Bridge (nautical)

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The interior of the bridge of the Research Vessel Sikuliaq, docked in Ketchikan, Alaska Bridge of the RV Sikuliaq.jpg
The interior of the bridge of the Research Vessel Sikuliaq , docked in Ketchikan, Alaska
Wheelhouse on a tugboat, topped with a flying bridge Wheelhouse of Leao Dos Mares.jpg
Wheelhouse on a tugboat, topped with a flying bridge

The bridge is a room or platform of a ship from which the ship can be commanded. When a ship is under way, the bridge is manned by an officer of the watch aided usually by an able seaman acting as lookout. During critical maneuvers the captain will be on the bridge, often supported by an officer of the watch, an able seaman on the wheel and sometimes a pilot, if required.



The compass platform of a British destroyer in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War with central binnacle and the voice pipes to belowdecks Officers on the bridge.jpg
The compass platform of a British destroyer in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War with central binnacle and the voice pipes to belowdecks

Traditionally, sailing ships were commanded from the quarterdeck, aft of the mainmast, where the ship's wheel was located (as it was close to the rudder). With the arrival of paddle steamers, engineers required a platform from which they could inspect the paddle wheels and where the captain's view would not be obstructed by the paddle houses. A raised walkway, literally a bridge, connecting the paddle houses was therefore provided. When the screw propeller superseded the paddle wheel, the term "bridge" survived. [1]

Wheelhouses were a small enclosure around the ship's wheel on the quarter deck of sailing ships. On modern ships the wheelhouse or pilothouse refers to the bridge of smaller motor vessels, such as tugs. [1]

Traditionally, commands would be passed from the senior officer on the bridge to stations dispersed throughout the ship, where physical control of the ship was exercised, as technology did not exist for the remote control of steering or machinery. Helm orders would be passed to an enclosed wheel house, where the coxswain or helmsman operated the ship's wheel. Engine commands would be relayed to the engine officer in the engine room by an engine order telegraph that displayed the captain's orders on a dial. The engine officer would ensure that the correct combination of steam pressure and engine revolutions were applied. Weatherproof pilot houses supplanted open bridges so that the pilot, who was traditionally the ship's navigating officer, could issue commands from shelter. [1]

Iron, and later steel, ships also required a compass platform. This was usually a tower, where a magnetic compass could be sited far away as possible from the ferrous interference of the hulk of the ship. Depending upon the design and layout of a ship, all of these terms can be variously interchangeable. Many ships still have a flying bridge, a platform atop the pilot house, open to weather, containing a binnacle and voice tubes to allow the conning officer to direct the ship from a higher position during fair weather conditions. [1]

Larger warships may have navigation bridge would be used for the actual conning of the ship and a separate admiral's bridge can be provided in flagships, where the admiral can exercise control over his squadron without interfering with the captain's command of the vessel. In older warships, a heavily armored conning tower was often provided, where the vital command staff could be located under protection to ensure that the ship could be commanded under fire. [2]

On a submarine, the bridge is the highest point on the conning tower, to provide for better visual navigation when on the surface. [3] They became standard on United States Navy submarines after 1917, and greatly improved the function of the vessels while at the surface. [4]


The RMS Queen Mary 2 showing bridge with enclosed bridge wings that permit a view along both sides of the vessel RMS Queen Mary 2 (6973549552).jpg
The RMS Queen Mary 2 showing bridge with enclosed bridge wings that permit a view along both sides of the vessel

Modern advances in remote control equipment have seen progressive transfer of the actual control of the ship to the bridge. The wheel and throttles can be operated directly from the bridge, controlling often-unmanned machinery spaces. Aboard modern warships, navigational command comes from the bridge, whereas electronically directed weapon systems are usually controlled from an interior compartment. [2]

On a commercial vessel, the bridge will contain the equipment necessary to safely navigate a vessel on passage. Such equipment will vary with ship type, but generally includes a GPS navigation device, a Navtex receiver, an ECDIS or chart system, one or more radars, a communications system (including distress calling equipment), engine (telegraph) controls, a wheel/autopilot system, a magnetic compass (for redundancy and cross check capability) and light/sound signalling devices. [5]

Navigation station on a ship Argonaute wheelhouse chart table.jpg
Navigation station on a ship

The navigation station of a ship may be located on the bridge or in a separate chart room, nearby. It includes a table sized for nautical charts where calculations of course and location are made. The navigator plots the course to be followed by the ship on these charts. [6] Besides the desk and the navigation charts, the area contains navigational instruments that may include electronic equipment for a Global Positioning System receiver and chart display, fathometer, a compass, a marine chronometer, two-way radios, and radiotelephone, etc. [7]

Flying bridge

An aerial shot of the bridge of the Maersk container ship, Sealand New York, with its open bridge wings New York Maersk Container Ship in Port Everglades.jpg
An aerial shot of the bridge of the Maersk container ship, Sealand New York, with its open bridge wings

A flying bridge is an open area on top of a surface ship that provides unobstructed views of the fore, aft, and the sides of a vessel, [8] [9] and that serves as an operating station for the ship's officers, such as the captain or officer of the watch. [9]

