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Old 29-09-2013, 21:26   #1
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Conning At Night

I have NEVER operated my vessel at night before. I have a 42 foot Silverton Convertible with a single helm station up in the fully enclosed flybridge. Since I typically cruise at 22 knots in the PNW I have never had to deal with nighttime operation. Recently, my wife and I took out some friends from our home marina to Bowen Island which is only a 15 minute day run away. I knew we'd be coming home at night after a dinner there and it was overcast. I knew I'd have to dim my instruments, pilot at idle speed (5 knots) as I would likely not see debris, and did some other research. We finished dinner at 9:30 and it was pitch black outside. No visible moon. Did I mention it was pitch black? Really black! Problem #1 was leaving the dock. I could not see the shore about 100 feet from the dock. I knew I had room to move out but not seeing the shore was unnerving. It felt like I had no room to manoeuvre. Problem #2 was my spot light. It was useless. Only luck prevented us from hitting the many logs that were out there - although at 5 knots I'd likely not get any damage. Problem #3 was my screens didn't dim enough. I expected this so I was prepared to cover them up - which I did. However, despite being very familiar with these waters, without instruments I could not visually gauge distance nor see anything familiar. Even with my screens covered the light from my gauges reflected off my enclosure so I could not see out at all. If there's a next time, I'd bring a towel to cover them. So I covered and uncovered my screens and made my way back near my marina. At 300 feet away I was not prepared to trust my instruments as the entrance channel is about 60 feet wide between 2 pitch black islands and I know my instruments can be off. I had to unzip part of the enclosure and have guests posted on both sides of the cockpit to help navigate. This was incredibly unnerving. Once in the channel there was enough light from the marina so I got us docked up just fine. The whole thing was unpleasant. Anyone have any sensible suggestions as to how to make night conning better? I am not prepared to spend money on new instruments. I have 2004 E series Raymarine everything. Thanks and cheers,
Bill

PS I have operated our 13' dinghy at night before and it's relatively easy. Great visibility, no reflection and I'm low to the water rather than my eye level being about 16' above the water.
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Old 29-09-2013, 22:03   #2
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Re: Conning At Night

1) come out from behind the glass or isinglass, or whatever it is. Remove it
2) Instruments have a night mode. learn to use it, and learn how to get out of it because once you're in night mode you won't be able to read the screen in normal light
3) Pick your nights. Overcast and new moon = stay at the dock. You pick your weather, why is this different?
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Old 29-09-2013, 22:15   #3
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Re: Conning At Night

Hey Bill,

Yes its tricky!

But there doesnt need to be 'special' things you need to do, just do it again and again a few more times.

Our eyes have "rods" and "cones" that receive light. One works better in the day, the other at night. However if you are not used to using the right ones it can be really disorientating. Just go do it again. And try to keep that spot light off.

There is some transparent plastic called Neutral Density (ND) film that a good (as in a pro) camera store or video store will have that you can cut and put over your screen. Its used in film and TV to cut down the brightness of light.

Apart from that you did fine: Keep it slow and feel your way. After a while it will become easier


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Old 29-09-2013, 22:18   #4
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Re: Conning At Night

Just do it more often, and you will get more comfortable. You were very wise to keep your speed slow. We all wish more boaters would use that form of common sense. Good on You. ____Grant.
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Old 29-09-2013, 22:33   #5
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Re: Conning At Night

Staring at screens is murder on your night vision.
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Old 29-09-2013, 22:42   #6
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Re: Conning At Night

In these circumstances one really has to trust electronic instruments, especially the plotters.

I had some trouble with instruments being too bright on a recent passage. Even with the night setting and even being red in color they were still too bright for moonless nights.

For the most part the red wasn't red enough. So for my next passage I'll be bringing some clear dark red plastic cover that I can put over the gauges on the pedestal. The Garmin and Maretron gauges dim or color quite well, so much so that I could not read them in the daylight and couldn't even tell they were on unless I cupped my hands around the screen.

Surprisingly, I happened across some large logs more then 60 miles off shore so one is really not free of debris going off shore. In your case it's the rudders and props you have to worry about. Sailboats under sail usually breeze over most debris without concern.

