensure the safety of the vessel, along with the crew and passengers onboard, as well as any cargo.

Hence the OOW will need to keep a lookout for other vessels.

He will need to be aware of any possible navigational obstacles or hazards en route.

The officer will also monitor the vessel’s position and the speed with which it is moving, while also making any necessary adjustments to ensure safe passage.

The Officer of the Watch will also have other duties and tasks to oversee, such as monitoring weather conditions, maintaining logs and records, as well as communicating with other vessels.

The supervision of the bridge team’s activities is also part of the job.

The OOW will also be responsible for the management of the vessel’s navigation and communication equipment, the ship’s engines and any other systems involved in the operation of the vessel.

The Officer of the Watch will need to know how to use the Electronic Chart and Display System (ECDIS) and the Automatic Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA).

They will need to be well conversant with the ship’s turning cycles, speed and other important ship handling characteristics.

They will need to ensure that the handing over of the watch is done according to the procedures, as well as contact the master whenever the need arises.

The Officer of the Watch can never leave the bridge unattended during hours on duty.

What Are an Officer of the Watch’s Main Duties?

Sailing Map PlottingImage credit: Pixabay

The following are the main duties of an officer of the watch.

However this is not an exhaustive list as there may be various other duties depending on the vessel, country and other requirements.

Compare Compasses

This needs to be done in order to get an accurate window where compass errors could end up affecting the course to be steered, until all is satisfactory.

The Officer of the Watch must be aware of the extent to which such an error could affect the course that’s being plotted, or that was going to be followed.

An Officer of the Watch will also need to compare the repeaters to ensure that they are aligned with the master gyro.

An accurate reading is needed to calculate the compass error.

Check Soundings by Echo Sounder

A sea depth record is needed as this understandably affects the safe navigation of the ship.

The Officer of the Watch will also need to account for any errors by the echo sounder in order to ensure an accurate reading is obtained.

It’s crucial to avoid under or over reading the depth of the water as this could lead to serious repercussions.

Echo soundings are especially critical when sailing through shallow waters.

Ensure Lookout & Helmsman are Alert

The lookout and the helmsman need to be alert at all times.

There could be so many occurrences, conditions or circumstances that lead to precarious situations such as a risk of collision.

Check Position

The Officer of the Watch will need to check the position that was plotted by the outgoing OOW as well as checking the information being displayed on the chart.

This helps to reduce errors and maintain accuracy.

Handover with Outgoing OOW

The current Officer of the Watch will need to ensure they discuss any noteworthy changes with the outgoing officer, including unusual activity, weather warnings, messages to be noted and communications with other vessels.

Should there be any instructions left by the master or chief officer, it’s also important to inform the OOW.

Check Log Entries

The Officer of the Watch will also need to read log entries that the outgoing OOW left behind, and check with them if there’s something that requires further explanation.

Checking and rechecking is critical to mitigating any potential errors.


The ship’s draft has to be displayed on the bridge and be updated with any changes.

It needs to be ready for reference by the OOW.

Check Gyro Errors

The gyro is indispensable during bridge watch.

It’s used to plan as well as execute and monitor the courses as well as any changes needed.

Different types of gyros could require different ways of inputting, and so the Officer of the Watch must be careful and do this without any mistakes.


The GMDSS watch is very important.

It needs to be maintained according to the regulations and at the stipulated frequencies.

Hence, obtaining, reading and understanding messages to determine how they may affect the ship is another important duty for the Officer of the Watch.

General Ship Checks

The Officer of the Watch will need to make rounds of the ship in order to ascertain that there are no problems, breaches, or other concerns that need their attention.

This inspection needs to be carried out by the OOW as soon as they take up watch duties.

Required Qualifications & Training

Blood Pressure CheckImage credit: Unsplash

To work as an Officer of the Watch, it’s imperative to have undergone specialist training and possess a number of compulsory qualifications that we clarify in more detail below.

While there may be some variations from one country to another, and sometimes the requirements may vary according to the type of vessel one works on, the following are the general requirements:

OOW Training

An Officer of the Watch training programme will comprise areas such as navigation, communications and ship handling.

Such training programmes are provided by maritime training academies, and sometimes by one’s employer.

STCW Certificates

You will need to have completed the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers Training, commonly referred to as STCW training.

This comprises basic safety training, personal survival techniques, medical first aid and fire fighting.

Time at Sea

Time at sea is also a key requirement.

One needs to have completed at least 12 months of sea time, with half of them involving watchkeeping.

This may vary according to the country and the vessel.

Health & Fitness

You will need to have passed a medical examination such as an ENG 1 medical or an ML5 medical in order to ensure that you’re both physically as well as mentally fit to work onboard a sea vessel.

Other Skills

Sometimes you will be required to have other skills or requirements, such as certain language proficiencies and there may even be age limits.

These requirements will vary from country to country and according to the vessel one will be working on.

Why Become an Officer of the Watch?

The role of an Officer of the Watch carries a great deal of responsibility, so is not suited to everyone.

It’s a demanding and varied role that places a lot of responsibility on the individual.

According to Payscale, an Officer of the Watch can earn on average around $68,000 per annum.

However, one that works aboard a privately-owned superyacht could potentially earn a great deal more, especially if working at sea for over 183 days per year and qualify for the seafarers earnings deduction.

In such cases, the perks are far greater with salaries ranging far higher.

By using a seafarer’s tax days calculator, it’s easy to see why such a role aboard a yacht could be a highly lucrative and attractive career option.


Needless to say the Officer of the Watch’s duties are of great importance.

Since they are responsible for the safe navigation of the ship, the Officer of the Watch needs to be properly trained and qualified with various aspects of navigation and maritime safety.

They need to be a vigilant, trustworthy and competent person in order to carry out the various duties efficiently.

Contact Us

If you have questions about a career in yachting, we want to hear from you.

Simply get in touch with us today or let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: Any advice in this publication is not intended or written by Marine Accounts to be used by a client or entity for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party matters herein.