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Old 10-07-2009, 23:51   #1
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Offshore Watches / Overnight Tactics

So right up front, let me state I don't have a damn clue about what I'm talking about, but making a good effor tat learning

One of the questions I originally had was "When you're away from land, what do you do when it's night time (time to sleep)? Cause you can't really anchor - or can you? Do you let the boat just float? Do you just stay up all the time?"

Let's assume weather is ideal and there's no big concerns to factor into this equation just yet...

And then I did some reading, and while my question was never posed, I think I'm come to the answer...

When you're away from any shore, in the middle of the Blue or something, you just have to work out watches between the crew members. If you're short handed this might mean rotating a couple of hours, or at worst checking everything on the horizon and various gadgets, using the autopilot and waking up after a catnap to check it all again...

So it sounds like if I ever get ambitious and go out into the blue I better make sure to work out some sort of watch schedule with my crew, and that they know at least the minimal duties they are responsible for while I sleep. (I've read what some of those responsibilities are so I won't go into detail here).

So.... am I correct in the above, and there's no secret safe trick in the middle of the ocean that doesn't require someone to be relatively paying attention? Like for instance, you can't just drop a sea anchor, and you can't just let the boat float, etc...

I know, this is a completely newb question, and some of you might laugh, but there is no post anywhere about this, everyone seems to just assume you know you have to be on watch.

Okay - my first newb question out of the way, many more to come

-Driven
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Old 11-07-2009, 00:08   #2
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OK mate,

lets take them from the beginning.

Yes, you can stop at night, or anytime. Its 'heaving to'. Being 'hove to' is quite comfortable but you don't go anywhere!

When you are sailing with crew you split the time 24 hours into watches. Some folks just do watches at night but start, at least, with 24 hour watches.

4 on, 4 off. Thats the great old sea standard, 4 hours on and 4 hours off. Fine but your off watch 4 hours isnt really 4 hours: You go below, get out of your geer, get a feed, find the bed, take time to drift off to sleep - maybe 30 mins in that.... then wake up 10 mins before your watch and get your kit on again. So 3 hours 20 mins sleep max.

As there are as many different boats out there there are multitudes of watch systems done by hubbie and wifes on cruisers.
Ours is complicated but gives us LONG sleeps
12-4
4-8
8-1
1-7
7-12

So each 24 hours you either get a big 6 hour daytime sleep or a night time 5 AND 4 hour sleep!

Fabbo


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Old 11-07-2009, 00:23   #3
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Great question, and you will get many different answers
I think a good watch, with eyes scanning the horizon 360 every five minutes, is vital. A freighter can come up on you in about 7-8 minutes(?someone correct me if I'm wrong). In other words the big reason for watches offshore is collision avoidance (and bad weather but collision is top to me). You are doing the avoiding because the big boys (ships) do not have the maneuvering capabilities that you have. Plus they may never even see you. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to a ship that doesn't have us on their radar, and they are within a couple miles from me. I have almost been run down at least three times. I can't sleep unless I know there is a competent watch. Sometimes you must leave it to chance, go down below and get some rest, but it is still a risk.
Erika

Markj - love that watch system!
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Old 11-07-2009, 01:21   #4
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Why not an 8 hour watch?

I know no one seems to do it but why not have an 8 hour watch?

It would permit close to 8 hours sleep for the off watch crew (assuming a crew of 2).

On an 8 hour watch most of it (At least 4 hours) the on watch crew would be "fully" alert, and the remaining 4 hours would be diminished, but still useful alertness.

Even the most diminished alertness on an 8 hour watch could be better than the result of a few sleep deprived days.
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Old 11-07-2009, 06:00   #5
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I know no one seems to do it but why not have an 8 hour watch?

It would permit close to 8 hours sleep for the off watch crew (assuming a crew of 2).
The downside to standing three 8-hour watches in a day (for a crew of 2) is that it is extremely fatiguing when your sleep schedule keeps changing - you're better off picking a system that allows you to establish recurrent bedtimes. The 8-hour stints would be fine for a crew of 3 - but then you could still do two 4-hour watches each and allow 8-hour periods off for sleep.

