Annex 18 - Steering Gear, Heading and Track Control Systems

The carriage requirements for Heading Control and/or Track Control systems are laid down in Regulation 19, para. 2.8.2.
Regulation 24 sets out requirements for their use.
Regulation 25 sets out requirements for power sources for steering gear.
Regulation 26 sets out requirements for testing steering gear.
The Regulations and these Guidelines supersede MGN 54.
NOTE: Under SOLAS V/74 there was no carriage requirement for this equipment.

1.)The term Heading Control System differentiates the automatic pilot from systems designed to keep a ship on a pre-determined track throughout its passage, which are termed Track Control Systems. Track Control systems have to be interfaced with an electronic position fixing system. Regulation 19, 2.8.2 requires Heading Control or Track Control systems to be fitted to all vessels of 10000 GT and upward. There is no requirement to fit a Track Control system to any class of ship. Track Control systems include the functional capabilities of Heading Control systems.

2.) A contributory cause of many casualties has been the improper use of, or over reliance upon heading control systems. Collisions have occurred where one and sometimes both vessels have been on automatic steering with no proper lookout being kept. Strandings and other casualties have occurred when heading control systems have been used in restricted waters with no one immediately available to take the wheel. Casualties have also resulted from watchkeepers not being familiar with the procedures and precautions necessary when changing over from heading control system to manual steering. It is particularly important for watchkeepers to understand the difference between using heading control systems in Follow-up (FU) and Non-follow-up (NFU) modes. i.e in FU mode (using for example a steering wheel) the rudder will alter to the rudder angle the wheel is set to, but in NFU mode (using for example a joystick) the rudder will continue to turn as the joystick is moved to port or starboard.

3.) If operators do not use all the control options which may be incorporated by the equipment manufacturers into the control console, positive measures should be taken to prevent redundant control settings being used inadvertently, and the labeling arrangements should be amended accordingly.

4.) Regulation 24 covers the use of Heading and Track Control systems. Masters, skippers and wachkeeping officers should comply with these requirements as well as the general need to ensure that arrangements are adequate for maintaining a safe navigational watch.

5.) Masters, skippers and all watchkeeping personnel must be familiar with the procedure for changing over from automatic to manual steering as required by Regulation 24, and must ensure that sufficient time is allowed for the operation. It should be noted that Heading and/or Track control systems should only be used in heavy traffic, restricted visibility and all other hazardous navigational circumstances when manual control can be established immediately and when a qualified helmsperson is ready to take over steering control (Reg. 24.1 and 24.2). The changeover from manual to automatic steering and vice-versa should be made by, or under the supervision of, the officer of the watch or the master. If change over cannot be achieved within 30 seconds, the ship should be steered manually in such conditions.

6.) Clear instructions must be provided at the control console, and special attention should be given to the procedure when joining a ship. The operations manual should be kept on the bridge and be readily available to masters, skippers and navigation watchkeepers.

7.) Attention is drawn to the possible inability of the equipment to accurately maintain set headings when at slow speeds and/or in heavy seas. The performance of heading control systems is dependent upon correct control settings suited to the prevailing conditions of the ship’s speed, displacement and, particularly, the sea state. Use of the heading control system must be restricted to conditions within the designed parameters.

8.) Some steering gear control systems enable alignment to be maintained between the helm and the steering gear at all times, irrespective of whether the heading control system is, or has been, in use. Where the design does not include this provision, suitable measures should be taken immediately before and after the changeover to ensure that the helm and steering gear are aligned.

9.) Regulation 24.4 requires that the manual steering should be tested after prolonged use of the heading / track control system and before entering areas which require navigation with special caution. The MCA recommends that the manual steering be tested at least once a day and before entering areas where caution is required. During this test, the wheel (or equivalent) should be engaged and the ship steered by hand. It is strongly recommended that a roster system should be employed so that all persons qualified to steer take a turn. They should steer the vessel for a sufficient period for them to maintain their proficiency, including manoeuvring the vessel and gaining experience in the vessel’s response to helm orders. It is also strongly recommended that the heading control system should be tested manually at least once per watch. This test should include the operation of the manual steering over-ride alter course control, incorporated into the heading control system console.

10.) In areas requiring navigation with special caution Regulation 25 requires more than one steering gear power unit to be in operation (if fitted and capable of simultaneous operation.)

11.) Tests and checks - Regulation 26 lays down the requirements for testing the steering gear within the 12 hours before the ship leaves port. The Administration may waive this requirement for ships on regular short voyages. For UK-registered vessels engaged on regular services of less than 24 hours duration a check and test of the steering gear need only be made once a week unless part of the steering gear or its control system has been dismantled or changed since the last test.

Regulation 26 also requires officers to familiar with the systems and change-over procedures and for emergency steering drills to be carried out at least once every 3 months.

12.) Recording tests and checks - Regulation 26.6 requires steering gear checks and tests to be recorded. The date, time and place that the checks and emergency steering gear drills are carried out should be recorded by the master in the official logbook. On ships not required to carry an official logbook a record of the tests, checks and drills should be retained on board by the master or skipper and available for inspection on request.


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