Watchleader Handbook

Welcome aboard the TS Pelican! As a Watch Leader you are an important and valued member of the ship’s company and a vital link between the ship’s Professional Crew and the trainees.

The ship’s crew consists of:

Professional Crew

Captain (8-12 Watch)

Chief Officer (4-8 watch)

2nd Officer (12-4 watch)

Chief Engineer


Bosun’s Mate


Volunteer Crew

Watch Leaders



Voyage Crew

Trainee crew assigned to each watch.


On some trips additional Professional/Volunteer crew may be carried.  These can include; 3rd Mate, Supernumerary OOW, Doctor or Medic, Assistant Engineer and Cadets.

Your role as a Watch Leader

As Watch Leader your primary role is to ensure that your team get to where they need to be, on time and with the right kit. This is no easy task! You will also be helping the Professional Crew during sail handing evolutions, don’t worry if you do not remember how to set a sail or where the ropes are, you will soon pick this up again. Your secondary role is to support the trainees, please remember that you are not expected to do this alone, the Professional Crew are here to support and assist both you and the trainees so that everyone gets the best out of their sail training voyage. If someone is having a hard time, for whatever reason, be it seasickness, homesickness, problems with another member of crew or anything else, be kind and supportive and quietly let a member of staff and your watch officer know.

Ships Daily Routine and Watch System

The daily routine is posted up around the ship and there is a copy in your folder as well, using this and the watch system rota, (also posted around the ship and in your folder) you can see when you will be going on watch and when you will be eating each day. This will be explained to the trainees on day 1, but you will need to remind them of how it works and when they will be going on watch. As they get to know the ship and the routines this will become easier.

All trainees get assigned to a watch. As a rule, there will be three watch groups. These will usually be named “Fore,” “Main” and “Mizzen”. The Watch Rota shows the 4-hour periods of time when each watch group is “On Watch” I.e. on duty on deck, helping the OOW keep the ship proceeding safely towards its next destination, fulfilling such roles as helmsman and lookout.

In a three-watch-system that means everybody will work approximately 4 hours “On” and 8 hours “OFF”.

On a rotating watch system There are two 2-hour “Dog Watches” in the afternoon/evening. This provides a rotation so that the duty times of each watch differ from day-to-day.

During any one specific watch period.

  • The watch of crewmembers that has just been stood down after being on duty acts as the reserve or ‘standby’ watch for the first half of the subsequent watch.
  • The watch of crewmembers due to come on for the following “shift” acts as reserve or ‘standby’ for the second half of the watch period.
  • The reserve watch may occasionally be called to assist with some sail handling or some other time-critical tasks.


In addition to cleaning by the duty watch as per the daily routine, each watch will have a different area of the ship for which they are responsible for cleaning during Happy Hour. The Bosun and Bosun’s Mate are responsible for running Happy Hour and the watch leader should report to them when required as per the ship’s routine.

The cleaning job cards are displayed in the Laundry, the Mate will inform the Bosun as to the level of cleaning required that day – Daily clean, Weekly Clean or a Deep Clean.

Remember – RED for the HEADS, Blue for General cleaning, GREEN for the Galley.

Please also remind all members of your watch to wash hands with soap and water regularly and use hand alcohol gel before meals – this and the point of contact cleaning makes a massive impact on germs being spread around the ship.

Messmen/ Galley

Each day one member of each watch will be allocated to the galley. A person on galley duty is not expected to undertake a watch after midnight during the night prior to their mess duty, or before midnight on the day of their mess duty.

The watch leader will not do a formal mess duty but is expected to supervise and organise clearing and cleaning the mess room after mealtimes.

  • The cook will be assigned 1 person from each watch to assist in the galley. Please check the messmen rota to see when your turn is.
  • Mess duty starts at 0700 and ends at 1900ish when the galley and mess are clean.
  • Please report to the Cook promptly before first sitting breakfast at 0700.
  • Your job is to help in the galley all day, chopping, peeling, washing up and other jobs as directed by the cook.
  • Please ensure you observe good personal hygiene, clean clothes, long trousers, hair tied back and sensible (closed toed) shoes on.


