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Old 11-29-2014, 09:58 AM   #1
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Running at Night

I'm interested in getting some your thoughts on running at night. Two primary questions; do you think it's safe for just two people to run shifts through the night or should there always be a second "watch" person (meaning 3rd hand on board) at the helm? Secondly if you think it can be done even if just for a one or two night run before the interrupted sleep takes its toll, what do you think is an ideal shift- 2 hours on and 2 off or 3 on and 3 off?

Thank you for your thoughts!
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Old 11-29-2014, 10:17 AM   #2
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I've done it with just two, and it was ok. After a couple days, it got tiring. But not dangerously so. The preferred crew for me is a minimum of three, with two awake at all times. One at the helm, the other to make sure the one on the helm stays awake!! And make coffee, sammiches, keep company, pee break relief, engine room checks, etc.

I have come up from my bunk to take my shift and found helmsman asleep. Not good!!

Most trips/crews seem to find 3 or 4hr shifts work over night, with no real structure during the day. Some like night running, some don't, so you work things out to best suit the personalities.
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Old 11-29-2014, 10:29 AM   #3
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There are many variables...such as age and health of the crew. Fatigue sets in quicker in some than others. Also alertness in general is part of that equation.

The more demanding the trip, leg, the more alert the crew needs to be. Alertness can be compensated for with experience and general fatigue training....so more variables.

So recommending a watch schedule interval is hard.

If coastal (high traffic areas and navigation dangers), more than one night can fatigue most people to the point of being prone to making errors.

Once going beyond normally accepted commercial/military watch schedules (which many recreational boaters don't follow anyway), it's all a roll of the dice depending on crew, route, boat, planning, and plain old luck.
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Old 11-29-2014, 10:40 AM   #4
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We did several three to seven day passages on our sailboat. Started with 4 on 4 off but adjusted as we went along. I think after the first couple of days you settle into a pattern that works for you.


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Old 11-29-2014, 10:40 AM   #5
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Lena and I do 3 on and 3 off. I can sleep any time and are a morning person. I usally go down by 7pm and up at 10. It takes 2-3 days to get into a rythem but this sytem works for us. In bad weather, the watch schelude changes to 2 on/off. I have total confidence in Lena to run the boat so I don't worry while trying to sleep.

We know people who do 4 on/off, 6 on/off (their heavy coffee drinkers) but it all depends. When we go off shore, our insurance company has approved just the 2 of us as operators.
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Old 11-29-2014, 11:43 AM   #6
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I have done maybe a half dozen overnighters with my wife. We don't follow a watch schedule. Whoever is tired lays down in the cockpit with a harness on, ready to wake up and assist if something goes wrong while the other stands watch.

I think a couple could do it for two consecutive overnights before getting too fagged out. I do remember my wife usually crapping out in the daytime after an overnighter because she couldn't sleep off watch. I was usually ok.

And whatever you do, keep the radar on at night. It gives two ways of seeing approaching boats- lights and radar, and some boats have no lights.

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Old 11-29-2014, 11:57 AM   #7
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I would say it depends a lot on where you are running and how fast. Open water and out of shipping lanes would be different than the AICW. Overnight would be different than just a couple hours of darkness.

The most I've done is a couple hours before daybreak and I find this pretty tense and demanding compared to running in daylight. Others with more experience or an actual need to run at night may feel differently.
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Old 11-29-2014, 01:33 PM   #8
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I've never done an overnight like this on a pleasure boat, but I stand watches for a living. I work 6 on, 6 off. I don't really like the rotation very much. Realistically, by the time you get off watch, hit the head, take a shower, grab a bite to eat and maybe read or play with your phone for half an hour, you might get 4 hours of sleep. I usually spend the first hour of my watch sleepy, and generally get to full awake mode right about the same time that I should be going to sleep. After a month of that, I'm usually pretty knackered.

If I was doing a week long ocean crossing, I'd consider it though. It seems some of the shorter rotations (2 on 2 off, 3 on 3 off etc...) would really make getting any sleep difficult.

Also, on a related note, I've read that sleeping in intervals of 90 minutes is a good strategy. Apparently the average person has a 90 minute sleep cycle, and if you can wake up right at the end of a cycle, you'll feel much better than you would versus waking somewhere in the middle. So according to that, getting an hour and a half is better than getting two hours. I've tried it, and it seems to hold true for me.
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Old 11-29-2014, 02:56 PM   #9
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Unless it is someone I completely trust, I don't think I could get any sleep regardless of the shift sequences. Having been out at night, but not over night, it is a highly stressful time. Outside, no problem, but I believe I would just lay down close by so I could keep an eye on the things. If I were on another person's boat, you wouldn't have to worry about me falling asleep.
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Old 11-29-2014, 03:03 PM   #10
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Thank you all for your thoughts, they are very helpful!
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Old 11-29-2014, 03:07 PM   #11
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Thank you all for your thoughts, they are very helpful!
Nice boat. There are two very new Ocean Alexanders transients in our marina right now. Very nice!
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Old 11-29-2014, 03:52 PM   #12
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Thank you, we're just taking off in it for the first time the end of the year. You may see us at your marina some time this winter as well, we're heading south from Oriental the end of December. We'll try to run offshore as much as we can, but may be inside if weather demands.

