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Old 04-27-2012, 11:00 AM   #29
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On the subject of waking on passage, has anyone tried one of these, watch commander? It seems to me to be an interesting bit of kit irrespective if you sail alone or have crew.


We installed a Watch Commander on the way back from New Caledonia. Set for either 15 or 20min - a light will flash and small buzzer sound at the 20 min end. If you don't press the switch to reset, 15 sec later 2 buzzes and two flashes; 30 secs and 3 will go off. At 60 sec all hell brakes loose when an almighty siren erupts below decks scaring the pants off the crew and waking everyone within 30 miles!

Believe me - you will only let it happen once.

While I acknowledge the importance of keeping a good lookout - this a brilliant bit of kit. We never ever use it within sight of shore and anywhere near shipping lanes but on long distance passages a million miles from anywhere and with our radar set at a 25nm alarm - this does us just fine.

For my wife its added comfort knowing that she is going to be alerted if I go overboard. We always wear lifejackets and safety lines and no one goes out on deck at night without notifying the others (even if they are asleep) - and yes - we are very aware of how far a vessel can travel in just 60 sec away from a bobbing head in the dark - but hey - it's another additional alert to add to your normal passage safety precautions.


Fair winds,


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Old 04-27-2012, 05:16 PM   #30
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Hi Mico,

In a former life, I worked in the field of transportation safety for the US DOT. I had the opportunity to interface with the NTSB in accident investigation and learned alot about the sorts of things which lead to accidents. The Federal Railroad Administration human factors group did a number of studies (in full locomotive simulators) about crew fatigue since locomotive engineers can work 12 hour shifts. I was amazed by the fact that alerter systems (like you describe) could be completely "dealt with" by a SLEEPING locomotive engineer. When the first buzzer goes off, the engineer hits it without even waking up. Seriously. The studies had the engineers wired to record vitals and video in use watching the face. The engineer could sit or stand at station, be asleep and reset the alerter all the while never waking up. In my conversations with the human factors expert, I learned that even if the alerter were placed in a different location which required the engineer to walk to it to shut it off, that it would still be possible to do so without waking up.

The last I recall was that some industry people thought that only an alerter system in which the crew would have to answer a random question (using a number pad, for example) which would require cognitive work would actually be capable of keeping the person "alert"

My take on this is that fatigue is a terrible thing and that Watch Commander isn't going to keep you alert. Perhaps a more sophisticated version would work as mentioned.

Fatigue is a horrible "mistake enhancer" which can and will lead to accidents. I would say that a solo sailor or fatigued shorthanded crew would be better off just heaving to and sleeping (far from land, open ocean sailing that is) than foolishly thinking that they've cut the odds of mishap by using a simple alerter system.
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Old 04-27-2012, 05:16 PM   #31
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Hi Mico,

In a former life, I worked in the field of transportation safety for the US DOT. I had the opportunity to interface with the NTSB in accident investigation and learned alot about the sorts of things which lead to accidents. The Federal Railroad Administration human factors group did a number of studies (in full locomotive simulators) about crew fatigue since locomotive engineers can work 12 hour shifts. I was amazed by the fact that alerter systems (like you describe) could be completely "dealt with" by a SLEEPING locomotive engineer. When the first buzzer goes off, the engineer hits it without even waking up. Seriously. The studies had the engineers wired to record vitals and video in use watching the face. The engineer could sit or stand at station, be asleep and reset the alerter all the while never waking up. In my conversations with the human factors expert, I learned that even if the alerter were placed in a different location which required the engineer to walk to it to shut it off, that it would still be possible to do so without waking up.

The last I recall was that some industry people thought that only an alerter system in which the crew would have to answer a random question (using a number pad, for example) which would require cognitive work would actually be capable of keeping the person "alert"

My take on this is that fatigue is a terrible thing and that Watch Commander isn't going to keep you alert. Perhaps a more sophisticated version would work as mentioned.

Fatigue is a horrible "mistake enhancer" which can and will lead to accidents. I would say that a solo sailor or fatigued shorthanded crew would be better off just heaving to and sleeping (far from land, open ocean sailing that is) than foolishly thinking that they've cut the odds of mishap by using a simple alerter system.
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:40 PM   #32
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I've been single and short handed sailing for many decades. On long offshore passages, I sleep when I feel like it, usually for periods of a couple of hours at the longest stretch. It's my normal sleep pattern on shore or on the boat. On the boat, I make a tour of the cockpit, check the sails, progress, have a look around and go back to sleep throughout the night. Sometimes sleep down below but often sleep in the cockpit. I become very senstized to the motion of the boat and wind and waves after being at sea for a couple of days and usually sense if anything has changed and may need my attention.

