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Masters obligation to follow charterers routeing advise - The Hill Harmony case

The Hill Harmony case involved a vessel on time charter trading trans-Pacific. The Charterers had engaged a weather routing service, and the Master was advised to take the shortest northern great circle route. However, he deemed it safer to take a more southerly rhumb line route. The Charterers were eventually able to prove that the great circle route had been suitable for safe navigation and that the extra steaming time was for the Owners account.

This ruling caused much debate because it effectively undermined the Master's sole responsibility for the navigation of the vessel. Of course, safety must never be compromised, and generally, the most direct safe route would need to be followed. If time charterers engage a weather routing service and the Master decides to deviate from their recommendation, then the commercial operator should be advised in advance.


It is well accepted that a vessel's Owner and the Master are obliged to follow charterers' orders concerning the ship's employment. However, following the House of Lords' decision in the Hill Harmony, it has been established that charterers' routing instructions also constitute such orders and must be followed by the Master. The decision by the Master of the Hill Harmony to take a different route resulted in a breach of charter. However, it is not the case that Masters are always obliged, irrespective of the circumstances, to follow charterer's routing instructions. There are instances where the Master may use his discretion and take an alternative route. The Master can override the charterers’ routeing orders, on grounds of seamanship relating to the safety of the vessel, crew or cargo. No breach of charter would arise as a result.


winter route north Atlantic
Example of two Pacific Routes.
Blue Line: Northerly G.C. through Aleutian Islands
Red line: A more southerly route
Image credit: StormGeo

In deciding whether or not to follow the charterers' routing instructions, care should be taken not to take a more familiar route; any decision not to follow charterers' routing instructions will only be considered reasonable if there are genuine issues of seamanship and safety.

It should be noted that if the vessel is designed and classed as an ocean-going vessel and the charter party provides that the vessel may sail within Institute Warranty Limits, heavy weather, on its own, will not allow the Master to take a different route from that order.

Our additional pages contain somewhat larger lists of resources where you can find useful informations

  1. Dry Cargo Charterparties

  2. There are numerous various forms, but to give a taste of dry cargo time charters, two types that are commonly used are: - New York Produce Exchange (NYPE 93) Baltic and International Marine Council (BALTIME 1939 (amended 2001)....

  3. Tanker Time Charters

  4. Specific information such as, parties to the contract, where and when the vessel will be delivered, rates of hire, general permitted cargoes, general trading range etc. ....

  5. Documentation & notices

  6. When a vessel is on Time Charter, bunkers and the majority of port services and costs, etc., are to the account of Time Charterers. However, should Time Charterers default on payment, then these charges may fall on Owners and there will then be a serious risk of the vessel being arrested for debts incurred by the Time Charterer. ....

  7. Function of bill of lading

  8. The Bill of Lading is one of the most important documents that the Master will sign and therefore strict controls on how it is issued are required. Although the B/L is usually drafted by the Shipper and presented to the Master for signature, it is an Owners document. One of its three functions is to act as a receipt for the cargo, so therefore the Master must make sure that the quantity and description of the goods is accurate as he will be expected to deliver the same to the Receiver.....

  9. Seaworthiness for cargo ship, international navigational condition & procedure for Insurance claim

  10. Insurance premiums amount to a very large proportion of the ship’s running costs. Whilst the owner insures his ship against certain risks and may present a claim which will recuperate at least part of his losses, the effect of submitting many claims will have the effect of increasing the insurance premiums for the next year. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to ensure that risks are not taken, that the ship operates safely and that accidents and incidents are avoided....

Other info pages !

Ships Charterparties Related terms & guideline
Stevedores injury How to prevent injury onboard
Environmental issues How to prevent marine pollution
Cargo & Ballast Handling Safety Guideline
Reefer cargo handling Troubleshoot and countermeasures
DG cargo handling Procedures & Guidelines
Safety in engine room Standard procedures
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