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Navigational guideline for cargo ship in restricted visibility conditions

Ship navigation under restricted visibility circumstances is one of the most challenging tasks while accomplishing a safe voyage. The visibility is mentioned as restricted in cases that have been observed fog, heavy rain, or dust storm, all hazardous conditions to navigate. Ship navigation in such conditions doubles the likelihood of a collision or grounding. It calls for the use of specialized equipment and requires some actions to be taken by the time the ship's officer gets information of relevant weather conditions.

Container ship laden voyage
Oil Tanker Safety Guide
Restricted visibility conditions mean those in which the visibility is Three Nautical Miles or less, or is not more than that designated separately by the Master. Conduct of the vessel's navigation in restricted visibility is covered in COLREG Rule 19. The watch's officer should take the following actions under restricted visibility conditions or if such conditions are expected:
  1. Inform Master, report existing conditions
  2. Intensify watch of surrounding conditions, e.g. by posting additional lookout(s)
  3. Comply with latest International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea
  4. Inform engine room and sound appropriate fog signals.
  5. Take other necessary action mentioned in the “Navigation in Restricted Visibility Checklist"

Master's action under restricted visibility conditions

When receiving the report from O.O.W., that restricted visibility conditions are present or expected, Ship-Master shall confirm the navigation situation and, if necessary, shall take the command of the ship. The Master must ensure that all watchkeepers understand the use of safety-related equipment before keeping a watch. Master should take appropriate measures as needed such as posting additional Lookout (s), Reduction to a safe speed, etc.


It is vital that an efficient lookout is maintained by the O.O.W. ensures at all times. In a ship with a separate chart room, the O.O.W. may visit the chart room, when essential, for a short period for the necessary performance of his navigational duties. However, he must previously satisfy himself that it is safe to do so and ensure that an efficient lookout is maintained. A continuous visual lookout all-round the horizon, and a listening watch (including both sound signals and radio messages) is to be maintained at all times. A constant watch solely by radar is not acceptable as an efficient lookout. During the hours of darkness and restricted visibility, a rating must be appointed Lookout in addition to the O.O.W. He must remain on the bridge for the entire duration of his watch and may only leave the bridge, having first been relieved of his post.

In maintaining a lookout, the following shall be observed:-
  1. The Lookout must be able to give full attention to the keeping of a proper lookout, and no other duties shall be undertaken or assigned which could interfere with that task;
  2. The duties of the Lookout and helmsman are separate, and the helmsman is not to be considered as the Lookout while steering, except in small ships where an unobstructed all-round view is provided at the steering position, and there is no impairment of night vision or another impediment to the keeping of a proper lookout;
  3. The O.O.W. must ensure that lookouts clearly understand their duties and the system of reporting. All reports must be passed to the O.O.W or the Master when it has taken over CON. If a pilot is on board, he should be informed as well.
  4. At the discretion of the Master, the O.O.W. may be the sole Lookout in daylight under certain conditions provided that:
  5. The situation has been carefully assessed, and it has been established without doubt that it is safe to operate with a sole lookout.
Full account has been taken of all relevant factors, including but not limited to the following: It must be remembered that conditions can change at very short notice, and therefore the O.O.W. must be able to summon the additional Lookout immediately if the situation requires. Accordingly, the rating allocated to be the additional Lookout must be either on stand-by or working within the vicinity of the bridge and be immediately contactable.

Below is additional check items during ships navigation in or near an area restricted visibility

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