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Old 02-12-2009, 09:31 AM   #1
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For longer coastal passages and ocean voyages, formal watchkeeping should begin as soon as your yacht has cleared port and is settled down on her course at sea.

What watchkeeping routine do you use? (hours on/off)

Why does this work best for you?

Also see the Watchkeeping section on the Cruising Wiki HERE.


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Old 02-12-2009, 09:45 AM   #2
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Enjoy a 4 hour watch which ends at 6 am (in equitorial regions throughout the oceans - dawn is around this time) It includes the first dog watch - good mug of steaming coffee goes down well at this time, to greet that dawn.



"A dogwatch at sea is the period between 4 and 6 p.m, the first dogwatch, or the period between 6 and 8 p.m., the second dog watch. The watches aboard ships are:

Noon to 4:00 p.m. Afternoon watch

4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. First dogwatch

6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Second dogwatch

8:00 p.m. to midnight 1st night watch

Midnight to 4:00 a.m. Middle watch or mid watch

4:00 to 8:00 a.m. Morning watch

8:00 a.m. to noon Forenoon watch

The dogwatches are only two hours each so the same Sailors aren't always on duty at the same time each afternoon. Some experts say dogwatch is a corruption of dodge watch and others associate dogwatch with the fitful sleep of Sailors called dog sleep, because it is a stressful watch. But no one really knows the origin of this term, which was in use at least back to 1700."


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Old 02-12-2009, 09:53 AM   #3
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Most of my passage making has been in the tropics, with 12 day hours and 12 night hours. I usually have 3x 4 hour watches for the daytime and 4x 3 hour watches at night in normal conditions. With three crew or teams, this means that everyone gets plenty of time off-watch (4 on - 8 off, & 3 on - 6 off) and also get a rotation of watch times to keep things interesting. In bad weather or at other times needing greater concentration I shorten the watches according to need.

I've worked other variations of this when I've had a larger crew by 'overlapping' the watches. This means that there is a fresh pair of hands on deck every 1 1/2 or 2 hours and you get someone new to talk to!

= Ko Lanta, Thailand,
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:01 AM   #4
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I think the major issue is not how watches are set. That will change from boat to boat and according to the weather and other circumstances. The important thing is that watches ARE set and that there is a good lookout being kept.

I have seen ships blamed for running down yachts and there is no doubt about that they should be blames for it when it happens but, and here is the crux of the matter, some of the blame will normaly be attributed to the yacht too if they are not keeping a good lookout.

Nor is it just a matter of a lookout. The watch needs to attend to the safety of the ship and without an adequate watch you are not exhibiting good seamanship.

Aye // Stephen
Yacht NAUSIKAA | Call Sign: 2AJH2



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Old 02-12-2009, 10:44 AM   #5
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I'd like to hear from couples on watch keeping.

While its fine to have additional passengers at times to ease the load, part of the adventure of sailing as a couple is discovering the world together.

We have settled down to 3 on 3 off and try for coastal to do about 14 hr days although crossing Bonaparte and the Carpentaria Gulf were 6 and 4 days respectively. All day and all night and all hand steering.

Blue water will be very different - 10 - 12 days I think for our first passage between Brisbane & New Cal - although this time we will have autohelm, wind vane & radar ; which while no replacement for good watch keeping - will make life a lil easier.

So what do other couples do? I know the insurance companies seem to want to add an additional loading for it

Fair winds

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Old 02-12-2009, 11:29 AM   #6
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Hi Mico,

We're two up most times and tend not to set a fixed watch system daylight hours - but we also fit our night watches around regular daily tasks.

For instance we always run our main engine just after dark so as to charge all things needed, fully chill down fridges, heat water, make water etc whilst also allowing us to fully power up lamps below whilst evening meal (our main meal) is being prepped and then scoffed.

Only after this is completed and engine goes off does one of us hit the sack.

It's usually me as Sue likes to sleep only when tired. Me, can do - anytime!

Our night watches are supposed to be 3 hours each off and on, starting therefore around 8 or 9 pm - but if I have had a hard day say hand steering lots, and Sues not tired, she'll often let me go through to say 1am.

Equally, if she has given me extra sleep time, and I'm not tired by 4 am, I'll often let her go through to dawn.

With only two IMHO you'll need to have such flexibility.

If we were planning any passage over say 6 days - I'd seriously consider adding a third body for the duration.

Hope this helps.

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Old 02-12-2009, 03:45 PM   #7
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I like a modified Swedish system.

1200 - 1800

1800 - 2300

2300 - 0300

0300 - 0600

0600 - 1200

This system dogs automatically.

The daylight shifts are longer than the night shifts.

The breaks occur at meal time. The on-watch makes the meal at the end of their shift, the next shift cleans up.

The six hour off shifts provide for a long sleep period. I use the long afternoon off watch as personal time to get cleaned up, read and doze.

I first used this on a delivery from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest. We arrived rested.

