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Many tanker incidents occur shortly after a change of watch, or on the watch of an officer who has been on board a new vessel for only a few hours or days. The incidents often occur because the new watchstander does not properly interpret a new situation, or is unaware of a defect in the ship's equipment because of his limited experience with it. Such incidents can be minimised if the new officer carries out a thorough review of his duties before relieving, and the officer being relieved prepares for and executes a professional handover of his duties. Many handovers are done verbally. The exchange may take half a day in the case of the chief officer, but in the case of junior officers it may be as short as a handshake at the top of the gangway.
Most officers who are scheduled to be relieved will conscientiously tidy up their cabin and their collateral duties in advance. That is commendable. But even more admirable is the officer who leaves his successor a set of notes describing exactly where things stand on the ship. A thorough ship management company, or a diligent master, will require the preparation of handover notes and indicate that a copy, signed by both the arriving and departing officer be provided to the master. Preparing a set of handover notes (without being required to do so), is a sign of professionalism that will be noted by the master and appreciated by the officer relieving you.

1.3.1 Contents
The handover notes should be complete enough that the relieving officer could smoothly take up his duties without further instruction or assistance. This means that they will require time and thought to prepare. They cannot be written the night before arriving at the relieving port. They should be written with care throughout the voyage preceding the handover.
Suggested contents of the chief officer's handover notes would include:

  • An explanation of the next loading/discharge plan.

  • Guidance concerning the next voyage (if available).

  • Brief description of the competence of the seaman on chief officer's watch and the pumpman.

  • Description of the competence of the deck officers.

  • Particular likes, requirements and dislikes of the master.

  • Current deck maintenance program activities.

  • List of equipment requiring repair.

  • Suspected pipeline or bulkhead leaks.

  • Defective cargo control room equipment.

  • Defective or unreliable bridge equipment.

  • Next training program module to be completed.

  • Status of collateral duties.

  • Description of preparations for the next classification or flag state inspection, survey, or repair period.

  • Indication of when ordered deck department stores are expected to arrive.

  • Current preventive-maintenance requirements of cargo pumps,

  • COW, or IGS equipment.

  • The list of topics and the length of the notes between junior officers will be shorter, but each applicable subject should be covered in the same depth. Handover notes should be read by the joining officer as soon as he arrives on board. This should be followed by a walk-around of the ship accompanied by the departing officer. When the joining officer is satisfied that he understands everything he needs to assume his duties, he signs the handover notes and the departing officer reports to the master that he has been properly relieved.

    1.3.2 Checking the information
    Even though a relieving officer is satisfied that he has enough written information in the handover notes to perform his duties on the ship, he should never assume that the information is 100% correct. Plato's caution: "What I am about to tell you may not be true, but something very close to it is." should be applied to all turnover information, where even a small error could cause major problems.
    This is particularly true of the crew evaluations in the handover notes. The crew may be either better or worse than described. The relieving officer should examine every entry in the handover notes with a critical eye until he has verified it.

    1.3.3 Continuity
    Handover notes provide continuity in the conduct of the watch, in the completion of scheduled inspection and maintenance programs and in the smooth functioning of the department. For example: knowing where each aspect of the cargo system maintenance program is without having to refer to each system maintenance book prevents disruption of that vital activity. Knowing that the master does not want the bridge sanitary work to begin before 07.00 daily (because the noise wakes him up) may seem less important, but can still save a new watch officer embarrassment if the advice has been included in the relief notes.

    1.3.4 Routines
    A relieving watch officer should continue the routine practices of the watch until he has a good reason to change them. The routines may be changed if he believes a specific change is justified and the master and the watch personnel agree that a change will be beneficial. Change for the sake of change, or change because of ignorance of the way things have been done, should be avoided. The crew does not like to have their routines disrupted unless they are convinced it is for a good reason. One extreme example of this resistance to change was the young third officer who told his new Captain that "We don't do it like that on this ship, sir", when he was asked to prepare for undocking differently than he had been accustomed to.
    The objective of a formalised relieving routine is a smooth transition. Inevitably, this will require some thoughtfulness by the new watch officer, and willingness to change by both the joining officer and those he finds already aboard. Any changes made should be carefully considered.

    1.3.5 Handover file
    Each officer position on the ship should have a serial file of handover notes. This file will provide a continuous record of handover notes for review and reference. A new officer can review the record of the previous relieving situations to aid his orientation to his new ship and crew. Using a bound journal to write out the handover notes is a good way to provide such a permanent record.

    Using a bound journal for turn-over notes provides a permanent, continuous record of greater value to new officers.
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