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Things You Should Know About Bridge Team

You’re heading out on your first merchant navy voyage. Everything is new and unfamiliar as you step onto the bridge. Who are all these officers walking around with such purpose?

Time to get to know the critical bridge team guiding this massive ship across the seas. The officer of the watch leads the team, directing the helmsman steering the ship. Together they constantly scan the waters, monitoring radar, and calling out navigation orders. At all times, their focus stays on the compass as the ship’s lifeline.

One small turn of the helm keeps your course steady; stay vigilant or risk drifting off track. As you sail into open waters, you can trust the bridge team’s skill and experience to steer clear of danger. Their knowledge and seamanship will safely deliver you to port.

The Critical Role of the Bridge Team in the Merchant Navy

The merchant navy depends entirely on the bridge team to operate the ship and ensure safe passage during voyages. 


The bridge team, led by the Captain, is responsible for navigating the ship, maintaining situational awareness, following proper procedures, and avoiding collisions or groundings. The Officer on Deck (OOD) directly supervises the bridge team and is responsible for the safe operation of the ship for a watch period. The helmsman steers the ship as directed by the OOD.

Constant Vigilance

The bridge team must remain alert and attentive at all times. They monitor radar and radio to detect potential hazards, check instruments to verify the ship’s position and course, look out for other vessels or obstacles, and make necessary course corrections.

Teamwork and Communication

Effective teamwork and communication are essential. The OOD relies on the helmsman and lookouts to gather information and the helmsman depends on the OOD’s commands. They must work together seamlessly, exchanging information and instructions clearly and frequently.

A Serious Responsibility

The bridge team shoulders an enormous responsibility. A moment of inattention or error could result in an accident with massive consequences. But when they function as a cohesive unit, following proper procedures and leveraging technology to enhance their awareness, the bridge team helps the merchant navy achieve its critical mission safely and efficiently.

Key Positions on the Bridge Team: OOD, Helmsman and More

OOD (Officer of the Deck)

The OOD is in charge of the bridge and responsible for the safe navigation of the ship. They oversee the helmsman and bridge team, monitor radar and navigation equipment, ensure the ship is on the proper course and speed. The OOD role typically rotates among the ship’s deck officers.


The helmsman operates the ship’s wheel or steering mechanism under the direction of the OOD. They physically steer the ship to maintain the course ordered by the OOD. The helmsman role provides an opportunity for less experienced deck officers to gain valuable on-the-job training in navigation and ship handling.


Lookouts act as an extra set of eyes for the bridge team, scanning the waters around the ship for any potential hazards or obstructions. They monitor the waters ahead of the ship from the bridge wings, so they can detect objects before they come into view of the OOD or helmsman. Lookouts play an important role in collision avoidance and safe navigation.

Additional Positions

Other members of the bridge team may include a navigator, who charts the ship’s position and course, a signalman, who communicates with other ships using flag signals, and a bridge telephone talker, who relays orders and information between the bridge and engine room. Together, these dedicated officers and crew work as a cohesive team to safely steer the ship through the waters of the world’s oceans and ports.

Eligibility and Training Required for the Bridge Team in the Merchant Navy

To be part of a ship’s bridge team, you’ll need to meet certain qualifications and complete intensive training.


First, you’ll need to meet the minimum age requirement, typically 18-21 years old depending on the specific role.

You’ll also need a high school diploma and pass medical exams to ensure you’re fit for duty at sea.

Some roles may require additional certifications or a bachelor’s degree in a related field like navigation or maritime engineering.


All bridge team members must complete training at a merchant marine academy or other maritime program. This includes coursework in navigation, ship handling, meteorology, and maritime law. You’ll also need on-the-job training to become familiar with the specific ship you’ll be working on.

Certain roles like helmsman require a license or certification to show you’re competent to steer the ship. Officers like the Chief Mate and Captain obtain higher-level licenses to oversee the bridge team and have command of the vessel. Licenses and certifications require a combination of education, experience at sea, and passing scores on examinations.

To keep their licenses and skills up to date, bridge team members must complete regular continuing education and renew licenses every few years. Staying on the cutting edge of technology, safety practices, and maritime law is essential to ensuring safe and efficient operations.

With the right qualifications and training, you can have a rewarding career navigating massive cargo ships or passenger liners across the open sea. But it requires diligence, skill, and a commitment to lifelong learning. The bridge team’s duties are essential for getting ships and their valuable cargoes to their destinations intact.

So there you have it – a quick rundown of the key players on a merchant ship’s bridge team. The captain may get all the glory, but it’s the officers under his command that really keep things sailing smoothly.

The OOD has huge responsibility, acting as the captain’s eyes and ears. The junior officers support navigation and watchstanding. And the helmsman works the rudder to steer the vessel on course. It takes all hands on deck to safely move these massive ships across the seas.

After reading this, you’ve got a better understanding of the roles that make up a merchant marine bridge team. They’re a small group with a big job. But their skill and coordination keeps international shipping running safely and efficiently around the world.

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