Professional Crew Meetings

As a member of the ship’s team, Watch Leaders are invited to the Professional Crew morning meeting.  Bring a notebook so you can pass on information to your watch about the day’s activities and any other information that they need to know.

You may also be invited to debriefs of exercises and other meetings. You will be informed by the First Mate which meetings you are required to attend.

Emergency Muster and Procedures

Watch Leaders have responsibilities during the emergency situations. These are defined in the muster list, located in the mess and on the Bridge. It has vital information into everybody’s role during an emergency.

The most important thing to remember to do in an emergency is muster your watch and then report to the bridge when you have all of them, or report someone as missing as soon as you are aware that they have not mustered. You may then be directed to assist with Boundary Cooling, Vent Closing, RIB launching or Life Raft launching.

“All Hands”

Please brief your watch. The sudden call of “All Hands” can happen anytime, night or day. It may be in response to a serious emergency and requires everyone to be on deck immediately. Fortunately, this is a rare event. Sometimes it is called as an exercise, but you would be advised of such an intention ahead of time.

It is part of being crew onboard the Ship to be prepared to exert yourself immediately in the response to such a call. One of your ship mates may have fallen overboard or there is some major threat.

Leading a Watch

A good Watch Leader is supportive, understanding, and organised. You should ensure that all trainees belonging to your watch are present at briefings, mealtimes and when on watch. As part of the ship’s crew, it is expected that you will carry out your duties in a professional manner and set the example for the trainees. A good way of checking quickly that everyone is there, is to get them to number off, using their watch bill numbers, this will take a few tries, so introduce it on day 1.

Encourage them to take seasickness tablets well in advance of our departure, depending on the type of tablet. We cannot prescribe them or make anyone take them, but we do Strongly recommend taking them! If it is an under 18 voyage, we ask everyone to hand in their tablets, these are then kept securely. We will always record when medications are taken. This is so we know what people have taken in case of a medical emergency.

When on watch, make sure they are undertaking the duties they have been assigned in a proper manner and that they do not just wander off without letting you know first where they are going.

On deck, long hair should be tied back when working, and closed toed shoes must always be worn. If it is sunny make sure they put on sunscreen. The sun reflects off the water so you can get very burnt quite quickly. Also encourage them to drink plenty of water.

When mealtimes are called, ensure everyone has either washed hands or used alcohol gel and please check that all your watch is there, they may not have realised that they should be eating or may not want to eat. Encourage them to try a bit if they say they do not want any, sometimes it is because they are being fussy and do not want to try new things, other times it may because they feel seasick.

When going on watch get your team together 10 minutes before the hour and come up to the bridge as a group. If someone is missing send another member of the watch to find them. At the start of the watch get them to check each other’s harnesses are correctly fitted, and make sure they have enough warm clothing.

Duties when on watch

When on watch the watch leader is the assistant to the Officer of the Watch (OOW).

The primary duties you need to assign are

  • Helm
  • Port Lookout
  • Starboard Lookout

These should be rotated at least every hour, we recommend half an hour. Additional roles may be allocated, such as Messenger or Scribe, as appropriate, particularly for arrivals and departures, as well as tea making, wake up calls and Duty Watch Cleaning.

Initially, you will be required to supervise the helm closely, as the trainees become better at steering you will be able to move away from the compass, even so, please always keep an eye on the ship’s heading and remind them to concentrate on the task in hand. Other members of the watch should be discouraged from hanging around the compass binnacle.

During a 4 hour watch, if there enough people and no other activities on deck are happening, you may give people one half hour break away from the bridge each. Give them a set time to be back by and make sure they do not just wander off! Smokers may go down to the well deck one at a time, and not within the first or last half hour of the watch. Anyone who wants to leave the bridge for any reason must get permission from you first, please ensure the OOW is always aware of anyone leaving and returning.

Please ensure cleaning rounds are completed as per the Daily routine.

