Cruise Ship Bridge: Fully Explained (inc Bridge Tour)

You might hear the bridge of the ship mentioned in passing, but it’s not an area of the ship most passengers ever get to see.

So, what goes on in the bridge, why is it called that, who works there, and what do they do?

Well, read on to find out the answers to all your bridge-related curiosities.

What Is The Bridge On A Cruise Ship?

The cruise ship bridge is the command center,  located at the front of the ship on the upper decks.  It’s the area of the ship where all the ship’s controls to navigate the ship is located, it’s the equivalent of a large cockpit area.

It is from here that the cruise captain and bridge crew members take their positions and carry out their navigational duties.

The bridge area is typically made of reinforced glass, giving a clear wide view of the waters and conditions ahead.

Accordingly, the bridge of a ship is the area from which the primary functions of directing and controlling the speed are actioned.

Cruise Ship Bridge Navigation Controls

Why Is It Called A Bridge On a Ship

The term “bridge” originates from the days of paddle steamers when a raised walkway was put up across both paddle houses, creating a bridge so that both sides and paddle wheels of the ship could be viewed by the captain from the quarter-deck.

For a full history of the bridge’s origins on a ship, watch this video.

Even though nowadays, a more modern term might, cruise ship control room, might have been used, the nautical term has stuck.

Cruise Ship Bridge Crew Members

There several deck officers working on the bridging, including:

Cruise captain:  is the head of the navigational bridge teams and carries out or oversee’s all navigational elements of the ship.

Officer of the Watch:  is responsible for watching the ship’s navigation, ensuring a smooth sail.  Basically the person currently in charge of driving the ship.

Assistant Officer of the Watch: Assisting the OOW.

Quartermaster Lookout: Lookout for obstacles as well as other navigational duties.

Harbor Pilots: Come aboard from local ports with expert knowledge of the local waters and conditions and assist the bridge team in docking or departing.

Interestingly, when a harbor pilot comes abroad is one of the few times a deck officer takes the helm and uses the ship’s wheel.

Bridge teams work in rotation, with teams working a set number of hours off while replaced by another.  Usually, three teams are working the rotation. 

In Captain Kates’s video, she stated that “three different teams worked every 4 hours on and 8 hours off”.

Although there is only one captain, who can be contacted 24/7 if required, the captain’s quarters can be accessed directly from the bridge.  

Bridge officer with binoculars viewing ahead from Ms Nieuw Statendam
Bridge Officer – MS Nieuw Statendam (Photo Credit Holland America Line)

Cruise Ship Bridge Layout

The cruise bridge has a central cockpit from which all the ship’s maneuvers can be controlled.

When coming or leaving a pier, the command controls can be transferred to either one of the bridge wings.

Cruise Ship Bridge Wing

Cruise bridge wings is a glass surround extension on either side of the bridge.  

Whichever side the ship is coming into port, port or starboard, the bridge wing gives an excellent view of the port and the length of the cruise ship.  

There is often a glass floor on the bridge wing so the crew can even see what’s directly beneath them.

It’s much like a wing mirror on a car, just one you can walk into.

Each bridge wing has its own set of command controls which gives the bridge crew an important and clear first-hand view of when they are docking or when a harbor pilot is coming onboard via the shell door or departing the ship.

Bridge and Bridge Wing on Cruise ship

Cruise Ship Bridge Tour (Who Offers Them, How Much, Any Videos)

Some cruise ships offer cruise tours to passengers onboard, so check your onboard activities to see if you can book one.  The numbers are limited, so they quickly sell out.  

However, for now, what better bridge tour than the one by Captain Kate?  

In the video below, she gives a bridge tour of Celebrity Edge.

Open Bridge Policy

Some cruise ships, typically smaller ones or expedition cruise ships, have an open bridge policy that allows passengers to go up to the bridge area outside of busy periods, such as when undertaking docking maneuvers that require full attention.

Cruise lines with known open bridge policies include:

  • Star Clippers
  • Windstar

Bridge Equipment

These days the vast majority of the navigational equipment is electrical.  There is little or no need for any paper maps or charts.

A cruise ship bridge is made up of multiple stations. 

There are also multiple monitors displaying varying navigational information.  As well as some other monitors displaying the live status of key areas of the ship.

Navigation Displays include showing:

  • Compass – gyro magnetic compasses
  • Radars – with various ranges
  • Route to destinations
  • Satellite Navigation Systems indicate the global positioning
  • Estimate time of arrival at the destination
  • Ships speed
  • Wind speed & direction
  • Clock for time
  • Echo Sounder
  • Engine room alarm panel
  • Speed Log

There will be individual controls and monitors for the current status of:

  • Anchor 
  • Azipods for propulsion
  • Ballast Control Unit
  • Bow Thrusters for maneuvering
  • Dynamic Positioning System

There will also be extra related rooms near the bridge used by deck offices, including:

  • Chart room
  • Meeting room
  • Safety Room

Why is A Cruise Ship Bridge Dark At Night?

It is a legal requirement for cruise ship bridge lights to be turned off at night.  If the lights were on it would make it more difficult for the deck officers, including the lookout, to get a clear view of what’s around and some possible obstacles that could be missed.

Although there are no main lights on in the bridge, all the controls and monitors are lit up and the ship’s navigational lights are on as well.

Here’s a video of bridge controls at night to give you an idea.  Although it’s not a cruise ship, it gives you an idea of what some stations would be like.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s The Difference Between A Wheelhouse and a Bridge?

A wheelhouse and a bridge on modern-day ships essentially refer to the same thing, the only difference being their size.

On a large cruise ship, the ship’s command center spans the front of the upper decks, referred to as a bridge.

On a smaller vessel, for example, a river cruise ship, the much smaller command room will more likely be referred to as the Wheelhouse.

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