OOW needs to have full situational awareness

The latest Britannia P&I Club Risk Watch Publication (Vol. 20) includes a recent investigation by the German Marine Casualty Investigation Authority (BSU) which illustrates the basic need for the Officer of the Watch (OOW) to have full situational awareness.

Collision Case Study

  • On board theMARTI PRINCESS (MP)

TheMP had just exited the Sea of Marmara in Turkey and was proceeding on a course of 208 at 11 knots. At about 2150 the Master made his way to chart room to check some documents. The chart room curtains were drawn closed. The Master neither heard any exchange of messages on the VHF nor did the OOW inform him of any particular navigational problems. The Master then checked the chart and proceeded to the bridge. Immediately the Master observed a ship on his starboard bow. The ship seemed very close. He also observed two other ships onMP'sport bow, at about 5 and 10 respectively. The Master asked the OOW to indicate the speed and distance of the first ship.

The OOW reported a distance of about five nautical miles. Somewhat surprised, the Master requested the OOW to double check the calculations as the ship seemed to be much closer than five nautical miles. The OOW checked again and this time he reported that the distance was eight cables. The Master ordered the OOW to change over to hand steering and alter course to starboard, the intention being to pass astern of the ship on her starboard bow. This ship was later identified as ILGAZ. Given the close proximity of the two ships, the Master followed the situation and manoeuvred visually rather than by radar.

OnceILGAZwas on the port side of MP, the OOW asked the Master whether he could manoeuvre the ship back to the original course. Focusing entirely onILGAZ, and with his mind at rest thatILGAZwas now clear, the Master gave his consent to the OOW. The OOW had already started the manoeuvre when the Master noticed another ship very close, almost dead ahead, with both side lights clearly visible. At about 2209, when this ship was less than half a nautical mile away, the Master called by VHF to the 'ship on my starboard side' and requested that both ships pass port to port and he began altering course to starboard. The Master repeated his request, this time addressing the 'ship dead ahead'.

Collision Case Study - Renate Schulter and Marti Princess

Image Credit: Britannia P&I Club Risk Watch Vol. 20

At no point in time did the Master refer to the ship, the RENATE SCHULTE (RS), by her name.

At 2210,MP and RS collided. RS contactedMP on her port side, almost perpendicular to cargo hold no. 2. MPsustained a huge tear on her port side. No. 2 hold was open to sea.

  • On board theRENATE SCHULTE (RS)

At 2140, while north bound on the same channel as theMP (on a course of 025 and speed of 16.5 knots) the OOW on the RS had consulted his radar and observed ILGAZwhen she was on his port bow and at a distance that was calculated to be 11 nautical miles. ILGAZ was crossing the bow of the RS from port to starboard, with a closest point of approach (CPA) of about 0.5 nautical miles.

WhenMP was first detected on the radar by RS, shortly before 2200, she was on the starboard side of RSat a distance of about five nautical miles. MP was crossing RS's bow from starboard to port. Consequently, the OOW focused his attention on ILGAZ. As soon as ILGAZcleared the bow of RS, the OOW altered course to starboard by about 27 but only so far as to be sure of clearing the stern of ILGAZ.

Soon after 2200 the lookout reported a ship, one point on the starboard bow, showing her green sidelight. The ship was initially not visible to the lookout because of the ship's deck cranes. Following the lookout's remark, the OOW switched the radar to the six-mile range setting. At this time (approximately 2203)MP was about 2.2 nautical miles ahead and still slightly on RS's starboard bow.

The OOW onRS identified MP from the AIS (which was interfaced with the radar). He calledMPby her name on the VHF four times between 2204 and 2207. There was no reply. Some time later, the lookout reported that he could see both sidelights. It was evident thatMPwas dead ahead on a reciprocal course.

The OOW was quite surprised with the manoeuvre made by theMPand concluded that the ship must have altered course to her starboard to give way toILGAZ, although shortly afterwards she came back to her initial course with a port alteration. The OOW concluded that a further alteration to starboard was only possible to a limited extent since asILGAZwas now on her starboard side, almost abeam and was herself now altering course to starboard.RS continued swinging to starboard until 2209 when the Master, having been called to the bridge, attempted to come to port in order to avoid hitting MP in the accommodation block.

The investigation was unable to determine why the OOW (and the lookout) onMPhad not been monitoring the situation until it was brought to their attention by the Master of the ship when he visited the wheelhouse at about 2150.

It was acknowledged that in this particular situationMP(as an overtaking ship) was under the obligation to keep out of the way ofILGAZ as prescribed in Rule 13 of the COLREGs. However, the manoeuvre that was undertaken was neither substantial nor conducted in ample time as required by Rules 8(b) and (c), eventually resulting in another close quarters situation in contravention with Rule 8(c). A substantial alteration to starboard by MP alone (as the give-way ship) to a new heading of 296 would have meant thatMP crossed the course of RS at 90 and still passing behind the stern ofILGAZ.

In fact, had the OOW on board theMPmaintained his course,ILGAZ would have crossed the bow ofMP at a distance of three cables and would have passedRS on her starboard side nine cables away.

Adequate plotting by both ships could have prevented the close quarters situation arising. It was concluded that manoeuvring byRScould not have avoided the collision but it was observed that at no stage didRS reduce speed or come astern on her engines.

Situational awareness:


The third officer on boardMP was under the impression thatILGAZ was five nautical miles away when in fact the two ships were only eight cables apart. This indicates the OOW had either misinterpreted the data from the radar or was (psychologically) disconnected from the surrounding situation or that it was a combination of both.

While the Master managed to intervene and succeeded in his manoeuvre to avoid a potential collision with ILGAZ, none of the crew members focused on the wider context in order to determine the consequences of their manoeuvres vis-à-vis the northbound RS. The fact that the OOW on MP asked for the Master's authorisation to steer back to the original course, once the stern of ILGAZ was cleared, suggested that either he was unaware of RSor that he was aware of RS but was relying on the Master to assess the wider situation.

It is clear that due to the evolving situation betweenILGAZ and MP, the Master was unaware of RS. Neither officer had accurate situational awareness.


The OOW onRS had noticed the presence ofMP at an early stage, but only concentrated on ILGAZ. After being distracted from continuously monitoring the situation by a VHF conversation with the local ITS, he did not reassess the situation and was surprised when his lookout finally drew attention to the approaching MP. This raised the immediate question of when, if at all, the OOW of RS would have recognised that MP had manoeuvred in an unexpected way since first being detected.

Since the situations are dynamic it is imperative that monitoring by the OOW is continuous and uninterrupted.


The bridge team should monitor the voyage and remain alert to everything happening around them - situational awareness. As illustrated by the case study, situational awareness is dynamic, hard to maintain and easy to lose. The following actions can help a team retain or regain situational awareness:

  • Communicate clearly and effectively any observations on the ship's progress and contribute to any decision made by the team
  • Assertive error spotting by the team should be encouragedtocombat complacency or distraction
  • Look out of the window as often as possible

Find more information in the Britannia P&I Club Risk Watch Vol. 20 No. 2