The second night out I hit something really big because it sounded like a sledge hammer hitting the hull. But no damage. At first I thought is was the rigging breaking but I did a quick inspection of chain plates and wires. But never found out what it was.
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Old 29-09-2013, 22:52   #7
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Re: Conning At Night

Remember the first time you drove a car? It's the same thing, first time will scare you after a hundred time it becomes routine. To work at night a good spotlight is indispensable, use it carefully- if you light up you deck with it you will ruin you night vision. Practice navigation by instruments when you can see where you are to get used to interpreting the information. Trust your radar, not the chartplotter especially going somewhere the first time. Electronic charts are usually spot on where their is heavy commercial traffic, but can be way out in other areas. Try saving a track on your plotter when you leave and then follow it back to your home dock. It will be fairly accurate even if the chart shows you going across land like where I am now. Conning from a pilothouse is very different from being on deck sailboat style, it takes getting used to. Having crew on deck with radios calling distance is a routine practice on commercial vessels when in close quarters, it will save you a lot of trouble. Also when coming home try to find a range to follow in between the rocks- it can be anything you can see at night that lines up when you are in the right place. Practice is the key, sailing ( or motoring) at night can be beautiful once you are at ease doing it.
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Old 29-09-2013, 22:54   #8
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Re: Conning At Night

I should mention too that I keep a couple pair of red glasses on board just in case I need to do some work in the white light. An old habit from my Navy days standing night watch in Vietnam.
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Old 30-09-2013, 06:17   #9
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Re: Conning At Night

Bill, we have the same boat. Some thoughts:

You have both depth sounder and GPS/chartplotter, yes? So you can use depth to confirm location on plotter display?

Create a route in advance (connected waypoints) on your plotter, so you can follow that out or back home.

You have radar? Great tool, since you can see coastlines, day marks, (some) boats, and some other obstacles.

Assign somebody else to read out the radar. Plotter too, if possible. Essentially an electronic spotter, and that way you don't have to stare at the screens.

As folks have said, dim all that stuff down. Radars often have a hood that can be used to keep that light away from the helmsman (and the radar spotter can still see the screen.) Ours will dim down to the point where I can't hardly see them in full darkness... so I'd expect yours really will too? (I know you said they were still too bright...)

Turn off your dash lights. Once you know your engine readings (oil pressure, temp, etc.) are OK, you don't need those on all the time. (Occasional checks on longer trips are useful, as long as you don't blind yourself.)

Of course turn off the bridge hardtop and courtesy lights. (Consider replacing with red LEDs if you haven't already. Red LEDs in the hardtop lights are still too bright for continuous night time operations, but can be useful for occasional checks.)

If you haven't already, replace the actuators on your dashboard rocker panel switches with new ones that illuminate the function label. That way you can at least see which switches do what when you need them.

Open your forward enclosure panel, assuming weather permits. That should reduce reflection off the instruments.

Debris and logs? Can't help much, there. Assign spotters. Leave the spotlight OFF/OFF unless absolutely necessary. If a spotter thinks there something worth illuminating, turn it on, evaluate, get it off as quickly as possible. If possible, have the spotters figure it out, so you can look the other way a bit, protect your own night vision...

Pick a moonlit night.

Actually, not just joking there. Do more night time cruises on purpose, only pick more favorable conditions... so you can practice the skills you'll need when cloud cover makes it really pitch black.

-Chris
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Old 30-09-2013, 06:52   #10
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Some of the night vision gear is coming down in price as quality improves. (As all things electronic.)

I have no personal experience with it but that could be an option.
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Old 30-09-2013, 07:14   #11
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Re: Conning At Night

Great suggestions. BTW Chris, I replaced the front enclosure panel with a seaview insert (glass insert with wiper - a necessity in the PNW - no interest in co. - just happy customer) so that can't be opened. But a corner front panel could have and should have been opened - and I'd just have to lean over a bit. Again, great suggestions. - thanks!
Cheers,
Bill
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Old 30-09-2013, 07:57   #12
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Re: Conning At Night

It takes a long time to develop full night vision (around 45 mins).
Make sure you give yourself time. Coming from a bright enviroment do engine checks etc that require reasonably bright light but then try and wait a little while before heading off.