For Driven - all sorts of cruisers out there do all sorts of things (or at least claim it here and elsewhere) some maintain watches, some go to sleep and hope for the best, some set an alarm and look around every 20-minutes or so, some drift or heave-to. The Rules state that you must maintain a lookout at all times - how you choose to interpret that rule is ultimately up to you. Just realize that it is inherently more dangerous to go without a watch, but going without sleep is hardly an option - so it's a matter of balancing risk and benefit.
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Old 11-07-2009, 06:00   #6
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The first day is the hardest. Once you get into the 4 on 4 off it work. We have tried a variation of it as MarkJ suggests above and like a routine like that so much better.
We have tried the 8 on 8 off. I would not recommend it. It is a very long time to go without relief, especially the night. Your alertness level is compromised.
A good start is the 4 on 4 off and then modify it to suit yourselves. The whole key is to be alert. Ships do sneak up on you and as surprising as it may seem it is usually during the day. Tankers are the worst as they sit so low. At night you see the lights well over the horizon.
I know a few single handlers that sleep for 15 minutes wake up scan the horizon and go back to sleep. This is the maximum time they can safely sleep. I do not know how they do it. I have caught them sleeping far longer than 15 minutes.
A fully loaded tanker sits so low in the water it is difficult to pick out till it is 6-8 miles away. At a 25 knot closing speed you have 15-20 minutes.
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Old 11-07-2009, 06:16   #7
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I feel any watch schedule that does not rotate on a 24 hr basic is real hard because you are out of sync with the real day. In the Navy we used to do 3 people on 6 hours watches. You never really ever felt rested.
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Old 11-07-2009, 07:31   #8
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Wife and I do four 3 hour watches at night and two 6 hour watches during the day. Our thinking is that the 6pm to 9 pm watch goes fast because of supper and the sun setting. The 3am to 6am watch also goes fast as the watch keeper gets to see the sun rise. So, we feel that we are only standing one real watch at night. During the day the 6 hour watches give the off-watch person time for long, uninterrupted sleep. Any during the day, if one of us is wide awake and the other sleepy, we switch off. Works for us.
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Old 11-07-2009, 07:55   #9
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For Driven - all sorts of cruisers out there do all sorts of things (or at least claim it here and elsewhere) some maintain watches, some go to sleep and hope for the best, some set an alarm and look around every 20-minutes or so, some drift or heave-to. The Rules state that you must maintain a lookout at all times - how you choose to interpret that rule is ultimately up to you. Just realize that it is inherently more dangerous to go without a watch, but going without sleep is hardly an option - so it's a matter of balancing risk and benefit.
Thanks Lodesman! I must start looking for these "rules"

So I guess the moral of the story is a watch is pretty much needed for maximum safety, and I could ask 10 boaters what the best watch system is and get 15 answers so we'll have to work up something that works for us!

There's going to be times due to fatigue where the risk of not sleeping is greater than the risk of not maintaining a watch for x amount of time, and during that time we can heave-to and hope for the best, but we're mainly at risk of a collision here with a larger vessel that doesn't see us.

I definitely appreciate everyone's answers, I've already learned so much in the 3-4 days since I've found this site! Before you know it words like tack, jib, geneo, stern, port, starboard, aft, heave-to, reef, sheet, etc... won't be so foreign! I pick those, because those are some of the ones I've learned so far
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Old 11-07-2009, 08:22   #10
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In the Canadian Navy, it didn't matter what the watch rotation was ie; 1 in 2, 1 in 3, or 1 in 4. the actual look outs only stood look out for 2 hours, after that your alertness dropped dramatical. after 2 hours of freezing their gonads they were rotated to some other chore like cleaning, or cleaning.

Understand on a navy ship the manpower or womanpower is limitless compared to a sailboat so the 2 hour limit is pretty useless unless you have 4 to 5 competent sailors with you. Just remember, no matter how you feel you are not near as sharp later on in your watch as you were in the beginning.....Allan
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Old 11-07-2009, 08:26   #11
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Quote:
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A freighter can come up on you in about 7-8 minutes(?someone correct me if I'm wrong).


