Cruisers Forum

Join CruisersForum Today

Thread Tools Rate Thread Display Modes
Old 06-01-2011, 08:56   #16
Registered User

Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: ft.myers,fl
Boat: rhodes,seafarer,28
Posts: 137
Delivered a boat across the Atlantic last year. The autohelm broke down on our second day out. We did 4 on 4 off all the way to Antigua and were exhausted when we got there. Got the autohelm fixed and finished our delivery to Florida with the same 4 on 4 off and felt good opon our arival. The truth be told, I did nod off a feu times so maybe next time I'l try 6 on and 6 off.

capt.bobfm is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 09:34   #17
Registered User
skipgundlach's Avatar

Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Currently on the boat, somewhere on the ocean, living the dream
Boat: Morgan 461 S/Y Flying Pig
Posts: 1,143
Send a message via Skype™ to skipgundlach
Everyone will have their own rhythms, so one size doesn't fit all.

Our routine is that we stay on watch as long as we're fully comfortable. When we start to get sleepy, we change. However, the rule is for anyone instigating a change (asking for relief) immediately then goes below, brushes their teeth, and gets into bed. You never know when a second hand might be needed.

You sleep for as long as you can, or until wakened to take over. If the "calling party", you put on, and make, a pot of coffee for the relief before waking them, so they don't have to deal with that at the same time as taking over. Brief the incoming on all that's going on, and head to bed.

That irregularity has served us very well. Sometimes a watch might be well over 8 hours, if the relief is well rested. Other times it might be as small as 3-4 hours. In the end, each crew should be rested and ready to go.

Case in point was our passage from FL to ME a couple of years ago. After 9 days, we arrived in Portland fresh and comfortable. Aside from a short nap before receiving some fuel from a friend (we ran out just before entering Portland), there was no recovery time needed, and that nap was more to take advantage of an impossibility to do anything else at the moment :{))


Skip, currently lying George Town, Exuma Bahamas

Morgan 461 #2 SV Flying Pig, KI4MPC
See our galleries at!
Follow us at
skipgundlach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 11:30   #18

Cruisers Forum Supporter

Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 12,083
Abayley, all the research in the past 50+ years has come out saying the same things. Unless you are one of a very rare humans need one 5-6 hour "great sleep" every 24 hours in order to perform at their best. Any shift which does not give you this "great sleep" will result in fatigue problems, mistakes, falling asleep, running aground, burning yourself on the stove...all the usual fatigue issues, which many people deny having but objective testing always finds.

On the other end of things, if you are "on shift" more than 10-12 hours mistakes also soar. If you are trying to do really critical work, like helming a boat in storm seas, you may be fatigued in 20 minutes to two hours (max).

So you need to balance your personal limits--limits made with all "macho" and superhero factors cast aside--with the need to be awake, to be asleep, to compromise fatigue and spend some time together awake on the boat.

And the definition of "sleep deprived" actually is whether you need an alarm clock to wake you. If you need the alarm--you haven't gotten enough sleep, you will not be operating at your best.

Shorhanded crew just have to pick a compromise that works, and often that means flexing from a rigid watch, i.e. "You looked tired, so I let you sleep."

Using a 23 or 25 hour cycle instead of mindlessly following 24, also can work very well. Human body clocks aren't actually set for 24 hours anyway.
hellosailor is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 11:52   #19
cat herder, extreme blacksheep
zeehag's Avatar

Cruisers Forum Supporter

Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: furycame alley , tropics, mexico for now
Boat: 1976 FORMOSA yankee clipper 41
Posts: 16,503
Images: 56
Send a message via Yahoo to zeehag Send a message via Skype™ to zeehag
sailed shorthanded in gulf-- we went on longer passages and did 4 on 4 off--worked perfect, in storms we did 2 on 2 off-- the 4 hours barely gives ye a chance to rest. 6 hours is way too long -- especially if you encounter seas or winds and have to fight or work hard. 3 doesnt cut it--ye just get to sleep by the time watch starts again--same with 2 on 2 off--is bs. exhaustion and shipwrecks ye.. every time. is necessary to consider.
zeehag is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 11:59   #20
Marine Service Provider
wadda's Avatar

Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Sydney
Boat: Allied Mistress 39'
Posts: 89
We do a 4 on 4 off with some flexibility.

On watch can stay longer but must remain cognizant s/he will be back on in 4.

Off watch can begin early but must keep in mind the watch still ends at 12, 4, or 8.

