What is the Cruise Ship Bridge?

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The bridge is the most important area of any ship, including all cruise ships. If you think of a cruise ship as a large, complex organism, the ship’s bridge would be the vessel’s brain.

Not only is it where the captain and the other high-ranking officers navigate and control the ship’s most important operations, but it is also where communications with other ships and authorities on shore are conducted.

To help you learn more about this incredibly important and highly advanced control center, we will offer a detailed guide to the main components of a cruise ship bridge. We will also answer some common questions cruise ship passengers have about ship bridges, so you can better understand how cruise ships are operated.

What Is a Cruise Ship Bridge?

Essentially, a cruise ship bridge is a dedicated control room near the front of the ship. Ship bridges are located towards the front of a cruise ship in an elevated position, allowing the captain and other crew within the bridge to have an unobstructed view of what is ahead of the vessel.

In most cases, the ship bridge will have windows facing most directions so that the crew can see ahead and down the sides of the ship. In fact, most ship bridges will have a 255° view of the path forward, allowing for more visibility on both the port and starboard sides of the vessel.

Front of Cruise Ship

As mentioned, the cruise ship bridge is where all major navigational decisions are made and executed. Basically, it is the command center where all of the cruise ship’s operations are carried out. The ship bridge is also where decisions are made regarding the ship’s speed.

In addition to navigation, decisions made within the bridge are important for the safety of the ship’s passengers and crew. Not only does this mean those stationed within the bridge are responsible for avoiding obstacles, challenging weather conditions, and other potential hazards, it is where communication with ships, rescue personnel, and authorities located on land is carried out.

Why Is This Area Called the Ship Bridge?

The term “ship bridge” was used well before modern-day cruise ships were established. Originally, the term referred to a raised platform built at the top of a ship’s deck to give the ship’s captain a better view of the path ahead.

Bridge Wing
Photo Credit: waupee08 / Shutterstock

Since then, the term ship bridge has become a blanket term for the command area of just about any type of ship, including cruise ships. Since the bridge is where a ship’s captain and other officers control its navigation, it serves a similar purpose to the original raised platforms used on traditional sailing ships.

What Are the Main Areas of a Cruise Ship Bridge?

To give you a better understanding of the interior of a cruise ship’s command center, here are the main areas of a cruise ship bridge and the purposes they serve.

The Navigation Area

The bridge will feature a primary and secondary navigation area. Naturally, this is where the ship’s navigational equipment is located, including radar systems, GPS tracking equipment, and various chart plotting systems. You can also find backup navigation charts in these areas, which are used as a fail-safe if the ship’s navigational equipment fails.

Navigation Systems
Navigation Systems (Photo Credit: Alexey Seafarer / Shutterstock)

To ensure an unobstructed view, the two navigation areas are almost always located at the front of the bridge or on an elevated platform. 

The Control Area

The ship’s speed and steering systems are located in the control area. Here you will find the primary engine control system, computer systems, steering mechanisms, and throttle controls.

Experienced officers are typically found here, as some of the ship’s most important functions are controlled in this area. In most cases, this area will be located to the side of the navigation area, as the two are closely related.

The Communication Area

The communication area of the bridge is where the cruise ship’s primary communications systems are located. This includes everything from satellite communication systems to sophisticated radios and telephones wired directly to the engine room.

Communication Systems
Photo Credit: Iarozlav / Shutterstock

Worth Reading: Secret Codes on Cruise Ships Only Crew Members Know!

This area is vital, as it allows the crew to communicate with other ships, shore-based authorities, and crew members in other areas of the ship. This area can be located in various parts of the bridge, but it is often located very close to the captain’s command center.

The Command Center

As the name implies, the captain and other high-ranking crew oversee all of the cruise ship’s essential operations. It is also where you will find the captain’s elevated chair.

Cruise Ship Bridge
Photo Credit: Philip Schubert / Shutterstock

Here you will find various display screens that give the captain instantaneous feedback about the cruise ship’s course, speed, and overall status.

Typically, it is located towards the back of the bridge but retains a clear view of the path ahead. This allows the captain’s voice to project forward so that all crew members can hear their commands clearly.

Main Observation and Lookout Deck

Towards the front of the bridge, you will often find a lowered observation and lookout deck. This area allows the captain and crew to get a clear view of the path ahead without blocking the view of crew members still at their stations. 

For most cruise ships, this area is where you will find the best view of the entire ship.

The Bridge Wings

The bridge wings are extended platforms that protrude from either side of the bridge. These enclosed platforms exist to provide the navigational crew with better visibility, especially during docking procedures, and when the ship is navigating narrow waterways.

Since the bridge wings extend beyond the cruise ship’s hull, officers and other bridge crew members are able to have a much clearer view of either side of the ship.

Cruise Ship Officers on the Bridge
Cruise Ship Officers on the Bridge (Photo Credit: Tony Skerl / Shutterstock)

This improved visibility allows the crew to more accurately gauge the distance to a docking platform, as well as any potential hazards to either side of the ship.

Direct contact is maintained between the bridge and those crew members that are stationed within the bridge wings during docking. In doing so, those on the bridge wings can provide guidance, and relay critical, up-to-date information as the thrusters are used to control the ship’s movement.

By working together, the crew members are able to ensure safe and precise maneuvering while docking and avoiding obstacles.

Crew Accommodations and Break Room

With some of the larger cruise ships, where a large crew is required to be on the bridge at all times, there may also be small living quarters towards the back of the bridge.