Setting up the boat so you get minimum light, but can read essential instruments like the depth sounder is important.

Often its worth sacrificing some night vision to use instruments like a chart plotter, but don't automatically use instruments without thought. In the sort of conditions you describe good night vision to spot logs in the water may have been more valuable.

Steering to a waypoint on small dim GPS screen may be a better option than the chartplotter which even in night mode often sacrifices a reasonable amount of night vision.

Radar is a tough choice as its so valuable at night so in most cases it better used. On most models it can be dimmed and presented in red and black which does not effect dark adaptation as badly as the chartplotter display, but it's still worth considering if its use warrants the attendant loss of night vision. With debris in the water optimising vision may have been the best policy.

If you have a crew member you can separate the jobs.

Dark adaption is retinal so effects each eye separately. Sometimes using just one eye for the chartplotter/radar and preserving night vision in the other is a useful option.
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Old 30-09-2013, 08:05   #13
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Re: Conning At Night

If you are comprised in part of stacks of cash, you can look up the acronym FLIR.

I have mixed feelings because I really believe in judicious use of "sense-extending technologies" as putting people off from actually looking out the window, but if I lived in a place with loads of loose logs, I might reconsider my viewpoint.
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Old 30-09-2013, 08:18   #14
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Re: Conning At Night

I love sailing at night, and don't really hesitate to leave or arrive at night, either. The only rules I have about night sailing are two: (a) avoid entering a strange harbor at night, if at all possible; and (b) on moonless nights avoid known areas of crab pots, since on a dark night you can't see these.

It's good you were so cautious, but -- once you get used to it, you will find that it is not much harder than sailing in daylight. I don't, for example, particularly reduce speed at night. I also found that getting comfortable with night pilotage improves your skills for the daytime, too -- so it's a pleasant and useful challenge.

A few tips, which probably don't contain anything really new beyond what the guys have suggested above:

1. There is almost no such thing as pitch darkness -- only in a heavy overcast with no moon. Most times if you let your eyes adapt to the darkness the way Noelex suggests, and if you get your screens down to an appropriate night illumination level, you will be able to see pretty well.

2. Chart plotter is your friend when doing night pilotage -- enormously simplifying the job. HOWEVER, don't just drive the dot. At night it is all the more important to identify the channel markers, buouys, landmarks and so forth to double-check what your plotter says and to get yourself oriented. Be able to identify with your eyes what your plotter is telling you.

3. Chart plotter is near about essential for entering urban harbors at night, because of the sea of light pollution and the bewildering forest of buouy lights. It really takes skill to do that without a plotter. I recommend intense study of the lights of a harbor you're entering at night, beforehand. You have to trust your plotter, but you should work hard to recognize your surroundings, visually.

4. You should do it even in day time, but a good pilotage/passage plan is all the more important at night. You should have waypoints, clearing bearings, position of hazards, all figured out, and you should memorize the position of hazards and the configuration of the port you will be entering, before starting out.

5. I find it's very useful to double up the visual watch -- have another person doing nothing but keeping a lookout.

6. Make sure you have rope cutters on your props -- the risk of a crab pot encounter goes up at night.


Good luck! I'm sure you'll get comfortable with it, fast, if you prepare, and practice a little. Once you've done so, you'll find that it's fun and satisfying.
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Old 30-09-2013, 08:21   #15
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Re: Conning At Night

Quote:
Originally Posted by S/V Alchemy View Post
If you are comprised in part of stacks of cash, you can look up the acronym FLIR.

I have mixed feelings because I really believe in judicious use of "sense-extending technologies" as putting people off from actually looking out the window, but if I lived in a place with loads of loose logs, I might reconsider my viewpoint.
I have night vision glasses, two sets of them actually.

But I find they are pretty much useless for keeping a lookout while underway, because they are blinded by your nav lights.

They are a lot of fun at anchor, however.
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