We found with 4 hours there's enough time to get some good sleep. After a few days there's a natural rhythm and the time flies.
wadda is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 18:11   #21
Registered User
skipgundlach's Avatar

Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Currently on the boat, somewhere on the ocean, living the dream
Boat: Morgan 461 S/Y Flying Pig
Posts: 1,143
Send a message via Skype™ to skipgundlach
From another forum, on the sinking of Rule 62:

I have commented earlier in this discussion about how seasickness and exhaustion probably contributed to Rule 62's skipper's poor decision making. The reader may be interested in reading a study that demonstrates the effects of sleep loss on performance, viz.: Roehrs T, Burduvali E, Bonahoom A, Drake C, Roth T. Ethanol and sleep loss: a "dose" comparison of impairing effects. Sleep. 2003;26:981-985

To summarize, sleep loss was shown to be more potent than ethanol in its sedative effects (8 hours' sleep-loss equals 10 – 12 United States beers) and comparable to ethanol in its effects on reaction time, psychomotor skill, and memory (8 hours' sleep-loss equals 4 -5 United States beers.)

We would never think of giving our crew 5 or 10 beers while sailing offshore, yet if we allow them to become sleep-deprived, we are doing essentially the same thing. Skippers should remember the importance of keeping the crew fit and rested. I insist that my crew sleep during their hours off watch, and I do the same. We ensure that there is a secure sea berth for each crew member.

For the same reason, we treat seasickness aggressively, and we run a dry ship. We want to be alert and we want to make good decisions. As the late Vince Lombardi said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” He was talking about the importance of conditioning for football players, and a similar principle applies to offshore sailors.

On our November passage to Tortola we had four crew in a 3-watch rotation, so each crew member had every fourth day off. That day, the crew member was responsible only for resting, cleaning the saloon, preparing our evening meal, and improving crew morale. It was the best watch schedule we have ever tried. We had no problems with crew fatigue. Does anybody else have a favorite watch schedule?

Not my post, but germane to the discussion...l


Morgan 461 #2 SV Flying Pig, KI4MPC
See our galleries at!
Follow us at
skipgundlach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 18:23   #22
Registered User
captainKJ's Avatar

Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: 3rd wave passed the sea wall
Boat: private yacht always moving
Posts: 1,388
on our boat, commercial, we do 12 on and 12 off, after the 2nd day it gets easier,,, you fall into a routine, I find it easier than 4 on 4 off, this schedule might not work for everyone,,,have tried it on riends sailboat and found it works for me and the crew I sail with, but most of us are used to manning the helm for long periods at a time,,,after doing commercial I don't think i could ever go back to 4 on and 4 off
captainKJ is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 18:41   #23
Registered User
Khagan1227's Avatar

Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Kansas City, MO
Boat: In the hunt again, unknown
Posts: 1,330
Originally Posted by MarkJ View Post
Our very sucessful system:


Person on watch does the cooking. Meals eaten on change of watch.

It gives LONG night sleeps everyone is rested and happy Every second day you get 9 hours sleep in 13 hours
The longer day you only cook once

Dame finest system I've ever used and for 2 people without a doubt one that needs to be tried
I'm with Mark on this. I've done 6 and 6's and you get pretty tired after a few days. Having a dog watch thrown in really helps.

If I can get them I'm going to bring along extra crew forthe long hual. I don't know how Mark got any rest coming across the Atlantic.
Khagan1227 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 21:03   #24
Registered User
bewitched's Avatar

Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 885
Images: 3
Originally Posted by Caribsailors View Post
Ive done trips with two onboard a couple of times. We tried 4 hours and then we settled on 3. The last trip we tried 4 hours during daylight & 3 hours from 1800 to 0600. That was quite comfortable.
This is what I've settled on with 2 on board.
bewitched is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 23:01   #25
Registered User

Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Home is in the Sth West of the UK
Boat: Wright 40 - 1977 build, ketch, 12 mts
Posts: 70
For what it is worth Ruth & I do 4 hrs on 4 hrs off when we are not having to hand steer. Having said that, for the first 2 nights at sea, we neither of us sleep very well and it usually takes us until the third night to get into the rhythm and we also have an alarm in the cockpit set to go off every 20 mins, this is not because we sleep, but to remind us to have a proper look about. We find that we get a good sleep this way and eventually get to stay awake most of the day.
S Y Tuppenny is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 23:22   #26
Registered User
AquatiCat's Avatar

Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: hailing port: Pensacola, now Fort Myers
Boat: Prout Snowgoose 37'
Posts: 88
We thought we could do 4-hour watches, and during the day we could. But at night, we had to crank it down to 3, and in rough weather, 2 -- you know, the stuff that overwhelms an autopilot? Otherwise you just get too tired holding course, fighting it around after every surfing incident. Again, as others have said, that last watch before dawn is the danger zone... VERY easy to drift off on that one b/c your circadian is at extreme low ebb. Set depth alarm and listen to the BBC Wuhld Suhviss, anything you can think of to keep alert from 4 am onward. It can be done, it has been done for years, but multi-day offshores are one of the tougher parts of cruising. You just get pretty darned tired after a while with only two people. Definitely do not expect someone to do a midnight-to-6 successfully from the third day out -- by that time people are too short of sleep to be able to stay awake through that nasty predawn watch, especially if they have been on since midnight. A natural nightowl, for just two nights? Sure, that would work, especially with a friendly wind.
AquatiCat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-01-2011, 23:54   #27
Registered User
CarinaPDX's Avatar

Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Boat: 31' Cape George Cutter
Posts: 1,398
I agree with hellosailor: science shows a longish sleep period is needed every day. Given the time required going off watch or preparing to come on watch, 5 hours off once a day is a minimum.