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Old 02-13-2009, 12:11 AM   #8
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Not being a big sleeper definitely helps on passage. On land, my normal sleep hours are 1 - 2am til 7am. I'm generally awake all other hours, so this bodes well for flexibility watch keeping that keeps a crew fresh. I could not force my self to sleep during daylight, no matter how hard I try. Conversely, if I force myself to remain awake much after 2am, then sleep for that night is pretty much shot and I'll be up for the duration. Because of my somewhat strange sleep patterns, watch's get scheduled a bit staggered. For a 4 person crew, the watch schedule is as follows:

Day 1 Rotation:

1st watch = 4-8am (Crew #1) <Usually relieved by 7am>

2nd watch = 7am-11am (Captain)

3rd watch = 11am-3pm (Crew #2)

4th watch = 3pm-7pm (Crew #3)

5th watch = 7pm - 1am (Captain)

6th watch = 11pm - 4am (Crew #4) <Usually joint between 11pm-1am, so only 2-3 hours alone>

Day 2 Rotation:

1st watch = 4-8am (Crew #3)

2nd watch = 7am-11am (Captain)

3rd watch = 11am-3pm (Crew #4)

4th watch = 3pm-7pm (Crew #1)

5th watch = 7pm - 1am (Captain)

6th watch = 11pm - 4am (Crew #2)

Day 3 Rotation:

1st watch = 4-8am (Crew #4)

2nd watch = 7am-11am (Captain)

3rd watch = 11am-3pm (Crew #1)

4th watch = 3pm-7pm (Crew #2)

5th watch = 7pm - 1am (Captain)

6th watch = 11pm - 4am (Crew #3)

Day 4 Rotation:

1st watch = 4-8am (Crew #2)

2nd watch = 7am-11am (Captain)

3rd watch = 11am-3pm (Crew #3)

4th watch = 3pm-7pm (Crew #4)

5th watch = 7pm - 1am (Captain)

6th watch = 11pm - 4am (Crew #1)

Day 5 rotation = Day #2

Day 6 rotation = Day #3

Day 7 Rotation = Day #4

Day 8 rotation = Day #1

Repeat cycle as necessary

I find this to be the best way to fight fatigue since those with more 'normal' sleep patterns are able to get a reasonable amount of uninterrupted sleep, and aren't on the 2 overnight watch's alone any more than once every 4th day - and even then, they'd be alternating between the early overnight (11pm-4am joint) and the late overnight (4am - 8am) so they never come to be really dreaded. It also allows for the most joint social time, while still being able to easily maintain a more normal sleep routine. I've a slightly different scheduling for a crew of 3 but still accomplishes basically the same.
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Old 02-13-2009, 04:01 AM   #9
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When we were "young and invincible" e.g. in our 20's and early 30's...we used to do 6 hour watches with no problems if no fog or weather. Else, 3 hr shifts during weather. Crazy now that I look back at it though. At that time, we never did a trip that was more than 46 hours of straight travel w/o stopping. Even so... We did 7am to 1pm, 1pm to 7pm, 7pm to 1am, 1 am to 7 am. I always took the 1 am to 7 am shift because hubby couldn't stay alert during the 3 am to 6 am time frame. Typically, I would be asleep during the 7 am-1pm shift, and from 9 pm-1am. David would sleep during the 1am-7am shift and take a cat nap in the afternoon.

Later, when we were a little smarter about things and not quite so invincible (like now in our mid-40's), we do 4 hour or 3 hour shifts--which ever made sense to the situation. I'd suggest 4 hour shifts.

I'd take 2 extra people, if not 3 along for any blue water or coastal passages that I expected to be tough. We have the room for extra folks and know that larger crews can be better rested and have a more enjoyable time. An acquaintance of mine (with a similarly-sized, well insured, boat) is required by his insurer to take on crew for blue water passages. He is required to have a minimum of 4 people onboard. He and his wife have owned and operated the same boat for over 45 years--the last 17 cruising the world's oceans) and don't question the practice as they've made countless blue water passages and know that it is a sound practice.
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Old 02-13-2009, 11:14 AM   #10
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Different situations and different sailors call for different systems, but here is one I got quite good use of out of a trip across the tasman recently. We had 4 on board, 2 very experienced sailors and 2 not so experienced (although both had been offshore on a shakedown cruise). It was summer and we weren't expecting anything in terms of bad weather.

We had 3 watches, 7pm - 11pm, 11pm - 3am, and 3am - 7am. The experienced sailors took turns in taking the 11 - 3 shift, which meant that there was someone experienced up and about every 4 hours at least. The other experienced sailor had the night off, but was on call all night as the floater if anyone needed help. I have 2 electronic autopilots (one newer Raymarine on the hydraulics and one older Autohelm wheelpilot as a spare) plus an aries wind vane so we never needed to manually helm except into and out of harbour.

