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Because There's A Lot Of Open Water Out There

Lookout: the guy who shouts "look the fuck out" when you're really fucked. But what if you're the lookout? What exactly are you looking out for? Well, here goes.
   As a lookout on cruise, you'll either be stationed on the bridge wings or the bow. Just so you know, it'll probably be pretty cold out there, so bring a jacket to every night watch. Also, most LWOs wont let you run back to your room if it starts pouring down rain in the middle of a watch. If you expect a slight chance of rain, bring your jacket.
   As a lookout, your job consists entirely of making sure that the navigators know if we are going to hit something or something is going to hit us. You're not there to chat, you're not there to paint the bulwarks, your legal obligation is only to serve as a lookout, nothing more.
   So what do you report: anything and everything. If you see a light, report it. If you see a ship, report it. If you see whales and we could be running them over, report them. If you're on the bow, use the Sound Powered phone that's there to call the bridge. Remember to hold down the button on the handle when talking and listening, that's just how it works. If you're on the bridge wing, just pop your head inside and let one of the seniors know that you see something.
   How do you report something? Give as much information as possible including but not limited to: location, size, shape, color, approximate heading and speed, what it is, what it's doing. See the table at right for more info.

How to report
Using the Points System, (see elsewhere for description), let the mate know where the thing is that you see. Also try to give an indication of distance away if you know. You can state distance relative to the horizon as well (ie. It's just below the horizon)
If you can guess at how big it is, do it, it might help in determining distance
An island usually looks a bit different than a ship, and a tanker looks different than a sailboat. Let 'em know what they're looking for.
White objects are usually the first you'll see because they reflect the most light toward you. If there are multiple objects in an area, specifying color might help narrow down which one you're referring to.
As you'll learn, various lights in particular have different characteristics, and hence different meanings. If you see a light, count the flashes and the timing between, and note the color when reporting it to the bridge.
Course and Speed
If you can guess at which way and how fast the object is moving, it might help the bridge to decide what priority to give the object. Obviously, an object moving toward you at high speed would be given priority, and would require immediate response.
What it's doing
If you see nets, it's probably fishing, and the watch will have to avoid crossing over the nets. If you see cranes over the side or a cable being laid, the vessel must be avoided as well.

What it is

You'll eventually be able to tell what an object is from a ways off. A tanker has a different look than a container vessel and so forth. You'll get used to telling them apart.