Passage Planning in a nutshell


Published: 19 November 2020

Credit to: Igor Kardasov /

"There is no wind that blows right for the sailor who doesn't know where the harbour is"
– Norwegian proverb

A ship is primarily used to transport cargo and/or passengers from one port to another. As above proverb suggests, it requires proper knowledge, planning and execution to navigate the ship safely to its known port of destination. In this article we will focus on an important shipboard operation, i.e. Passage Planning.

A passage plan or voyage plan is developed and used by a ship's bridge team to find the safest, and the most favourable and economical route. This comprehensive plan which covers the voyage from berth to berth and is adapted into the bridge management practices, should be detailed and easy to understand.

With the introduction of ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) and the phase in period completed in July 2018, except for those ships exempted from it, passage planning has entered the digital era. However, the fundamental principles of passage planning remain the same regardless of ECDIS or traditional paper charts.

SOLAS chapter V Regulation 34, Annex 24 and 25 - Guideline for Voyage Planning (IMO Resolution 893(21)) and STCW Code Section A VIII/2 part 3-1 - provide the guidance for Passage Planning.

There are four stages for passage planning:

  1. Appraising all relevant information
  2. Planning the intended voyage
  3. Executing the plan taking account of prevailing conditions
  4. Monitoring the vessel's progress against the plan continuously

1. Appraisal

The ship's master will discuss with the second mate (the officer in charge of navigational matters) on the voyage order received, destination port and how he intends to sail there. Based on the master's advice the officer will gather all information relevant to the proposed passage, including ascertaining the risks and assessing its critical areas.

The following are, but not limited to, publications or e-publications, charts or e-charts and information used in passage planning:

Chart catalogue Type of cargo in carriage
Charts/Notices to Mariners Guide to Port Entry
Routing Charts/Load Line chart Port Distance calculating software/table
Ocean Passages of the World Ship Routing system
Mariner's Handbook Navigational and Weather warnings
Admiralty Sailing Directions Drafts, UKC and stability data
Admiralty List of Radio Signals Past experiences of officers for the voyage
Admiralty List of Lights and Fog Signals Company's standing instructions
Admiralty List of Radio Signals Master's standing instructions
Tide Tables and Tidal stream Charterer's instructions


2. Planning

Once an appraisal is made using the publications and information in hand, the officer will prepare a plan which is detailed and simple to understand. The plan is first laid out on a small-scale chart, which is then transferred to charts of suitable scales, and then tweaked and modified as and when deemed necessary.

It is a good standard practice to lay out the plan from berth to berth and to mark dangerous areas such as wrecks, shallow areas, hazardous coastal areas, fish farms or fishing zones, reefs, small islets, anchorages, heavy shipping, density areas, Traffic Separation Scheme precautionary areas and any other relevant information that will assist with safe navigation.

No-Go areas/Dangerous areas Leading lines
Margins of safety/Safety settings/Limits Change in engine status
Charted Tracks Minimum UKC (Under Keel Clearance)
Course alterations and wheel over points Use of Echo Sounder
Parallel Indexing Head Mark
Deviation, abort points and Contingencies Tides and Current
Clearing line and bearings Reporting areas

The voyage may not go as planned and emergency action may be required when the voyage has to be deviated or aborted. Contingency plans account for such situations, so that the Officer on Watch (OOW) can take immediate action. Contingency planning will include alternative routes, safe anchorages, port of shelter, waiting areas and emergency berths.

The master should thoroughly review the passage plan and provide corrective instructions where necessary. If it is stated in the company SMS (Safety Management System) that shore management should also review the passage plan this is to be effected only with the intention of having one extra barrier in place in order to ensure the highest quality and reduced risk.

A detailed risk assessment and briefing by the master prior to departure should be performed with the members of the bridge and engine teams.


3. Execution

Once the passage plan is reviewed and approved by the master, the bridge team will execute the plan. During the passage the speed is adjusted by the master based on the ETA, traffic density and the sea and weather conditions. The onboard quantity of fuel, water and food ration should also be taken into consideration to prevent shortages.


4. Monitoring

This phase is where the bridge team use their experience, personal judgement, and good seamanship to monitor the safe passage.

Monitoring is checking the position of the vessel by all available means, to ensure it remains within safe distance from any hazardous areas. Plotting the ship's position using more than one method is a good practice and those include e.g. GPS, visual bearings, radar range/bearings and astro-navigation.

At the end of a voyage, a de-briefing meeting is to be held to share experience and lessons learned from the conducted voyage. This information can be used in future passage planning.

We advise members to contact the Skuld Loss Prevention department for any further clarifications.