This is a copy of a post that I made on a different thread but it seems to be more relevant here:
When you are doing long ocean passages, it's a lot harder than you think to stay awake 24/7 with a crew of 2.
I always get a kick out of this discussion and the reality of what new cruising couples do. Here is a typical watch shift.
Shift 1. sunset to midnight
Shift 2. midnight to 4:AM
Shift 3. 4:AM to sunrise
You know what happens at sunrise......whoever is on watch, goes to sleep. The sun is up so the logic is.....you don't need to keep watch anymore.
Guess what, ships in transit don't keep night-time hours. They run 24 hours a day and all you have to do is be unattentive for 20 minutes
and you can get run down. Chances of it actually happening.....probably about 10,000:1.
The reality is, "stuff happens" out at sea. In 80,000 miles and 2 circumnavigations, I have had 2 close calls. One was at night, while someone was on watch and one was in the middle of the day and no one was on watch. We were down below playing cards and we heard the droaning of an engine
. By the time we got on deck
, the ship passed us by about 150' (about the width of her beam). If it would have been closer, we could not have gotten out of the way. I called the ship on the VHF
and they had no idea where we were.
We have a hard and fast rule
that we keep watch 24/7 if we are within 100 miles of land. After that, we rely on radar
with an alarm
set at 6 miles and we go to bed
. If the alarm
goes off, I get up and take a look around. That will usually happen 4-10 times a day. 95% of the time, it is a false alarm (sensitivity setting). The other time, it will be a ship passing far away and we would probably not have seen them if we were watching.
In order to keep a proper watch, you need a minimum of 3 people. 4 hours on, 8 hours off. Each person taking 2 shifts a day. Any less than that and you are kidding yourselves.
Long ocean passages has it's risks. getting run down is one of them. Hitting a partially submerged container or other large item is another. One time we hit a Whale Shark, off of Indonesia
. It was kinda like hitting a big fat bag of lard but it could have been something worse. There is no way that you can see stuff in the water
One of the most shocking things that I ever saw was in 1985. We were anchored in Western Samoa
and a smaller container ship came in and there was a yacht's mast
stuck between the anchor
and the hull
. There was also a fresh scratch in the paint
, all the way down the hull
. I jumped in my dinghy
and went over to the ship. It was a German Capt but he spoke English
. They had no idea that the mast
was there or that they even hit anything. That really scared the crap out of us for awhile.
I am not advocating carelessness here, just plain reality. The risk of being run down is not anywhere near as high on the open ocean that it is walking across the street. The closer to land that you are sailing, the higher the concentration of ships. Kinda like the difference bewtween jay-walking in Manhattan and jay-walking in Podunk Idaho.