My watch system for 2 people crossing the Atlantic (both directions) was two 6 hour watches beginning at 8 PM. The 2-8 AM watch made breakfast and had a morning nap afterward, and the 8 PM-2 AM watch got an afternoon nap; there were no fixed times except for the night watches. This also has both people awake for long times during the day, allowing the body's clock to synch to the light. It worked fine, and we arrived relatively rested in both cases.

I hasten to add that we did not have much in the way of physical exertion thanks to the windvane; if we had to hand steer then physical exhaustion would have shortened the watches, at a cost.

I don't like the idea of changing the watches enroute. I think it is better to adapt to a schedule and maintain it. Can you imagine having to work the graveyard shift every other night, alternating with day shifts? Also imagine working 3 hours on/3 off at your regular job for a month: you would be exhausted. Being out on the ocean is tiring without the burden of such a schedule. So put a priority on getting a good sleep every night.

A related issue is that it is important to have things to keep the mind busy and awake while on watch; after all, it doesn't take much time to scan the horizon carefully, record position, etc. Books and music are helpful. I found that a video iPod loaded with TedTalks kept me interested. TedTalks are 20 minute talks about a wide range of topics, available for free download on the internet (TED: Ideas worth spreading). I recommend them even if you are not crossing an ocean...

As with so much in life, there is no "right" answer. Ultimately the best watch system is the one that works for you. So take in all of the responses here, think about what sounds best to you, talk with your crew, and start experimenting.

CarinaPDX is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-01-2011, 00:03   #28
Senior Cruiser
Jim Cate's Avatar

Cruisers Forum Supporter

Join Date: May 2008
Location: cruising SW Pacific
Boat: Jon Sayer 1-off 46 ft fract rig sloop strip plank in W Red Cedar
Posts: 9,148
Send a message via Skype™ to Jim Cate
GDay All,

FWIW, Ann and I have used 6 0n 6 off for years and lots of miles. I'm a bit more of a night person, so I do the first evening watch -- 1800-2400, she takes over 'till around 0600, and I usually wake when the sun rises. We have an early morning ham net that I usually take part in, we have some brekkie, and she crashes around 0800 and sleeps 'till she wakes, which is usually around noon or so. Then I try to get an afternoon nap (not often successful), have dinner around 1730 and off it goes again. I'm not real good at daytime sleeping, so this has evolved as our best schedule. We've been pretty lucky over the years and have not had many times that autopilot or wind vane couldn't steer, and we tend to heave to in stormy wx. Prolonged need to hand steer would likely lead to changes in our plans.

As others have said, one needs to tailor the scheds to the individual crews personal sleep needs and habits. One size does NOT fit all!


Jim and Ann s/v Insatiable II lying Towlers Bay, NSW, Oz
Jim and Ann
s/v Insatiable back in MBTBC marina, waiting for next eye jobs to be done
Jim Cate is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 07-01-2011, 08:10   #29
Registered User
Tom and Maje's Avatar

Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Cruising the Caribbean
Boat: Leopard 40
Posts: 530
Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
Not enough sleep in 2 hour watches. IMHO.
I agree. I don't cope well with 2 on 2 off. There was a good article in Cruising World about a year ago on cruising couples standing watch.

Tom and Maje is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-01-2011, 08:12   #30
Freelance Delivery Skipper..
boatman61's Avatar

Community Sponsor
Cruisers Forum Supporter

Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Europe
Posts: 18,338
Images: 2
Send a message via Skype™ to boatman61

This is what I settle on 1 on board....
1am to 6am.... ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
I do not exist to impress the world.
I exist to live my life in a way that will make me happy.

boatman61 is online now   Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes Rate This Thread
Rate This Thread:

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
First Night Sail FraidNot General Sailing Forum 31 28-02-2010 04:36
Offshore Watches / Overnight Tactics driven Seamanship & Boat Handling 26 13-07-2009 08:05
WTB: ITT Night Mariner 160 night vision monocular sporf Classifieds Archive 0 17-11-2008 17:53
Night Lighting Doghouse General Sailing Forum 13 09-08-2008 20:20

Our Communities

Our communities encompass many different hobbies and interests, but each one is built on friendly, intelligent membership.

» More about our Communities

Automotive Communities

Our Automotive communities encompass many different makes and models. From U.S. domestics to European Saloons.

» More about our Automotive Communities

Marine Communities

Our Marine websites focus on Cruising and Sailing Vessels, including forums and the largest cruising Wiki project on the web today.

» More about our Marine Communities

Copyright 2002-2015 Social Knowledge, LLC All Rights Reserved.

All times are GMT -7. The time now is 00:46.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2016, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
Social Knowledge Networks
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2016, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

ShowCase vBulletin Plugins by Drive Thru Online, Inc.