The complete crew of the MIR is divided into 3 watches: The 1st Watch - "Fore Watch" - from 04:00 to 08:00 and 16:00 to 20:00 h, the 2nd Watch - "Main Watch" - from 00:00 to 04:00 and 12:00 to 16:00 h and the 3rd Watch - "Mizzen Watch" - from 08:00 to 12:00 and 20:00 to 24:00 h. Every crew member belongs to one of these 3 watches. Only the master also does not belong to a watch.
The crew of any ship is split into the deck crew and the engine crew and the auxillery crew. The auxillery crew does have other working schedules than their watch. E.g. the cooks or the stewardesses who are working in accordance with the meal times, or the doctor who opens his surgery during day hours. The engine crew organizes their watch themselves. They have the same watch hours as the deck crew. As the trainees belong to the deck crew, I will try to explain the organization of the watches of the deck crew here:
The main job of the deck crew are the sea watches. A sea watch consists of the watch officer, a bosun, some able seamen and about 30 cadets plus the trainees who volunteered for this watch. All members of the sea watch gather on the starboard side of the deck 5 minutes before the beginning of their watch. Then the bosun decides who will do which work during the watch. There are several teams for all jobs necessary to keep the ship going:
The cadets can volunteer for these jobs. Those who go to the helm and lookout in the morning watch will also have to do this during the afternoon watch. Everybody who is not in one of these teams will have to do maintenance work (painting, rust removal, washing the deck, repairing sails, etc.) on the deck or aloft.
Whenever the ship is under sails there will be full sea watches. However, this does not necessarily mean that the entire deck watch has to work during this time. Especially at night time it can also be that the cadets must only do standby for sail manoeuvres and may relax. Often the cadets then sit together on the fore deck and talk or play guitar and sing songs about the sea, about Russia or just some pop or folk music, or they read books or learn for their next exams.
If trainees volunteer for the deck watches it is sometimes a bit difficult. Sometimes there is barely enough work to keep all cadets busy and the bosun does not really know what work he can give the trainees. The best is to look what works the cadets are doing and ask them then if you can help. Normally they will invite you gladly to join them.
All cadets must go helm watches regularly. Helming is an important part of their education. You can only understand how an automatic steering gear works if you once had a helm in your hand. Every day in every watch 2 cadets must go to the bridge and take the helm and do lookout. They take turns every hour as helming needs a lot of attention and after 1 hour the concentration tends to go down. With them is an able seaman who instructs the cadets in helming and who must control them so that they don't make any mistakes dangerous to the ship. While one cadet stands at the helm the other is looking out for ships, buoys, landmarks, etc. Whenever he sees something he takes the bearing of it and reports it to the watch officer. This is also a very important training for the cadets who once they finished their education will work as watch officer themselves - only that they will be all alone on the bridge and have to do navigation and lookout at the same time.
The trainees are very welcome to take part in the helming and the lookout. If they do, they can come to the bridge for 1 hour and either take the helm together with one cadet or if they dare helm alone under the control of the sailor. Afterwards they can try to make lookout, too. This is not such an easy job as one might think first, but it is a good opportunity to get into contact with the cadets. You can talk about what you see and the cadets are normally happy to teach the trainees.
Some sail manoeuvres require "all hands". This means that the entire crew has to work together to work all lines. If "all hands" is announced everybody reports to the meeting point of his watch - even those who normally do not belong to the deck watch. The "Fore Watch" meets at the fore mast, the "Main Watch" at the main mast and the "Mizzen Watch" at the mizzen mast. They are working the lines of this mast during the manoeuvre.
Some people do not work in the deck gang during the manoeuvre. They have special manoeuvre positions: The master is on the bridge and so is chief mate. Chief engineer stays in the engine control room and the radio mate stays in the radio room. The best helmsman plus 3 more sailors take the helm during the manoeuvre as the wheel has to be turned very quick and exact then.
To give the crew the possibility to explore foreign ports sometimes "long watches" get announced for the port days. This means that the watches work 8 hours and are free for 16 hours afterwards. The watch officers are even in charge for 24 hours then and have a rest of 2 days afterwards.
When the ship is at the anchor during the night the crew is allowed to sleep except for the anchor watch. Those are the watch officer and one sailor on the bridge and one engineer and one motor man in the engine room.
Watch Systems common on other ships:
Especially on British ships a different watch system is common. The watches are rotating due to the 16-20 h watch being split into two "dog watches" of only 2 hours durance. These two watches are called the "first dog watch" and the "last dog watch". So there are altogether 7 watch times done by 3 or 4 watch groups who are on at different times every day.
Another rotating watch system is the so-called "Swedish Watch System". This system is used on ships with small crews who can form 2 watch groups. To guarantee sufficient rest hours the day is divided into two watch periods of 6 hours (08-14 and 14-08 h) while the nights follow the 8-12, 0-4 and 4-8 rhythm.
Yet another two-watch-system is used on German ships with small crews. Here the watch groups go six-on-six watches what means 06-12, 12-18, 18-24 and 00-06 h daily. This watch system is e.g. in use on smaller cargo ships during the port calls when only 2 navigational officers share the duties of the cargo watch.
this page was updated 10/07