When coastal cruising or making a landfall, I don't sleep. Make sure that I'm well rested before I get within 50 miles of any obstacle. When I was younger managed to stay awake and at the helm for 72 straight hours but was very very squirrely that last night. Actually thought a porpoise cavorting with the boat and leaving a luminous wake was a torpedo attack. Still haven't figured out which nation's navy lauched the torpedo. Now, when coastal cruising, I make passages in less than two day intervals either heaving to or anchoring every other night for a good sleep.

I've found that being reasonably well rested within a 36 hour period is important to clear thinking and physical ability. Have tried the egg timer thing but it just didn't work for me. In my case, 15, 30, 60 minutes at the rhythm of a mechanical device is a prescription for sleep deprivation. I don't perform well when chronically tired. Feel the dangers are greater from being sleep deprived than any chance encounter keeping a 24/7 watch would prevent. The chances of a collision with a ship on the open ocean are somewhat less than being killed by a rabid gopher.

Seeing a barely floating object like a container are practically zero at night and not much better during the day even if you keep watch like a hawk. If it's any consolation, the ships seem to have slowed down a bit with the high cost of fuel. on my last TransPac. the AIS showed all ships cruising at less than 20 knots and tankers were lumbering along at 12 knots or so. Did see three ships once I left the shipping lanes off San Francisco which was three more than I'd seen in more than 10,000 miles of previous open ocean sailing.
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Old 04-27-2012, 09:48 PM   #33
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Hi,

Well that is an interesting point about the loco study but as I said - we will only use the watch alarm when in wide open water well away from shore or shipping lanes. What I didn't say is that we have mounted it at the other end of the cockpit and you physically have to get up and walk across the cockpit to get to it. When we do that, we also take the opportunity to look at the radar, check the sails and conditions and have a good scan about. When tiredness really hits us we hove to and get a longer break. As is quite evident - there is no perfect one-fit-for-all solution. You do the best you can with the resources you have available. One of the things we are looking forward to on our trip back from Borneo will be having a larger crew aboard where we can share this load. With a larger vessel we'll be able to do this in comfort rather than be squashed in like sardines.

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Old 04-28-2012, 12:52 AM   #34
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I would say anecdotally that what red says makes sense. When you are really tired, you just need sleep and your body will do whatever it must. Especially as we get older. The only solution is to get some sleep. I try VERY hard to get totally ready to depart, then get a long sleep, then leave immediately on waking. This means everyone has the maximum time before sleep problems start. And force crew to sleep on their off watches even if they don't "feel" tired.

I do like the watch commander idea though. I did that with a cheap cooking timer a couple times. Not for fighting sleep, but so I could read. I used 10 minutes or 5 minutes depending on where I was and the idea was that each time it went off I would reset it and do a full checklist. Then back to reading.

Other than my personal experience, I can't make any claims about it's effectiveness.
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Old 04-28-2012, 01:53 AM   #35
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I've also used an egg timer or a timer on my pda (15 minute) for exactly the reason Coyote has--so I can read. It's always helpful to have the reminder to get up and go through my 15 minute and 1 hour watch checklists as appropriate.

Setting an AIS alarm zone is a great idea in itself when you're at sea--I love having that in place--choose the distance you want to be alerted to! It is a wonderful thing. Of course, you could run into a container, another cruiser, or some debris from Japan...but at least the AIS will warn of the shipping traffic that could take out your boat without even realizing it.

The one time AIS alarms didn't work well for us was approaching the San Francisco incoming traffic lanes--we were sailing across the lanes coming from the South and headed North to anchor near Point Reyes at Drakes. That day was foggy with that strange low cloud fog that allows you to see the ship at the water line (and maybe 30 feet up) but not above it. With about 1.5 mile visibility (at the waterline!) but no visibility above it and having no radar, we were at the mercy of keeping a good watch and hoping the AIS would peep if we were on a collision course with something. The ships coming and going from the SFBay can be moving pretty fast. That day, we had several on the AIS showing between 12 knots and 18 knots. The light winds and confused seas were such that we were yawing at least 10-15 degrees if not more--with our AIS alarm set for 15 miles, we were constantly having it go off--we then set it for 5 miles and it still went off; then at 1 mile it was sounding the potential collision alert since there was so much traffic and we were yawing so much. I finally was just scanning through the AIS screen and ship info, drawing lines of convergence on the paper chart and relaying bearings to hubby so he (with his fighter pilot eagle eyes) could find the ships. The bow (at waterline only) of a big ship would break out of the fog within 1/2 mile of us--exactly where the AIS would say it should be--so close it was quite frightening. With all the yawing, we did end up turning off the alarm as it was useless in that case--and we decided to "expedite" our way through the traffic zone by motor-sailing as quickly as possible for about an hour before turning off the engine and resuming our pleasant sail. However--AIS alarms are great, they do work and they certainly can bring you to the deck if you're asleep below decks thinking you're 1000 miles from anyone or anything!