Quote:
Originally Posted by mesquaukee View Post
A fully loaded tanker sits so low in the water it is difficult to pick out till it is 6-8 miles away. At a 25 knot closing speed you have 15-20 minutes.
Hi Erika,

We saw no ships whatsoever for the 1,600 miles Tonga to Sydney; only 1 ship between Galapagos and Marquesas - 3,000 miles.... but outside Panama Canal about 2 an hour. A few weeks ago Nicolle had 3 heading one direction 2 overtaking each other! The shipping channel was only 1 nm wide and reefs either side. LOL

So if you are well to sea the probability of a collision course is getting pretty remote.

I don't think we have ever had a vessel come horizon to horizon in much less than 30 minutes. Remember the lights on ships are very high. The ship is still hull down over the horizon when you can clearly see the lights.
Mostly ships head on take over 30 minutes and ships from astern much longer.

Finally, many say to take a bearing to a ship as soon as you see it. We don't. We wait till we can clearly see the port or starboard lights first. This is because the bearing stays the same for too long at a distance and one is liable to alter course too early, or become anxious about it.

I don't remember us ever having to really alter course to avoid a collision. No one has ever gotten that close.


I want to buy an AIS Transponder with the next bit of cash we get. That will really help


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Old 11-07-2009, 08:44   #12
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AIS is a great investment,as all commercial vessels are required to transmit.I can pick up targets up to 50 miles away.Most shorthanded cruisers reduce sail at night to reduce chances of pitch black sail changes.Quite often you can hear the ship coming through soundwaves in the water(when sitting in cabin,if seas or wind are not too loud).
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Old 11-07-2009, 09:32   #13
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I've thought about whether to answer this post or not. I've been a singlerhandler and was for nine years. My concern is that a negitive judgement will be made by those who have never singlehandled. Or someone will use this post to advance there own agenda.
I can tell you many stories of fully crewed boats being run down by large ships while the entire crew was below decks, and I'm talking about four or five adluts.

First let me state that I do need to keep a proper watch. I also need to sleep, and I've found myself on the foredeck yelling at that stupid elephant to get the heck off of my boat, but that's another story.

The proper question, for me, is really when not to sleep. And the answer is when it's not safe to do so. The odds of some ship coming over the horizen with a dead on course to my position is so huge that it dosen't worry me.

I ask you, how the heck can you drive your car at seventy miles an hour next to a complete stranger knowing that more people are killed or injured in the US in a single year, in cars, than were killed or injured in Viet Nam in ten years?

Back to when not to sleep for we singlehandlers, that you have an autopilot or wind vane is a given:
Don't sleep, take catnaps, start early and don't wait until you're tired.
On an overnight passage, if fully rested, I can sail for about 36 hours fully awake.
Never sleep in a shipping lane, this includes naps. If approaching an island with a tank farm, expect tankers.
Don't sleep within ten miles of land, reefs, or other hard objects. Your auto steering can fail.
Be aware of locals fishing, and bearboat charter folk who yell "starboard" at the damnest times.

If (when) you need to sleep for a longer period, head offshore and sleep after 8am, when the first team on the large ships is on watch.

Use commen sense!

That worked for me! until I was delibertly run down by a coastal freighter in the Bahamas, but that's another story posted here on this forum.
John
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Old 11-07-2009, 09:50   #14
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When we had sufficient crew we would turn to for 2 hours per watch, short handed either 6 on and 6 off, or 12 on and 12 off. Splitting the watch at mid-night and noon. I ran across 2 couples sailing their vessels from Australia to Alaska and they shut down every night and put out a sea anchor and went to bed, they seemed to have weathered the trip fine. They also shut down for "tea-time" so they were very relaxed and enjoyed their trip very much. I think John has the right idea for single handing.
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Old 11-07-2009, 09:57   #15
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when I was younger, the standard was 12 on 12 off. It's amazing what being well rested and have some time to lay around can do for you. That was for a crew of 2. As the crew increased, the time decreased. 12 hours may seem like a long shift to many, but think about it as a work day. My favorite was midnight to noon, I got to watch the sunrise everyday and saw some great ones. Not real sure these old bones would hold up to a 12 hour shift these days.
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