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 all.

Why keep look-out?

What 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:

Zone A

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.

Zone B

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 new 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 northward"

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:

Zone C:

It 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 you attention goes forward to 60° of either side of the vessel. 20-30% cover up 60°-120° of either side. Only 10° of you attention 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 force.

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