If the watch is very full you can put 2 people on lookout together, mix up boys and girls and separate couples. They may complain that they want to be with their friends, but the point is to make new friends! Check in on each of your watch individually and maintain morale, singing songs and chatting makes the watch go faster. As a rule, mobile telephones, MP3 players and similar electronic devices are not permitted on watch, however, it is appreciated that for many people, their only camera is built into their mobile telephone, so when appropriate and WITH PERMISSION OF THE OOW individuals may bring their telephone on watch (in “flight or “aircraft” mode) to take photographs only. When not in use the telephone must be stowed away and should not be brought on watch without permission. Phones must be kept away from the magnetic compass.

Wake up calls will need to be done properly if you want to get relieved on time, so plan ahead and brief two people to go down and start waking people up half an hour before the watch change. Remind them to point the torch at the floor, not at people’s faces, to close doors quietly, shake the pillow of the person being woken up and to get a positive response from them before moving on.

Before the end of the watch send someone to wash up any mugs etc that have been used, and when you go down, check that the galley and mess are clean and tidy.

When the next watch has all arrived, make sure helm and lookouts are all handed over properly and then inform the OOW that this has been done. Your watch may only leave when the OOW gives permission – it could be that we need two watches for sail handling.

In Harbour, the routine will change slightly, there will be a gangway watch overnight to ensure the ship’s safety and security. The 4 hour watch will be split into two 2 hour watches, for which 2 watch members are needed, plus yourself for the whole watch if they are under 18. Please ensure you allocate these duties fairly.

Those on gangway watch will be responsible, along with the Duty Officer (one of the Professional Crew) for the safety, welfare, and security of the vessel. No one other than ship’s crew is allowed on the vessel without permission of the Duty Officer.


The OOW will inform the helmsman what course to steer or what action is required as below. There are four types of helming instruction that may be received from the OOW:

  1. “Helm orders”
  • Instructions such as “Port ten”

(an order to turn the wheel until the rudder angle indicator shows ten degrees of port wheel).

  • Instructions such as “Hard a starboard”

(an order to turn the wheel rapidly to starboard until it will turn no further).

  • Each helm order must be repeated back as per the following exchange:

OOW: “Starboard five”

Trainee: “Starboard five”

(trainee now turns the wheel to the ‘starboard five’ position)

Trainee: “Starboard five on”

  1. By the magnetic steering compass in degrees from 000 to 359 (Always say each number separately, e.g. Zero Seven Zero – this prevents any chance of the number being confused with another e.g. 070 and 017)
  • Each course must be repeated back as per the following exchange:

OOW: “Steer 090” (Zero Nine Zero)

Trainee: “Steer 090”

(Trainee now turns the wheel to achieve a course of 090)

When trainee is steady on the new course:

Trainee: “090 on”

  1. By sailing terms
  • Sail close hauled - as close to the wind as possible.
  • Full and by – close to the wind but maintaining maximum speed
  • An instruction such as; come up, closer, bear up, nearer the wind, means to point the ship’s head closer to the direction of the wind.
  • An instruction such as; away, down, off, bear away, means to point the ship’s head further away from the direction of the wind.
  • By sight of something to aim for or to avoid.
  • “Leave that green buoy to starboard”
  • “Steer between the pier heads”
  • “Pass to leeward of that lobster pot buoy”

It is vital that the helmsman understands exactly what is required by the OOW, and the Watch Leader has an important role to play in ensuring the helm instructions are carried out effectively and promptly.

The correct use of language and of verbal exchanges in the format above is particularly important.


Maintaining a proper look-out is important and should be taken very seriously.

All ships under way are always required by law to keep a lookout by sight and hearing.

The rota for look-out shall be organised by the Watch Leader.

Lookouts will usually be posted, one port and one starboard, on the poopdeck either side of the wheelhouse.

The main task of this role is as per its title; they are to LOOK, OUTWARDS.

Each lookout has an ‘arc of responsibility’ of approximately 200°; from 10° on the opposite bow to 10° on the opposite quarter, right around their own side of ship. This provides a 20° overlap with the other lookout at bow and stern. This reduces the risk of a new contact remaining unreported. (It is better for the OOW to receive two reports of a contact than none).

Lookouts must ALWAYS stand.

Lookouts must not be distracted from their role by other crewmembers.