Prior to World War II, virtually every sailing ship, steamship, monitor, paddle steamer, or large pleasure ship had a flying bridge above the main bridge. [9] Flying bridges were generally not enclosed at all (although sometimes they were partially enclosed), and often had little equipment—usually just a speaking tube or telephone to allow communication with the helmsman or wheelman on the main bridge. [9] On military warships after 1914, the flying bridge was usually the station for the air defense officer and the gunnery officer. [3] The amount of equipment on a flying bridge varies widely with the need of the captain. During World War II, for example, American submarine chaser surface ships had a well-outfitted flying bridge which usually contained a pelorus, signal lamps, telescope, and voice tube to permit the captain to command the ship. [10] U.S. Navy attack transport ships could be outfitted with either 20mm or 40mm automatic cannons on their flying bridges. [11]

Flying bridges were almost always the highest bridge on the ship. [8] They usually were above the flag bridge (also known as the "admiral's bridge"–a bridge above the main bridge on a command warship where a high-ranking officer such as an admiral could conduct fleet operations, plan strategy, and conduct large battles) and the main bridge. [3]

Since the 1980s, large pleasure craft may have a flying bridge [12] toward the stern that is used as additional outdoor seating space and a place to store a tender. [13] On the smallest surface vessels, such as a sport fishing boat, the flying bridge may have controls permitting the ship to be piloted from the flying bridge, but will lack the full range of controls of the pilot house. On larger small vessels, the flying bridge may actually be enclosed, in which case it is more properly called an "upper pilot house" or "upper bridge". [3]

Bridge wing

The bridge wing of the MS Amera while in use Prinsendam-flying-bridge.jpg
The bridge wing of the MS Amera while in use

Some flying bridges have "bridge wings", open areas which thrust outward from the flying bridge over the sides of the vessel by approximately 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m) to allow an officer to see the side of his ship while docking or working with smaller vessels. [9] A bridge wing is a narrow walkway extending from both sides of a pilothouse to the full width of a ship or slightly beyond, to allow bridge personnel a full view to aid in the maneuvering of the ship. [14] Officers use bridge wings when docking or maneuvering in locks and narrow waterways. Each bridge wing may be equipped with a console controlling the bow thruster, stern thruster, rudder and engines. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sailing ship Large wind-powered water vessel

A sailing ship is a sea-going vessel that uses sails mounted on masts to harness the power of wind and propel the vessel. There is a variety of sail plans that propel sailing ships, employing square-rigged or fore-and-aft sails. Some ships carry square sails on each mast—the brig and full-rigged ship, said to be "ship-rigged" when there are three or more masts. Others carry only fore-and-aft sails on each mast—schooners. Still others employ a combination of square and fore-and aft sails, including the barque, barquentine, and brigantine.

Seamanship is the art of operating a ship or boat.


A cockpit or flight deck is the area, usually near the front of an aircraft or spacecraft, from which a pilot controls the aircraft.

The Mersey Ferry is a ferry service operating on the River Mersey in north west England, between Liverpool to the east and Birkenhead and Wallasey on the Wirral Peninsula to the west. Ferries have been used on this route since at least the 12th century, and continue to be popular for both local people and visitors.

Watercraft Vehicles that are intended for locomotion on or in the water

Watercraft, also known as water vessels or waterborne vessels, are vehicles used in water, including boats, ships, hovercraft and submarines. Watercraft usually have a propulsive capability and hence are distinct from a simple device that merely floats, such as a log raft.

Paddle steamer Steam-powered vessel propelled by paddle wheels

A paddle steamer is a steamship or steamboat powered by a steam engine that drives paddle wheels to propel the craft through the water. In antiquity, paddle wheelers followed the development of poles, oars and sails, where the first uses were wheelers driven by animals or humans.

Piloting or pilotage is navigating, using fixed points of reference on the sea or on land, usually with reference to a nautical chart or aeronautical chart to obtain a fix of the position of the vessel or aircraft with respect to a desired course or location. Horizontal fixes of position from known reference points may be obtained by sight or by radar. Vertical position may be obtained by depth sounder to determine depth of the water body below a vessel or by altimeter to determine an aircraft's altitude, from which its distance above the ground can be deduced. Piloting a vessel is usually practiced close to shore or on inland waterways. Pilotage of an aircraft is practiced under visual meteorological conditions for flight.

USCGC <i>Eagle</i> (WIX-327) Barque used as a sail training ship for the US Coast Guard Academy

USCGC Eagle (WIX-327), formerly the Horst Wessel and also known as the Barque Eagle, is a 295-foot (90 m) barque used as a training cutter for future officers of the United States Coast Guard. She is one of only two active commissioned sailing vessels in the United States military today, along with USS Constitution which is ported in the Boston Harbor. She is the seventh Coast Guard cutter to bear the name in a line dating back to 1792, including the Revenue Cutter Eagle.