This group is always great at sharing advice. Thank you again!
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Old 11-29-2014, 05:56 PM   #13
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I would say it depends a lot on where you are running and how fast. Open water and out of shipping lanes would be different than the AICW. Overnight would be different than just a couple hours of darkness.

The most I've done is a couple hours before daybreak and I find this pretty tense and demanding compared to running in daylight. Others with more experience or an actual need to run at night may feel differently.
The last thread in which I responded to a similar question, after about 200 posts, I finally realized that I was answering the initial question based on being in the middle of the Atlantic, whereas others were answering as if going up the ICW.

So it all depends in where you are, how long you need to do it and your comfort level with running on instruments.

E.g. my radar is on whenever my running lights are on, which is whenever the engine is running. No matter how good the vsby, whenever another boat or object is nearby, I check it's return on the radar. Even running down the ICW, I'll set the radar target to the boat I am following or being followed by, just to see how the radar performs, practice my instrument running and fully understand the logic in its design.

Thus in fog or at night, I know what it's telling me AND what's it NOT telling me.

For me being in a narrow river or channel like the ICW is extremely stressful. A 10 hr day is a very long day. Evening or night, requires another person or two. 24/7 travel would require 4 crew.

Now, New England, Maine in particular, is virtually impossible at night or fog, no matter how many crew, due to the lobster pots that are everywhere, even worse Downeast AND the risk of failure is so high.

At least on the ICW, should you run off course, a soft, sandy bottom usually awaits. In New England, it's hard, nasty rocks.

Once a bit off shore, things get easier.

And as I've said, the middle of the ocean is a piece of cake.
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Old 11-29-2014, 07:18 PM   #14
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Old 11-29-2014, 07:39 PM   #15
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The last thread in which I responded to a similar question, after about 200 posts, I finally realized that I was answering the initial question based on being in the middle of the Atlantic, whereas others were answering as if going up the ICW.

cut for room

And as I've said, the middle of the ocean is a piece of cake.
As one expands their experience and or knowledge base, their perspective changes.

Even the human body will adapt somewhat to new routines.

Some will get little or no sleep at anchor in the ICW , yet press on the next day. Then they make a big deal of an offshore guy who single hands and catnaps. Even though he is miles from navigation issues and even the chance of traffic is remote.

Properly crewed for truly restful watches is hard to attain by the average small boat recreational guy...so you take your chances within your comfort level.
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Old 11-29-2014, 08:58 PM   #16
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Coming up the west coast we did one stretch with 3 people on 4 hr shifts That works great if you have 3 people. The shifts aren't too long, and you can get good sleep in between.

The longer stretch was with just 2 people and we did 6hr shifts. I thought it would be a disaster, but it worked really well. A 6 hr shift is kinda long, especially at night, but 6 hrs off gives you a chance to actually get some sleep. If you are on shorter shifts, I think sleep really becomes a problem over time. After 3.5 days we both felt fine.

What ever timing you pick, consider cutting it up so that your shits are at the same time(s) each day rather than constantly shifting around. So as an example with 3 people, do 4 hr shifts, not 3hrs.

In all cases, we did engine room checks at shift changes, and whoever was on watch was on alone. Two people on would be great, but I think you need a lot more people to do that without compromising sleep.

We also freely went to the head, heated up some soup, or grabbed a snack while on watch. That took the watch stander away from the helm for up to maybe 5 minutes at a time, but we were in open water and deep enough for no crab traps.

Things of course would be very different in confined or busy waters. I agree with others that I'd never run the ICW like that. Once in the Puget sound, we only ran during the day because of the risk of debris.
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Old 11-29-2014, 10:37 PM   #17
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It certainly does depend where you are cruising. In my cruising grounds, it's rare to see another boat during the day. At night, I have yet to see one. Deep water, no crab pots, no traffic.
My concerns while lying in my bunk are more weather and mechanical related. Has the wind picked up? The engine sounds different etc.
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Old 11-29-2014, 11:27 PM   #18
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I like running at night.

I like the additional challenge. My night runs are usually coastal or inshore. Coastal I like 2hr watches with 2 on the bridge. One at the helm and radar, one in the day bed resting on the bridge, and one below sleeping. Two hours of good rest below, one in the day bed followed by one at the helm. For a couple of days this works pretty well. inshore runs are usually shorter and I will be on the bridge for the whole run. It is important to begin these runs well rested. i usually run with my radar on day and night as a way of understanding what it shows and doesn't. I won't run at night with crab pots unless it is dead calm. Night runs are always at reducd speed.
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Old 11-30-2014, 10:16 AM   #19
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Every boat, crew and ocean is different on the same day. It's one of those things that you figure out as you go. I've done passages with two, three and four watches (single and multiple watch standers). When it's just my wife and I, we do 6 on and 6 off. I prefer three watches and I like to dog them, so you never stand the same watch back to back. Moonless nights can be more difficult at times. Certain boats and weather may require two persons per watch for short or long durations. I've done watches where we had to rotate the helmsman every 15 mins due to disorientation and fatigue (no moon, no auto pilot and big seas). I've also played guitar for hours just steering with my feet under a full moon.


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Old 11-30-2014, 05:38 PM   #20
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Going to sea with a shorthanded crew to begin with is a gamble.

With no flexibility, sea sickness, sickness, injury, excessive fatigue can change things fast.

Not saying don't do it, but be ready for the consequences.
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