Seamanship is the art of operating a ship or boat.
It involves a knowledge of a variety of topics and development of specialised skills including: navigation and international maritime law; weather, meteorology and forecasting; watchstanding; ship-handling and small boat handling; operation of deck equipment, anchors and cables; ropework and line handling; communications; sailing; engines; execution of evolutions such as towing; cargo handling equipment, dangerous cargoes and cargo storage; dealing with emergencies; survival at sea and search and rescue; fire fighting.
The degree of knowledge needed within these areas is dependent upon the nature of the work and the type of vessel employed by a mariner. However, the practice of good seamanship should be the goal of all.
More than just finding a vessel's present location, safe navigation includes predicting future location, route planning and collision avoidance. Nautical navigation in western nations, like air navigation, is based on the nautical mile
A fundamental skill of professional seamanship is being able to maneuver a vessel with accuracy and precision. Unlike vehicles on land, a ship afloat is subject to the movements of the air around it and the water in which it floats. Another complicating factor is the mass of a ship that has to be accounted for when stopping and starting.
Ship-handling is about arriving and departing a berth or buoy, maneuvering in confined channels and harbours and in proximity to other ships, whilst at all times navigating safely. Two other types of operations, berthing alongside another ship and replenishment at sea, are occasionally included. A key ability for a ship-handler is an innate understanding of how the wind, tide and swell, the passage of other vessels, as well as the shape of the seabed, will affect a vessel's movement, which, together with an understanding of a specific vessels performance, should allow that vessel a safe passage.
Fundamental to low speed maneuvering is an understanding of the configuration and handedness of the propeller(s). An effect known as propeller walk will kick the stern of the vessel to port or starboard depending on the configuration and the type of propeller when large variations on propeller rotation speed or changes of propeller rotation direction take place. (In single screw vessels where the rotation of the propeller is reversed on an astern bell, a standard was established that the propeller would turn clockwise when viewed from astern. This would mean that the propeller would turn counterclockwise when going astern and the stern would walk to port. This aided in docking operations, where "port side to" was the preferred situation and the vessel would be brought to the dock with a small bow-in angle and backing would flatten the angle, slow or stop the vessel and walk it alongside. An exception to this was the U.S. Sealift class tankers which used a controllable pitch propeller, where the pitch and not the direction of rotation was reversed to go astern. These propellers rotated counterclockwise at all times and so the "walk" was "normal".) In addition to being fully conversant with the principles of seamanship and ship-handling a good pilot will have developed his or her sense of 'situational awareness' to a point well beyond that of a member of a ships crew, his reactions will appear to be instinctive, positive and at all times safe.
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