Terms & Glossaries of Shipping and Trading

Afternoon Watch

The Afternoon Watch refers to the period of duty/working hours on board a vessel from noon to 4:00 PM.

Understanding the Afternoon Watch: Navigating Through Time Aboard Ships

In the realm of maritime tradition, the concept of keeping time holds significance beyond the mere tracking of hours; it is a fundamental aspect that ensures the ship's operations run smoothly and efficiently. One of the key components of this time-keeping system is the "Afternoon Watch." This term, steeped in nautical tradition, refers to one of the shifts that make up the 24-hour cycle aboard ships. The afternoon watch is an essential part of the daily routine for the crew, governing work, rest, and responsibilities.

The Division of Watches

To comprehend the role of the Afternoon Watch, it's crucial to first understand how time is divided aboard a ship. Traditionally, the day is split into six four-hour watches, plus two two-hour dog watches that break up the evening hours. This system ensures that the 24-hour day is divided so that sailors work in shifts, allowing for continuous operation of the vessel without overtaxing the crew.

The watches are as follows:

● Midnight to 4 AM: The Middle Watch
● 4 AM to 8 AM: The Morning Watch
● 8 AM to Noon: The Forenoon Watch
● Noon to 4 PM: The Afternoon Watch
● 4 PM to 6 PM: The First Dog Watch
● 6 PM to 8 PM: The Second Dog Watch
● 8 PM to Midnight: The First Watch

The Role and Importance of the Afternoon Watch

The Afternoon Watch, running from noon to 4 PM, is integral for a variety of reasons. It marks the transition between the morning's end and the evening's start, a time when the sun is typically at its highest and visibility is at its best, assuming good weather. This period is crucial for navigation, as clear skies allow for precise sun sightings to determine the ship's position.

During the Afternoon Watch, key daily activities take place. Routine maintenance, safety drills, and inspections often are scheduled during this time to take advantage of the daylight. It's also a period for the crew to engage in continuous monitoring of the ship's course, speed, and any potential hazards that might arise, including changes in weather or sea conditions.

Additionally, the Afternoon Watch has a significant role in the social structure aboard the ship. It's the final watch before the sequence of the dog watches, which break the monotony of the watch system and allow for more social interaction among the crew. The end of the Afternoon Watch often signifies a time for rest and preparation for the activities of the evening.

The Historical Context

The division of the day into watches, including the Afternoon Watch, has a deep-rooted history in maritime tradition, tracing back to the age of sail. This system was not just about work; it was about survival. Knowing the time was crucial for navigation, and the watch system ensured that there was always a team ready to respond to any eventuality, whether it be changing sails, managing the helm, or responding to emergencies.


The Afternoon Watch is more than just a segment of the ship's schedule; it is a critical period that encompasses vital activities related to navigation, maintenance, and crew welfare. Its role in maritime operations underscores the importance of timekeeping and crew management in ensuring the safe and efficient passage of vessels across the world's oceans. As we continue to advance in technology and navigation methods, the principles behind the Afternoon Watch and the watch system as a whole remain a testament to the enduring legacy of maritime tradition.