How to make a Voyage Plan

The Voyage Plan is the basic knowledge that a ship officer, particularly a deck officer should know. It is a very important part of navigation. In modern shipping; Port State Control, Vetting Inspections, and other related inspectors coming onboard the ship would check your Voyage Plan. Are you prepared to make a voyage plan? Are you reluctant or afraid to make a voyage plan? I’ll guide you to some pointers that you will need in preparing in making a voyage plan.

In this fast growing maritime industry, different types of inspectors would normally ask a lot on how you make a voyage plan. I’ve been onboard tanker ships and believe me; inspectors ask a lot about the charts, publications, and the voyage plan. What should you do?

  • First of all you should know what tools you will need before you start making a voyage plan.
  • You must know your destination port in order to pre-plan your route.
  • You must ask the captain regarding distance-off coasts, additional instructions and information from the charterers and agent of the destination port, restrictions during the voyage with regards to your draft and air draft, tides and currents of the destination port, reporting procedures during the passage or voyage, and so-on. I will elaborate it later as we start discussing about the checklist and the plotting.
  • After gathering all of that information, you will start planning your course, identify your waypoints, and start calculating your courses and distances.
  • If you’re not crossing any ocean, you can simply use “Mercator sailing”.
  • If you’re crossing an ocean, you can use “Great Circle Sailing or Composite Sailing”, but that is under the approval of your Captain.
  • Remember that all your actions is an extension of the Captains authority, but in such cases that you have doubt that it will involve or may jeopardize the safety of the ship, it is better to consult or ask the Captain about it. After all, he is the over-all in-charge of the vessel.

What you will need

You will need books to guide you through this instruction to be able to clearly visualize what I’m trying to say. These books are available onboard the ship’s library, located on the Navigation Bridge. As officers and aspiring officers I encourage you to read a lot, and know what you read, and start asking questions. That is how you will learn it onboard the ship. The books are as follows:

  • Bridge Team Management 2nd Edition (by: Capt. AJ Smith)
  • Bridge Procedures and Guide 4th Edition (International Chamber of Shipping)
  • Guides to Port Entry
  • Nautical Publications
  • Charts and Chart Catalogue
  • Notice to Mariners
  • Navarea navigational warnings
  • Weather routing

Start making your Voyage Plan

I hope I didn’t miss anything but it is better to check your company’s checklist regarding “Passage Plan Appraisal” to be sure. If you cannot find it, you can simply find a useful checklist on the book “Bridge Procedures Guide”. Always look for the latest edition that you have onboard. Now that you have the tools and information that you need, you can start making your voyage plan.

  • First, list down the charts that you will need during the passage. This will include large scale charts, which you will use during coastal navigation; and small scale charts, which you will use during ocean navigation.
  • With the list that you’ve made, start arranging the charts according to the consecutive order that you have listed.
  • Always have a general or index chart, which you will use as reference, especially when you’re handling a lot of charts. As beginners you would most likely get lost in plotting. You must have an overview where you are plotting your courses.
  • Remember that the distance to go that you will give to your Captain will be from pilot to pilot station. That means from pilot station departure port to pilot station arrival port. The Pilotage waypoint is not included in your sea passage calculation of distance run. You will have a different calculation for that.
  • You must know how much will be the remaining distance from pilot station to berth.
  • When you already have your list of waypoints, start calculating your courses and distances. There are a lot of computer software that you can use to calculate course and distance. Don’t torture yourself calculating them manually.
  • When you are already sure and satisfied with the results, you can tell the captain the distance to go to the next port.

Plotting your courses

When plotting your courses, always put in mind your maximum draft, air draft, maneuverability of your ship, etc.

  • You must know your ship’s limitation.
  • Apply parallel indexing, position frequency, course alteration or wheel over position, bearing and distance off from a landmark, bouyage system, reporting positions and reporting systems, leading lines, and other means of position fixing other than GPS and ARPA.
  • All of this is listed down in the book “Bridge Team Management”.

Paper works

Preparing the Chart is just one part of the voyage plan, You must also prepare the Voyage Planning report which will be signed by you as the navigating officer and co-signed by the Master, Chief Officer and the Third officer, to indicate that they concur to the voyage plan that you have prepared and have checked that it is safe to navigate the ship as per voyage plan.

Your first voyage plan will most likely consume a lot of your time. Don’t be discouraged! As you go along and as you do it every time, you will get used to it and you will find a system or a way to make it easier. Constant upgrading of your knowledge will be your key to success and awareness to our constantly evolving and improving Maritime Industry.

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