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Thread: watchkeeping

  1. #1
    colin_jones's Avatar
    colin_jones is offline Registered User
    Location : Lyme Regis, Dorset
    Join Date
    Nov 2001

    Default watchkeeping

    When you do a long trip of - say - 150 - 300 miles, with at least one complete night out at sea, what is the best watchkeeping routine for a cruising couple?
    Daytime? Night time?

  2. #2
    jeanne is offline Registered User
    Location : Sanlucar de Guadiana, Espana
    Join Date
    Apr 2002

    Default Re: watchkeeping

    Unless it is only a one-off passage, first fit a wind vane self-steering gear! Then the simple naval Four hour system works OK, through the night, with a flexible attitude to the day. That is, the person who had the 4 to 8am shift gets a long morning in if it is needed, while his/her oppo, who only worked the Middle watch, midnight to 4am, stays on watch, and then catches a nap in the pm.The main meal of the day is prepared and eaten during the dog watches, which change the order of the next night watches. The most important thing is to start the watch system as soon as you leave, otherwise you will find both crew members getting tired at the same point. If the off watch member 'doesn't feel sleepy', then just laying down, keeping warm and rested is fine. I feel that whatever system you choose, you do not sleep soundly until you are good and tired, around the second night, and on the third night it all seems to make sense. After that it feels the same on the 23rd night as it did on the 3rd. If that is so, then any system will be as good as another for 150-300 miles. If you are going to have to helm all the way, you need help from some one else, I haven't done that two handed: but the above sloppy system worked for the two of us on two Atlantic crossings.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2001

    Default Re: watchkeeping

    We favour 4 hour watches too, the best advice we were given, even if it does sound daft, is to treat your off watch time as if it was a normal bedtime. Use the usual night time routines e.g. clean teeth, undress etc. Worked a treat, we both got to sleep v. quickly. Also make sure you have a sea berth with lee cloths amid ships.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2001

    Default Re: watchkeeping

    we use a formal watch system when we have others on board but when it's just the two of us i call her when i'm too knackered to carry on. it worked fine for 12 days between bermuda & azores & got round that problem on short hops of getting to sleep just before you're due on again.

    One hull good, two hulls better.

  5. #5
    Gunfleet is offline Registered User
    Location : Hull - to my surprise
    Join Date
    Jan 2002

    Default Re: watchkeeping

    Have done 120NM with my teenage son. We find the best system is everyone relaxes until everyone gets tense. THen everyone shouts at each other for a (brief) period. Then everyone relaxes until everyone gets tense. Repeat ad infinitum. No doubt on a crossing that took much more than 24 hours something more formal would be required. Otherwise I suggest my system up to (say)150 NM

  6. #6
    peterk is offline
    Location : at the moment chile, normally all at sea
    Join Date
    Mar 2002

    Default Re: watchkeeping

    I don't think that for a rel. short passage of max 300 miles
    it pays to commit to a system
    except as a guideline - people are so different in their rhythms and perceptions.

    My wife wore glasses and hated nightwatches
    - so she never did more than
    one hour of those at a time - she used to trade me all kinds of interesting stuff
    including doing ALL the dishes ALL the time.

    I reverted to the MCP I had been brought up as,
    - and was made to feel chivalrous into the bargain!
    (smart woman - in four years we sailed 25,000 miles together)

    just play it by ear until you know more.
    on longer trips it IS better to be more structured.

    Four hours, especially in the beginning,
    can be a VERY long time!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2001

    Default Depends ...

    Trouble with a one-night passage is that its not possible to set up a proper sleep pattern.

    So for a medium passage all in coastal waters where a constant watch is necessary, we normally do a straight 3 on - 3 off. In cold/bad weather, drop this to 1-2 hours (and avoid passages this long in coastal waters). Offshore, away from traffic, where its only necessary to look out now and again, we do 5 hour watches and get some decent sleep.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2001

    Default Re: watchkeeping


    On short passages with just the two of you, informality is the key and much will depend upon sea and weather conditions and how early/late and/or stressful the departure was. If you are in for an early morning arrival somewhere, then work out your watches backwards so that you are up and rested well before you close harbour/land. Otherwise we operate the following system. From dusk I sit in wheelhouse with flask of coffee and some yummies and mate gets head down. She will appear voluntarily if can't sleep and takeover for about 3 hours until tired and I will then do 3 hours. So for hours of darkness we cover but with a flexible 3 on 3 off.

    Daylight is a little different. No rigid rules other than someone on deck/wheelhouse always and one person has the responsibility for watch keeping which is passed back and forth and needs must and one is required to go below for shower/food etc.

    For longer passages we would have a stricter 3 on/off but for short passages of 24/36 hours this works fine without one person being overloaded.

    We find 4 hours is too long.


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