MV <i>Andrew J. Barberi</i>

The MV Andrew J. Barberi is one of two Barberi-class ferry boats operated as part of the Staten Island Ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island in New York City, besides MV Samuel I. Newhouse. With a capacity of 6,000, she is among the highest-capacity boats in the ferry's fleet. Since her introduction in 1981, she has had a history of incidents, including a 2003 crash that killed eleven people and a 2010 crash that injured thirty-seven.

This is a partial glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. See also Wiktionary's nautical terms, Category:Nautical terms, and Nautical metaphors in English. See the Further reading section for additional words and references.

RMS <i>Segwun</i>

RMS Segwun is the oldest operating steam driven vessel in North America, built in 1887 as Nipissing to cruise the Muskoka Lakes in the Muskoka, Ontario, Canada, a resort area with many lakes and rivers. Early in the 20th century, Muskoka was poorly served by roads. Vacationers were transported to lodges, or private cottages, via a fleet of steamships. Segwun is one of only three ships in the world still carrying the status of Royal Mail Ship.

Quarterdeck Raised deck behind the main mast of a sailing ship

The quarterdeck is a raised deck behind the main mast of a sailing ship. Traditionally it was where the captain commanded his vessel and where the ship's colours were kept. This led to its use as the main ceremonial and reception area on board, and the word is still used to refer to such an area on a ship or even in naval establishments on land. Many such facilities have areas decorated like shipboard quarterdecks.

A conning tower is a raised platform on a ship or submarine, often armored, from which an officer in charge can conn the vessel, controlling movements of the ship by giving orders to those responsible for the ship's engine, rudder, lines, and ground tackle. It is usually located as high on the ship as practical, to give the conning team good visibility of the entirety of the ship, ocean conditions, and other vessels.

Chief mate Licensed mariner and head of the deck department of a merchant ship

A chief mate (C/M) or chief officer, usually also synonymous with the first mate or first officer, is a licensed mariner and head of the deck department of a merchant ship. The chief mate is customarily a watchstander and is in charge of the ship's cargo and deck crew. The actual title used will vary by ship's employment, by type of ship, by nationality, and by trade: for instance, chief mate is not usually used in the Commonwealth, although chief officer and first mate are; on passenger ships, the first officer may be a separate position from that of the chief officer that is junior to the latter.

A second mate or second officer (2/O) is a licensed member of the deck department of a merchant ship holding a Second Mates Certificate of Competency, which is issued by the administration. The second mate is the third in command and a watchkeeping officer, customarily the ship's navigator. Other duties vary, but the second mate is often the medical officer and in charge of maintaining distress signaling equipment. On oil tankers, the second mate usually assists the chief mate with the Cargo operations.

USS <i>Sable</i> (IX-81) US Navy training ship in service 1943-1945

USS Sable (IX-81) was a United States Navy training ship during World War II, originally built as the passenger ship Greater Buffalo, a sidewheel excursion steamboat. She was purchased by the Navy in 1942 and converted to a training aircraft carrier to be used on the Great Lakes. She lacked a hangar deck, elevators, or armament and was not a true warship, but she provided advanced training of naval aviators in carrier takeoffs and landings.


A helmsman or helm is a person who steers a ship, sailboat, submarine, other type of maritime vessel, or spacecraft. The rank and seniority of the helmsman may vary: on small vessels such as fishing vessels and yachts, the functions of the helmsman are combined with that of the skipper; on larger vessels, there is a separate officer of the watch who is responsible for the safe navigation of the ship and gives orders to the helmsman, who physically steers the ship in accordance with those orders.

Deck department

The deck department is an organisational team on board naval and merchant ships. The department and its manning requirements, including the responsibilities of each rank are regulated within the STCW Convention. The department is led by deck officers, who are licensed mariners and they are commanded overall by the ship's captain. Seafarers in the deck department work a variety of jobs on a ship or vessel, but primarily they will carry out the navigation of a vessel, from the bridge. However, they are usually also responsible for supervising and monitoring any maritime cargo onboard, as well as ensuring maintenance of the deck and upper hull structure, monitoring the stability of the ship including loading and discharging ballast water, carrying out mooring operations and finally anchoring a ship.

Seafaring is a tradition that encompasses a variety of professions and ranks. Each of these roles carries unique responsibilities that are integral to the successful operation of a seafaring vessel. A ship's crew can generally be divided into four main categories: the deck department, the engineering department, the steward's department, and other. The reasoning behind this is that a ship's bridge, filled with sophisticated navigational equipment, requires skills differing from those used on deck operations – such as berthing, cargo and/or military devices – which in turn requires skills different from those used in a ship's engine room and propulsion, and so on.

Steam-powered vessel

Steam-powered vessels include steamboats and steamships. Smaller steamboats were developed first. They were replaced by larger steamships which were often ocean-going. Steamships required a change in propulsion technology from sail to paddlewheel to screw to steam turbines. The latter innovation changed the design of vessels to one that could move faster through the water. Engine propulsion changed to steam turbine in the early 20th century. In the latter part of the 20th century, these, in turn, were replaced by gas turbines.


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