This allows the captain, as well as other members of the bridge crew, to rest and recuperate without needing to travel far. In an emergency scenario, the captain and their crew must be able to return to the bridge in as little time as possible.

Relax Area on the Bridge
Photo Credit: Philip Schubert / Shutterstock

Most vessels will have at least a bathroom in this area, but others can feature the captain’s quarters, beds, tables, and a small kitchenette, so crew members can take small breaks and rest during longer journeys.

Type of Personnel That Can Be Found on a Cruise Ship’s Bridge

Although the exact number of people found working on the ship’s bridge will depend on the size of the cruise ship, as well as the duration of the voyage, you will typically find the following types of personnel there:

The Ship’s Captain

The captain fulfills the most crucial role of a crew member on a cruise ship. This is reflected by the fact that they are considered the highest-ranking officer on the ship.

Read Also: What’s a Typical Cruise Ship Captain Salary?

Captain Kate McCue
Photo Courtesy: Celebrity Cruises

The captain will spend most of their time on the bridge in the command center. From here, they will oversee all operations within the bridge, including everything from navigation decisions to safety drills.

To learn what is required of a cruise ship captain and the skills needed to become one yourself, we recommend reading about how to become a cruise ship captain.

The Staff Captain

For most cruise ships, the staff captain acts as the captain’s second-in-command. All crew members will report to the staff captain when the captain is away. Basically, their role is to assist the captain and ensure that all operations are carried out safely and according to protocol.

Helmsmen

The helmsmen or helmsman steers the ship according to the captain’s directions. They also maintain regular contact with navigation officers, ensuring the cruise ship stays on course. 

Typically, they will spend almost all of their time in the control area, which is located in the middle of the bridge on most ships.

Navigation Officers

As the name implies, navigation officers operate the cruise ship’s navigational equipment. They are also expected to have a professional understanding of navigational and depth charts, so they can continue to plot the ship’s course in the event of an equipment failure. They spend their time in the navigation area of the bridge, and they typically work in teams.

How to become a cruise ship captain
Photo Credit: Michele Rinaldi / Shutterstock

Communications Officers

Communications officers operate all of the communications equipment within the bridge. This means they must have an expert understanding of maritime radio procedures.

They also operate satellite communications systems and make in-calls to various other ship sections when commanded by the captain or staff captain.

Engine Officer

The engine officer is the direct link between the engine room and the ship’s bridge. They ensure the large vessel maintains its speed, direction, and course.

Engine Control Room

They also understand the ship’s limitations, as well as its current status and performance. The captain often speaks directly with the engine officer, especially during emergencies.

Lookouts and Junior Officers

Lookouts and junior officers perform general duties on the bridge for larger cruise ships. They should have a basic understanding of most roles on the bridge, so they can step in when required. 

Carnival Venezia Joins the Fleet
Photo Courtesy: Carnival Cruise Line

While traversing narrow or high-traffic waterways, they are also expected to keep a close eye on the ship’s surroundings to prevent collisions and other dangerous situations.

Is it Possible for Cruise Ship Passengers to Visit the Bridge?

Given the bridge’s significance and the fact that it is where the captain performs most of their duties, many cruise ship passengers hope to visit it while on board a cruise ship. This is particularly true for those with small children.

Whether or not this is possible for passengers to visit the bridge depends on the exact policies of the cruise line you are vacationing with. It is also up to the discretion of the captain and other bridge personnel.

Behind the Scenes Tour
Behind the Scenes Tour (Photo Credit: Philip Schubert / Shutterstock)

While some will allow a small number of passengers to have a limited tour of the bridge, mainly while the ship is in port, the area is almost always only accessible to authorized personnel.

This is due to safety and security concerns. The last thing a captain would want is for their bridge crew to become distracted from their duties due to the presence of passengers and others.

Read Also: What a Cruise Ship Engine Room Looks Like

If you are interested in visiting the bridge of a ship you are traveling with, look into the exact policies and offerings of that cruise line company.

Some will allow passengers to meet the captain and other high-ranking officers during a guided tour. During some of these tours, it is possible to get a limited look at the bridge and explain how the equipment on the bridge actually works.

Bridge of a Vessel
Bridge of a Vessel (Photo Credit: Trygve Finkelsen / Shutterstock)

While there are no guarantees that you will be able to do so, these tours are often something you will need to register for ahead of time and pay a fee to participate in.

Again, if you are lucky enough to participate in a bridge tour, it will take place while the ship is in the harbor. You may also be required to stick to strict behavioral guidelines and even follow a specific dress code.

Are Bridge Tours Worth the Price?

While costs will vary depending on the cruise line, most of these tours cost about $100 and must be booked ahead of time. 

These behind-the-scenes tours can certainly be interesting, but it is essential to understand that there are limitations. For starters, you likely won’t see too much action, as they are rarely scheduled while the ship is at sea.

View from the Bridge
Photo Credit: Philip Schubert / Shutterstock

With that said, for naval enthusiasts who want to understand the actual workings and operations of the ship they have boarded, it can be a very worthwhile experience.

It comes down to your preferences. If you are interested in participating in one, you should look into onboard activities well ahead of time, as the available spots on these tours can sell out very quickly.

If you want to see a quick example of a cruise ship bridge tour, you can find a video demonstration of a Princess Cruises bridge tour here.

Final Words

Given that the bridge is one of the most crucial components of any cruise ship, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with the various areas found in this area of the ship. It’s worth a tour of the essential location to discover what goes on behind the scenes.

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