Helm order confusion?

30th September 2003

Helm order confusion?

Initial Report

Crossing a river on a strong ebb tide to lock in bow first, the officer of the watch gave the wheelman the order “steady”. The wheelman steadied on a fixed shore object ahead and this, combined with the strong ebb, contrived to give the ship a dangerously “slewed” aspect – unsuitable for entering the lock – which increased as the lock was approached.

It was later made clear when “Steady on the Compass” was required in order to keep the ship’s correct aspect for making the lock this way on the ebb.

In the situation described I took command, went “full astern”, avoided (narrowly) hitting the wall, and headed back to the other side to round up in a big sweep, so obtaining the aspect well before closing with the lock.

Later it was made the practice to take the lock ebb way by entering stern first.

CHIRP would like to thank George Lang of Warsash Maritime Centre for his assistance with this report.

STCW 95 requires all watchkeeping officers on vessels over 500gt to have a working knowledge o the IMO’s publication “Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP)”. Section A2/1 is entitled Standard Wheel Orders.

Phrase AII/l.10 is “steady” = reduce swing as rapidly as possible.

Phrase AII/1.12 is “steady as she goes” = Steer a steady course on the compass heading indicated at the time of the order. The helmsman is to repeat the order and call out the compass heading on receiving the order. When the vessel is steady on that heading, the helmsman is to call out: “Steady on…”.

The very last sentences of this section in the SMCP states:

“If it is desired to steer on a selected mark the helmsman should be ordered to: “Steer on … buoy / … mark / … beacon”. The person giving the order should acknowledge the helmsman’s reply.”
An informal survey of a number of contacts showed that many of us when steering in a coastal approach or inland waterway were instructed to respond to a “Steady” or “Steady as she goes” command by bringing the vessel to a compass course, advising the con and then steering on a convenient fixed object because we would be able to detect deviaion more easily.

All of us trained in that way may have found ourselves in this situation in similar circumstances, unless we became aware of the difference between the fixed object
and the original compass course n sufficient time!

What about you?

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