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A bridge wing is a narrow walkway that extends outward from the pilot's house on a ship to the outside edges of the vessel. Commonly outfitted with a control panel on each side, the bridge wing provides an optimal visual position for a captain to maneuver the ship when docking. Large ships typically place the ship's wheel and other vital controls in the center of the bridge. This positioning does not provide a good view of the ship's outer hull area for the captain as the ship enters close quarters, such as a crowded port or dock area. By moving to the bridge wing, the captain is afforded a much better view of the proximity of the vessel to the dock.
Due, in part, to the vast length of some ships, many large vessels are equipped not only with propellers to move the ship fore and aft, but devices known as thrusters also are positioned in the hull of the ship to assist in moving the craft from port to starboard and back. This side-to-side motion is commonly required when attempting to dock larger vessels. The main difficulty in this side-to-side movement of the ship is proper vision. The solution to this problem, for many ships, is the bridge wing.
The bridge wing allows the captain of a ship to get a much clearer understanding of what needs to be done to the ship when entering or exiting a docking position by allowing him to look straight down the side of the hull. While not a complete set of controls, there are enough controls located on a panel on both sides of the ship's bridge wing to enable the captain to use the thrusters and rudder to complete the docking maneuver in most cases. In some circumstances, the outside control panels require a key to enable or disable them, thereby preventing unwanted or unauthorized use from anyone other than the ship's captain.
On very long cruises, the ship's captain might take the opportunity to stand on the bridge wing and get a breath of fresh air. The area surrounding the bridge wing is very rarely closed in. This area is designed to remain an open area, designed to give a bird's-eye view of the side of the ship's hull, and enclosing the area would be self-defeating. Occasionally, a spotlight will be fitted to the railing of the bridge wing to allow the captain to brighten any dark area, thus providing the best visual picture of the area possible.