Please brief the watch that the lookout shall report anything which may affect the ship or the voyage directly to the OOW (not via the Watch Leader). If in doubt: report it.

The OOW must acknowledge all reports from lookouts so that their receipt is understood.

A crewmember acting as look out may only leave their post when properly relieved by the next look out. This includes the handover of all relevant information to the relief lookout.

Arrival and Departure

During all arrival and departure evolutions, effective communication between crewmembers is vital. All hands involved in any aspect of arrival and departure evolutions should be given a suitable briefing prior to taking part in these activities.

Harbour Stations

Line Gang

Ensure that all team members can climb vertical ladders, are fit and have full use of all limbs.

Each person must wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid as appropriate, correctly fitted and secured. Waterproof clothing to be worn as appropriate for the weather.

The line gang’s role is to be explained by the Bosun or First Mate.

Mooring Stations.

It is important to make ready mooring lines, heaving lines and fenders as directed by the Professional Crew.

All hands involved in mooring operations shall briefed by a member of the professional crew on the dangers associated with mooring operations.

It may be necessary to trice in the brace bumpkins prior to arrival at some berths.

For many arrival and departure evolutions the boat may be launched at the master’s discretion.

This can then be used to:

  • transfer linesmen
  • transfer mooring lines
  • act as a tugboat

After the ship is clear, the lines will usually be coiled down and stowed under the well deck companionway, the fenders will be recovered and stowed next to and under the frame on which the gangway rests.

Do not forget to untrice the brace bumpkins and secure the braces if these were triced in whilst alongside.

Once the vessel has departed from a berth and is proceeding to sea, all gear on deck must be secured in a seamanlike manner, and the First Mate or Bosun (as appropriate) shall report to the Master that the “Deck is secured for sea” once this task has been completed.


Any member of Voyage Crew handling fenders should receive instruction in the safe handling of them prior to the operation.

Going Aloft


Working aloft is a fundamental aspect of sail training in a square-rigged vessel that provides a unique challenge and opportunity for trainees to build their self-confidence and gain skills in teamwork. The management of this activity must seek to balance risk and reward; all work aloft must be undertaken in a suitably seamanlike manner with skylarking strongly discouraged.

Whilst this policy is written to detail day-to-day work aloft with trainees in the context of a sail training voyage, the general approach and the specific procedures for “clipping on” should be identical when volunteer crew or professional crew are aloft during sail handling evolutions or for maintenance tasks.

When working aloft it is VITAL all professional and volunteer crew set a good example by their actions and behaviour. Every crewmember must follow the same rules laid out for the trainees when going aloft.

If a professional or crewmember showed poor seamanship in his/her aloft practices it is very likely this would be copied by less-experienced trainees, with potentially fatal results.

