When trainees are asked to make look-out they very often do not know
what they are meant to look out for and why it is necessary to do it at
to the collision avoidance rules (COLREG) any vessel is required to
keep a proper look-out at any time, but especially in reduced
is not true that the watch officer has seen any ship on his radar
screen long before a look-out has spotted it. This depends very much on
the range that is chosen on the radar screen at the moment. In good
weather the visibility - especially with good binoculars - is much
better than on the radar. Further on many subjects do not appear on the
radar for various reasons. We had big problems with small boats with
angling parties which do not reflect at all as the boats were made of
wood and so small that they disappeared behind the waves.
are you meant to look for when on look-out???
From my experiences as watch officer on tall ships I want to tell you
what I expect from you if you are my look-out:
Divide the surrounding of the vessel into 3 zones. Inside these zones
you will search different things:
Is the immediate surrounding of the vessel. It is inside 1-3 miles from
the vessel herself. This depends on the size and speed of the vessel
you are on. It should cover the distance through which you will sail in
between the next 10-15 minutes. In zone A you are meant to look for
anything that might disturb our own vessel like drifting things
(drifting containers), small boats (even small sailing yachts can
easily be overseen by the navigator as they also tend to not appear in
the radar), fishing nets (not funny if you get them into the
propeller). Also look for anything that does not belong into the sea.
Some floating furniture or rubbish can be remains of a shipwreck or
other accident. Whatever you see, describe it to me as clear as you can
and don't forget to tell me the bearing of it and the approximate
distance from us.
Goes from the end of zone A until the visible horizon. Inside this zone
look out for any vessel that appears. If you come and give notice of a
vessel, please tell me what you see, where you see it and in which
direction it moves. "ship on starboard" is not enough. It is better
than nothing, but really useful would be: "fishing vessel ahead,
35° to starboard, approximate distance 10 miles, moving slowly
If you should be on look-out at night time and you see any position
lights of other vessels there are two possibilities to give notice. If
you are able to identify what you see, so please do it: "motorized
vessel ahead. I can see the red position light". If you are not sure,
just tell me what you see. "I see two white lights and a red light. The
bearing is 25° to starboard."
But there is more than ships what you are to look-out for in zone B:
- distress signals.
If you see any red flare, smoke, blinking light in ... - - - ...
sequences, etc. give immediate notice. Somebody's life is in danger.
Any buoy you see anywhere is of high importance for the navigator. He
might just be waiting for this buoy to find an approach or a deepwater
route. There might be a new buoy which is not noted in his sea chart.
There is also the possibility that he made a mistake and a buoy that
should appear to starboard now shows on the port side. If you don't
give notice it can mean that you sit on the rocks few minutes later.
- high waves with foam on top
They might indicate a squall or a change of wind direction and they
also might indicate a reef or sandbank.
goes over the horizon. Here you look for a change of weather, e.g. a
rain front coming nearer or clouds which might contain gusts.
Also divide your attention between the different directions. 60-70% or
attention goes forward to 60° of either side of the vessel.
cover up 60°-120° of either side. Only 10° of
goes to what is behind you. As for vessels coming up from behind we
mainly need information about all ships that are faster than us and
might overtake us in near future.
Look-out is not restricted to what you see. It also includes you ears.
The lookout should also keep his ears open to listen to sound signals
from other vessels.
Also listen for strange sounds that had not been there before. This can
be from our ship hitting some drifting object or from the rigging where
some sail or line starts slacking due to a change of wind direction or
And the look-out is normally the only person who hears the shouts of a
person fallen over board...
Everything clear? Okay, now go and keep look-out.
this page was updated 10/07