During daylight hours we had all hands or as many as needed to bring up all plain sail and get some boat speed up. At night we tended to reef down, put away the poles and drop the staysail, unless the conditions are very light (and even so the main gets 2 reefs put in at sunset just in case). In fact I never sail with the main up if the wind is aft of the beam at night, the boat seems to be more secure with just the genoa. We had 2-3 days & nights of sailing with the genoa poled out one side and the staysail the other, main down, and wind right behind us.

During daylight if we were sailing pretty well with no major dramas, as happened most days, then whoever wanted to be up was up, and whoever wanted to be asleep was asleep. With 4 on board that seemed to work pretty well. When there were wind shifts it was call to all hands. I got woken up twice, once to help reef as the wind had picked up, and once to unfurl and hunt for some wind which had died away completely at 6am requiring us to set the iron topsail. I managed to find some time to cook one good hot meal per day, watch a few movies, and read some books. Plus deal with the blockage in the heads which required dismantling the outlet hose connections, hooray for a shower afterwards.
= New South Wales, Queensland,
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Old 02-14-2009, 12:27 AM   #11
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Hi all,

Phyllis and I are back cruising after swallowing the anchour for 30 years.We have completed our cruise from Los Angeles to La Paz. It is all coming back but our mature ages (65 and 69) require more planning and careful preparation before setting off and during the voyage. We made passages of 2 and 3 days with some day hops so had to keep good watch each night. The sailing skills of 30 years ago are coming back but extra care and planning each sail change, etc is necessary to compensate for our reduced strength and endurance.

It is made more complicated to have a new-to-us boat that we must learn its ways. Our way of coping, especially on night passages, is;

* Prepared food and drink for the on watch person to keep alert and energized.

* Mainsail is reefed 1 or 2 reefs depending on conditions.

* Full pre night check of all systems.

* Raymarine autopilot on at all times on either windvane or auto mode.

* Radar on standby for sweeps at 10-15 minute intervals. Alarm timer set to go off after 15 minutes if watch dozes off.

* 3 hour shifts starting at 6 pm

* Person on watch cannot leave cockpit without calling off watch.

* Daytime naps as necessary.

* All decisions take into account the resulting stress levels, as we are not in a hurry, we are retired.

With Careful consideration of our strengths and weaknesses cruising is possible well into our mature years.

Have fun

Gary and Phyllis

"I feel younger while afloat in my boat."

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Old 02-14-2009, 07:04 AM   #12
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Gary and Phyllis, good for you, back to cruising!

Your "rules" are a sensible way to make allowances for advancing years. Peter and I are going through those accomodations as well.

Yet it's not only for us older folks that your practices are appropriate; most of them were important to us when we were in our 40s and 50s. Our biggest compromise is that back 10 years ago I could, and did, stand watch from about midnight to 7 in the morning so that Peter could get the long sleep he needed. Of course, that only occurred in good weather. In threatening or bad weather we maintained short watches, on 2, maybe max. 3 hours. And we always had some kind of food prepared so that no matter how bad the weather we could have something to eat. "Keep your strength up" was our chant, both for keeping rested and for keeping fed.

Fair winds,

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Old 02-18-2009, 02:12 PM   #13
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I am 64 and Isabel is 54. Our yacht is a 24 ton Bruce Roberts steel 53 footer, cutter rigged.

We came from Malaysia/Thaland to the Med using 3 hour watches at night and an informal system in daylight - at night, the watchkeeper stays in the cockpit and stands to look carefully all round every 10 minutes. Coming below is only to wake the other person to take over or help, and to make a tea/coffee (two trips, one to put the kettle on another to make the drink, so only below 2 minutes. Daytime, as long a someone is in the cockpit, no formal method. In bad weather daytime, or at night any weather, noone gets out of the cockpit, even clipped on, unless the other is present. We also use a vacuum flask to avoid having to go blow to make a drink. Neither of us drinks alcohol during long passages.

We intend to use the same syste for the Atlantic this coming winter.

And thank goodness for automatic helms !


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Old 02-18-2009, 02:55 PM   #14
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In a crew of two it is a personal decision, if a four hour watch is better or a tree hour watch.

The four hour watch gives the off-watch a good amount of sleep. We bring it up to three and a half hours of real sleep and a good time to wake up and get ready and to talk to the partner on watch about the events of the last hours.

But the four hour watch is hard for the one on watch - specially in the 2300 to 0300 watch. Four hours in the dark - we almost always sit in the cockpit unter the sprayhood. But we got a nice idea by some Englishmen years ago: the nibble box! lots of cernals, muesli, small candy,... keeps you awake and happy. Yes, we know, rich stuff, but as long as you do not sail day and night for months at a time.

We also tried a three hour watch system, what is easier for the one on watch, but we found that two to three hours of sleep is not as recovering.

And as my wife does not like sailing into the dark and is not so fond of sunrises at the end of a watch, it is tradition, that I do the 1900 to 2300 watch, she does the dark hours until 0300 and then I can enjoy the upcoming sun and retire from 0700 to 1100 or getting up again, when it gets too hot below .


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