Notes on Trainees working aloft

  1. “Aloft” means all areas in the rig INCLUDING the bowsprit.
  2. Anyone going aloft must always wear a full body harness and be attached to the safety lines.
  3. Prior to every working aloft evolution, the supervising crewmember (see points 10-13) must provide a suitable briefing to the hands about to lay aloft. Depending on circumstance this may be an in-depth introduction to the concept of work aloft (for newly embarked trainees) or a very short recap with specific instructions (for more experienced hands). Common sense and good seamanship apply in this situation.
  4. Persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs are not permitted to go aloft.
  5. Persons under the influence of certain medications or medical conditions are not permitted aloft. You will be made aware of these trainees by the First Mate or Medic.
  6. Diabetics and Epileptics are limited as follows:
  • Stable Epileptics with a driving licence (i.e. have not fitted for one year) are allowed aloft to work at the master’s discretion.
  • Unstable Epileptics (without a driving licence) are not allowed aloft.
  • Diet-controlled Diabetics are allowed aloft once blood sugar level has been taken and is within a normal range, no lower than 6mmol.
  • Insulin dependent Diabetics are allowed aloft on a gantline when the ship is alongside, at the master’s discretion. Blood sugar level to be recorded before and afterwards.
  1. Before persons go aloft all braces and lifts must be tightened and belayed on the pin. No braces, lifts or halyards must be taken off the pin while persons are on or near the corresponding yard.
  2. Radars must be put on stand-by when crew are working near the antenna. Any other bridge equipment generating radiation hazards shall also be placed in standby mode as appropriate.
  3. Unnecessary noise and shouting must be avoided aloft.
  4. Whenever trainees are working aloft, at least one professional crewmember must be on deck supervising this activity.
  5. This crewmember will be wearing a correctly fitted safety harness and ready to lay aloft instantly if necessary, to assist more directly or to deal with an incident.
  6. This crewmember must be completely focussed on their role supervising the aloft work, and not distracted by other matters.
  7. The supervising crewmember will not be an on-duty Officer of the Watch
  8. On conventional sail training voyages of up to one month’s duration, a volunteer crewmember or professional crewmember must be aloft with the trainees to supervise the work being undertaken
  9. When trainees are embarked for a sail training voyage of more than one month’s duration, it may be possible to review the requirement for a volunteer crewmember to lay aloft with the trainees on every occasion. Any such review will be at the discretion of the Master and will be discussed with other members of professional crew. If in doubt, assume a volunteer crewmember must be aloft with trainees.
  10. Everyone aloft must always maintain at least three points of contact. A mask is not required aloft.
  11. Utilising the short and long tethers on the safety harness as appropriate, every person must be clipped on with at least one tether from prior to leaving the deck until they return to the deck
  12. Transfer tethers, one at a time, from one safety line to the next.
  13. Unless in the process of transferring between safety lines, both tethers should be secured to the safety line currently in use
  14. Climb (lay aloft) on the windward side of the ship whenever possible. This reduces the angle of the shrouds and ensures the wind is “blowing you onto the rigging.”
  15. Hold onto vertical shrouds, place feet on horizontal ratlines
  16. Safety lines are rigged on all masts

When laying aloft, the sequence of clipping on is as follows:

  1. Clip long tether to safety line I.
  2. Clip short tether to safety line I.
  3. Step onto capping rail
  4. Transfer short tether to safety line II.
  5. Transfer long tether to safety line II.
  6. Commence climbing shrouds
  7. When you reach the first intermediate securing point of safety line II., transfer the short tether to a position above the securing point.
  8. Transfer the long tether to a position above the securing point.
  9. Etc.
  10. When working on a yard with a sail, it is often easiest to kick your legs out behind you and lean forward over the yard, so your torso takes some weight and your hands can be used for working with the sail more effectively
  11. When a person working aloft is laying out to a yard from the shrouds, he/she must call out “Stepping On” in a clear, loud voice immediately before adding weight to the footrope slung under the yard. This allows others already on the yard to prepare for the footrope to move.
  12. Trainees and volunteer crew must NEVER move around another person on a yard. This was the cause of a recent fatality on a UK sail training vessel.
  13. In an emergency aloft those inboard of the casualty should move to clear the yard as soon as practical so that trained personnel can affect a rescue aloft. People outboard must wait till the rescue aloft is dealt with before moving past the site.
  14. When returning to deck from a working aloft evolution, all hands must step down from capping rail to deck, (not jump).

Please also see the specific “Rescue Aloft Procedure” within the company Emergency Operating Procedures document.


Watch Leaders are expected to get involved in the maintenance of the ship under the supervision of the Bosun and Bosun’s Mate.

Voyage crew may be asked to conduct some maintenance activities. As Watch Leader, you will be responsible for supervising their work.

Maintenance Work Aloft

In addition to the general guidance on working aloft (above) please note the following:

  • Tools carried aloft shall be placed in a canvas bucket or tool bag, which is secured to yourself and the tools themselves secured to a strong point on the tool bag.
  • Use of tool belts are only permitted when lanyards are used to secure items to the belt.
  • For any maintenance work in the rig, the area below on deck must be roped off and kept clear of personnel.
  • Knives and marlin spikes shall always be carried in their appropriate sheaths and secured by lanyards permanently attached to your belt so that if they come loose or are dropped, they will not fall.
  • Pockets must be empty so that no loose items go aloft.
  • When dismantling parts of the rigging for maintenance make sure that there remain sufficient securing points and/or rig additional safety lines.
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