I note after perusing this thread that I don't recall
any post beginning with "we are a family
of xx and here's how we handle watches with the kids", although there have been a lot of posts.
Anyway, we are a family of four with two boys, ages 11 and 14. We haven't made any 1000 mile passages, but we have made several in the 600 to 850 range (at least 4 or 5 of five or more nights at sea), the first when our kids were 5 and 8 and the most recent when they were 10 and 13.
The way we do offshore night watches on Liberty is a first watch from 8 pm to 3 am, followed by a night watch from 3 am to dawn or later, with less structured daytime watches. I stand the first 7 hour watch, while my wife and older son sleep. The younger boy stays up with me as long as he is able, and we talk, play games, and occasionally watch a movie
on a laptop
in the cockpit. We have a separate chartplotter
, and the chartplotter
, etc. are all in night mode/soft red lights/etc., and the only other light is our masthead tricolor when sailing and deck
level running lights when motoring. Our night vision suffers when we watch a movie
, but we stop every 10 or 15 minutes to tightly clench our eyes shut, scan the horizon, check the chartplotter (for AIS
displays that may have popped up that we're not already tracking), turn on the radar
for a quick scan if there are squalls or Navy
warships in the area, etc. The first night of a passage
the 11 year old will stay up for most of the watch, on second and subsequent nights he may poop out a little earlier, or stay up, however he feels. A 7 hour watch may seem long, but my wife needs quite a bit more sleep than I do, whether we're on passage
, anchored, on vacation
, or back home in the 'burbs (thank Heaven its been a few years), and my professional training as a corporate lawyer following a stint in the military has well prepared me to stay up all night if necessary, on many successive nights, with little sleep, plus I generally need quite a bit less sleep than she does, whether we're on passage, anchored, on vacation
, or back home in the 'burbs and office. Around 3 am, or sometimes a bit earlier or later, I wake up my wife and my older son, and they take the watch til dawn or as long as I can sleep. During the day we spell each other for naps as required or desired, and we usually have an evening meal around 7 pm, after which the night watch schedule begins.
Foul weather can complicate things, but we generally stick (or return to) this schedule when the weather passes, and we've never been at sea where the weather's been foul for days on end. If we ever go transatlantic or into the pacific, we may adjust how we do things, but for now it works.
We have also tried having the boys overlap our watches (I wake up the older son an hour or two before his mom), and on our longer passages we have tried to have a third adult on board (usually my brother), as we've found that a third watchkeeper makes all the difference in the world in how much sleep everyone gets.
Finally, I believe my 14 year old is ready, or near ready, to stand watch alone at night, and if we have any multiple overnight passages come up (we may, as we look to transit the eastern seaboard north soon), he may find himself at the helm
alone at night for a few hours.
As for the night vision purists, I suppose it depends on what you're looking for out there. Ships, we see on AIS
, except warships and fishing
vessels, and we see their lights if they want to be seen. We haven't yet sailed in areas with lots of little local unlighted fishing
or other craft, so not much experience looking for those. We sail well offshore at night, so reefs
should not be a problem, but nevertheless we look for those too. When a pod of dolphins
shows up, we look for them, of course, often aided by phosphoresce trails in the water
. As for other small dark floating things (the infamous partially submerged shipping
container waiting to hole the boat at the bow), I wonder just how easy it would be to see something like that at night with good or bad night vision. For me, part of offshore night sailing involves a whole lot of faith, and I guess I just have faith that we'll miss whatever is floating or we'll be able to recover from the consequences of hitting it.
At any rate, I'm sure the jury on this board will have a hard time determining whether I'm a worse captain
or a worse parent, or both. But at least I began the post with "we are a family of four, and here's how we do it", which is what, I believe, the OP was looking for.
SV Liberty, anchored St. Andrews Bay, between overnight offshore passages from Mississippi
Sound and to Tampa Bay