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Old 25-09-2008, 21:42   #1
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Watch Length your favorite?

6 on 6 off
4 on 8 off
12 on 12 off

or wake up take the helm I'm sleepy
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Old 25-09-2008, 21:47   #2
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4 on 8 off. Its an 8 hour day instead of 12.
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Old 25-09-2008, 21:56   #3
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When sailing with my wife. I like 3 on 3 off but my wife want 4 or even 5 on/off. We compromise at 4.
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Old 25-09-2008, 22:36   #4
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On a three person crew, we're normally all awake at 8pm. This might sound complicated, but here's what we do and it works really well. It starts as soon as the first person says they're going to sleep (not just going to read a book in their bunk for 2 hours and then to go sleep).

Sleepy person (A) goes to sleep. Most awake person (B) stays on watch until 2am. More-or-less awake person (C) stays in the cockpit with a blanket and some pillows, nodding off. If person (B) needs to disturb someone or needs help on deck, they nudge person (C).

At 2am, person (B), who's been on watch for 4 hours now and is exhausted, goes down below, while person (A) goes and sleeps in the cockpit. At 6am, person (A) takes the helm, while (B) and (C) get some sleep. Now you've got till 10am before anyone has to wake up and relieve.


Here's what I like about this schedule:
  • It's flexible in that most nights you get lots of sleep, but some nights not so much (but then you can sleep in the day too).
  • The person taking watch next was in the cockpit for the last four hours, and is aware of any sail changes and condition changes.
  • It works well with midday naps (making you the super awake one).
  • You don't have to make a ruckus or yell into the cockpit for someone to wake up if you need a hand, which should be often at night for safety reasons.
Another good trick is the egg timer. Keep a cheap one in the cockpit, and set it for 15 minutes, over and over again. Although not the most solid watch keeping in the world, most people would agree that a full scan of the horizon at least every 15 minutes while in open waters is somewhat safe. If you fall asleep, the egg timer goes off.

I would also recomend that you keep boiled water in a thermos, not coffee or soup. If you want either (or hot chocolate, or whatever), use the hot water to add to instant items. It will eliminate having to cook (and handle watch keeping and cooking at the same time, which is a bad idea), minimize dishes, and you won't need to clean out your thermos.

Oh, and have a hand bearing compass ("hockey puck") for taking bearings.

Oh, and close one eye if you need to use a flashlight or turn any lights on.

I've read *lots* of books while on watch.
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Old 26-09-2008, 04:28   #5
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On my last Atlantic crossing there were just two of us. We kept loose watches during the day, and 8-12, 12-4, 4-8 at night. However we alternated each night. So one night I'd do 8-12 and 4-8 and the next 12-4. That way we both got a good rest every other night.

It was the least tiring 2 person ocean crossing I have done. With three crew you should have no problem getting enough rest, so I'd recommend taking an extra (experienced) crew for any ocean passage.

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Old 26-09-2008, 05:25   #6
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On longer passages of more than 3 days I normally invite another couple to sail with us and we basically do a 6 on 6 off scenario of duties with the 2 most experienced watch keepers relieving each other.

Captn: 6 to 12 both am and pm
Mate: 12 to 6 both am and pm

3rd Watch: 3 to 9 both am and pm
4th Watch: 9 to 3 both am and pm

That brings a fresh person on every 3 hours, gives some variety to your watch mate and usually allows for some power naps when things are easy.


If it is just the 2 of us it is 4 on 4 off but we tend to live in our comfortable cockpit and catch up with our sleep during the day, depending on who needs a nap.

In reality, I now plan passages so that we don’t normally do more than 12 hours between rests.
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Old 26-09-2008, 05:29   #7
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On long passages we run 3 hour watches from 1800 to 0600. Through the day, I am mostly at the helm, but the Admiral takes it for periods at irregular intervals.

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Old 26-09-2008, 08:08   #8
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For 2 people, we find 4 on and 4 off gives the most decent rest. With 3 people, we prefer 3 on and 6 off.
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Old 26-09-2008, 09:25   #9
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We have no schedule. We just monitor eachother, and our need to sleep. Many times Melanie enjoys the night watch so much I can get 5-6 hours sleep, and we nap during the day. It works great for us.
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Old 26-09-2008, 09:53   #10
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Chief, with rare exceptions, most people begin to fail from fatigue and sleep deprivation if they don't get at least 6 hours sleep per day. Government, military, university, all kinds of studies have backed that up in the last 30+ years. Drivers fall asleep and crash, shift workers make more mistakes and have more accidents...all sorts of problems creep in if you don't provide at least one 6-hour sleep period (not just off-watch, but ASLEEP) in every 24. And performance increases for most folks if that can get pushed up to 7-8 hours.

So...Are you sailing in combat, or for fun? Shorthanded? Caught in a storm? Racing, where a 2-hour shift might be better, because most folks can't keep their best focus and attention for even that long? (Again, all well documented.)

What works is often a compromise with who's there, and what you're trying to do. And then there's commercial or naval, in which case you're really just doing shift work, without much choice about it. Although even there, if the shifts rotate, they've found that rotating forward creates less fatigue than rotating back (to earlier shifts each time.)
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Old 26-09-2008, 10:34   #11
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At night we tend to be 3 on 3 off but if the on watch person is not tired they may elect to extend the time on watch and let the other person sleep. Days are informal.
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Old 26-09-2008, 10:44   #12
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With only my wife and I to crew the yacht, at least on longer passages, we find the most important thing is to make sure you can go to sleep most of the time when off watch.
No this doesn't mean we get 12hrs sleep in 24hrs. You take longer to fall asleep because you body clock is not used to sleeping during daylight the motion and unfamiliar noises also make sleep less deep, it takes longer to do routine chores like showering when the boat is moving, there are times when both of you will be awake.
Therefore rather than any set routine we change watch if we are on watch and sleepy or off watch and not sleepy.
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Old 26-09-2008, 13:38   #13
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Aloha Chief,
It really depends on a few things not mentioned. If you have 3 persons and are not hand steering then I like 3 on 6 off day and night. If you are hand steering then 2 hour watches are about max. so if you have 4 persons that means 2 on 6 off.
So it depends on number of people, how long off shore and whether you are hand steering or not. I used to like the Navy system of 4 hour watches but that required a big crew and we would even break the 4 hours up a bit by rotating stations, lookouts etc.. Of course, my first time at sea was 4 on 4 off for 6 days in the foreward fireroom at 110 degrees. I don't ever want to do that again.
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Old 26-09-2008, 14:05   #14
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Dumb question but what does one do on a solo crossing?
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Old 26-09-2008, 14:37   #15
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Sleep with one eye open
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