Everyone works out the system they like best and you have to
decide for yourself what you feel about watch keeping at night on Ocean
Close to land - within a few hundred miles of land or main
shipping lanes you really do need to keep an eye out but a thousand miles out
you are very unlikely to see anything for days even weeks but .....
SINGLE HANDING: I do it by cat-napping day
and night. At night its easier - I curl up in the corner of the cockpit, if the
weather suits, and set my kitchen timers for say half to three quarters of
an hour ( sometimes an hour at dusk or dawn) and sleep. When they go off I wake
and have a good look round, run the radar (if I am close to land) to see if
there are any echoes, then re-set the timers and go back to sleep. If its lumpy
then I go below to the bunk nearest the hatch, pull up the lee cloth and
do the same. The disadvantage is that you have to climb up into the cockpit to
look round and that wakes you more so its harder to get to sleep. I do much the
same during the daytime interspersed by cooking, navigating and sail
I always reef for the night so I do
not have to run around in the dark, half asleep, reducing sail.
I wear my safety harness all the time at night -
sleep in it. (not in the day except when it's rough)
Frankly I get more rest and feel fitter doing this than with a
crew of 1 or 2 helping me watch keep!
I know of several single-handlers who just go to sleep at
2 CREW: I find 4 hours on and 4 off works best for
me on long passages - if it is just an overnight or two then possibly 3 on 3 off
The trouble with having less than 4 off is that you get so
little sleep in your 4 off.
I require the watch keeper to call the next person 10 minutes
before their watch time - put on the kettle for a tea/coffee/soup. That
gives the next person time to dress, go to the loo, and put on their safety
harness and be in the cockpit exactly on time to relieve the other person
who can't wait to get off watch unless its a particularly beautiful night.
When you come off watch you have to fill in the log - just the
boats position, barometer reading, wind. No requirement to write a short story!
then you get undressed, climb into the bunk and try to sleep - all this takes
nearly half an hour and getting to sleep -particularly if its lumpy is not
always that easy. Frequently you end up with only 2 to 3 hours sleep before you
are on watch again.
If you do 3 on 3 off then of course you get less sleep.
Around mid-day you both need to be on watch or shorten the
watches to 2 hours or 1 hour so that the clock moves round and one person does
not get stuck with the lousy 0200-0500 type watch which is most tiring - I think
Breakfast is normally taken individually - who ever has the dawn
watch makes their own whilst the other sleeps. Cooking lunch and dinner is taken
in turns relative to which person is on watch next - I make it a rule that who
ever cooks does not have to wash up.
It is good to have an agreement as to which maneuvers need two
people at night. Obviously one person can put a few turns into or out of a
furling genny. If you have most types of in mast reefing then it should be
possible for one person to set more sail but maybe reefing needs two if you need
to turn up into the wind to achieve it and then leave the cockpit and go to the
As skipper I make it a rule that if anyone wants to reef they
call me. (If they want to set more sail they can always do that without asking)
When crew want to reef it is normally much later than I would have reefed and I
want to know what's happening with the weather)
If anyone sees the navigation lights of another ship they call
me. If anyone feels concerned about anything they call me. I will never be
cross to be called out when I am off watch as it means I can sleep well knowing
that I will not be called out to a situation that has already deteriorated.
I always wear a safety harness on night watch - even in flat
calms and I advise the crew to do the same - if you go overboard, in the
dark, whilst you are alone on watch...................
3 CREW: Normally I go for 3 on 3 off which allows
around 5 hours sleep per night and the rest can be made up. This is fairly
civilised and although the skipper may still get less sleep because of
navigation and radio duties it is not too bad. Normally all three crew
gather together in the cockpit in the late afternoon for a social hour or two as
well as eating dinner together. I try to time dinner so that it's finished
and washed up just before sunset and the boat can settle down to the night watch
routine - the nice thing is that with a 9 hour cycle the watch periods circulate
naturally giving everyone 'good' and 'bad' watches.
I still maintain the standing order of calling me for any and
I still put a reef in for the night - an awful lot can change in
4 CREW: This is very luxurious. I
normally go for 3 on 9 off with 2 x 2 hour watches during the mid-day
period. Cooking is shared on an equal basis and I think sometimes you need
a schedule written down to remind people who is cooking / bread making / watch
keeping next. The only trouble with this number of people is that it is very
possible to get very bored.
There is also the system of overlapping watches at night.
You still have 3 hours watch (or switch to 4 hours on) but the person going off
watch stays with you for another hour. They then go off and the watch keeper is
alone for only either 1 or 2 hours and then calls the next person who keeps the
watch-keeper company for their first hour before the original watch-keeper goes
off. This system works quite well when the periods of darkness are long.
It means there are two people in the cockpit most of the time and it's a
pleasant way to pass the night - in day time swop back to single watch keepers.
On ocean passages the couple of hours before dusk - after dinner
- are an important social occasion in the boat - I run a system that once a
week, Sunday night - anyone who has niggles or complaints about me, the system,
or other crew or anyone else can air them and they will be discussed by the
group. The idea of this is to catch dissention in the bud. Nobody is obliged to
speak and it does need to be fairly serious. I never let it become a witch
hunt and normally that's no problem as with a weekly platform - in the open
things have not normally festered and become issues. I also do this in
port. Anyone can say anything - politely - and it will be openly
The other bonding game is to have poetry evenings every 4
days. Everyone has to compose a poem of at least 4 lines. It does not have
to rhyme or scan or even make much sense except to the writer. In the
cockpit during the social hours each person reads their own creation. The rest
of the crew may then comment on it (knowing that they will be reading next and
so harsh criticism is a bit a loss leader) Having gone round the critic circle
the writer then explains why/how/for whom they wrote the poem. Then the rest of
the crew discuss how successful - meaningful the poem is. Then the next person
reads out their creation and the same process is gone through. The only way you
can fail is not to have written something!
Seems to work really well however unlikely it may sound. It's
amusing to see off duty crew huddled over a scrap of paper with a pencil beavering
away to prepare for the next poetry session. It is also
interesting how good some of poems become after 2 or 3 sessions.
MORE THAN 4 I really have no
experience of this - I suspect it would be the time to have 2 people on night
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