Fair winds,
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Old 04-28-2012, 02:02 AM   #36
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Some interesting comments. I am a long term single handed sailor and have used the "Watch Commander" for several years now and think of it as the most important piece of safety equipment I carry. I consider balancing fatigue with keeping a good lookout is vital to my safety so when in the open ocean and clear of shipping lanes tend to sleep pretty much as required, getting up every few hours primarily to check sails and navigation etc, also have a good look around but at this frequency would acknowledge it is a rather nominal activity. AIS is a great aid in this environment but when in coastal waters I use the "Watch Commander" all the time set to an appropriate interval, again balancing my assessment of risk vs fatigue. I have found 20 minutes is a good interval which I can maintain almost indefinitely, anything less and after several hours I soon become excessively fatigued and probably potentially dangerous to myself.
The loco driver study is interesting. I have my "Watch Commander" set up near the companionway which forces me to get up out of my bunk to hit the reset button. I have found I can get out of my bunk, hit the reset button, have a look around and return to my bunk in a semi-awake mode, thereby getting a reasonable level of rest. I would certainly maintain however that I am conscious enough to respond to anything I might see. Certainly after 10 years of single handing the near misses I have experienced have not been due to inalertness, but rather to my assessing conditions poorly. For instance on one occasion the swell was bigger than I thought and hid a fishing vessel from view until I was almost on top of it. (Of course I can't know about any near misses that I slept through.)
On the subject of egg timers, which I have as a back up and to time eggs, I have found them to be almost useless as they just do not have the decibels, but when I sleep with the "Watch Commander" I do so with an ease of mind that allows me to relax and drop to sleep straight away, thus vastly improving the quality of the limited sleep I do get.
While I am sure the loco study is relevant I do not think its findings would be fully transferable to the sailing environment. I would say the biggest problem for a loco driver is monotony and boredom, and while these conditions can exist at sea I believe I have many options available to me to ameliorate their effects which the loco driver does not. For a start a sailing boat is a very active and interactive environment. Even without a "Watch Commander", as Roverhi notes, one becomes very sensitized to the vessel's motion and other environmental factors and I wake up to any change in these. Also there is a lot I can do to exercise my mind, eg read, write, play games, play my flute, or navigate without the damned GPS etc. This last activity I find brilliant for keeping myself actively involved with the environment around me rather then simply being a passive observer. Similar studies have been done for the military, the big problem being maintaining alertness while watching radar screens etc. for long periods with nothing happening (about an hour is the realistic maximum before an unacceptable failure rate is reached - in a previous life I was a warfare officer in the Royal Australian Navy). Steering by compass is a similar activity and I am amazed people can steer as well as they do for as long as they do. My other very precious piece of equipment is my wind vane which has served me long and well.
I have never had to stay awake for 72 hours continuously, and hope I never do. I have read that as long as one is dreaming one is OK, but when you cross the line into hallucinating, which it sounds like Roverhi did with his torpedoes, then you are in a bit of trouble and can do crazy things. Consequently I think it is really important to avoid allowing oneself to get to this point, because once there then the only way out is a good long sleep, and you just might not have that luxury.
I should also point out that the designer of the "Watch Commander", who I met in the Carribean, did not design the device for single-handers but rather for his wife and himself as short handed sailors. His fear was that he would wake up with no wife on board and no idea when she might have gone over the side. So the idea of his "Watch Commander" is that the person on watch should hit the reset button at the set interval (or shorter) and if in that time frame they went over the side then the person down below would be woken up and would know that the furthest away their fellow crew member could be would be what ever was set, say nine minutes, and could plan a search pattern accordingly. Since he designed this device we have other more sophisticated machines for alerting us to a person overboard, but I think the "Watch Commander" is still an excellent aid, it is simple, robust, relatively inexpensive, consumes minimal power and useful for a multitude of purposes (even to time the boiled egg). I shall always have one on board.
I should make disclaimer here and note that I have absolutely no vested interests in the small company which makes these things.
I would also like to recommend an excellent little book by Michael Stadler, "Psychology of Sailing. The sea's effect on mind and body." Maybe Redbobeep could add it to his Amazon store (love your website and your beautiful schooner Red).
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Old 04-28-2012, 02:15 AM   #37
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Sylph--thanks for the compliments on the boat

Redbopeep is actually the female half of the team! Hubby (David) laughs when people think it's him since it's 99% of the time, me, Brenda, writing.

The way you're using Watch Commander makes good sense--if the watch stander goes overboard, is injured and can't get to the alerter, you'll be alerted by the fact that they aren't there to reset it.
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Old 04-28-2012, 05:10 AM   #38
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I apologise Brenda (Redbopeep), so rare and so nice to have some female company on such a site as this, and clearly very experienced and well informed (hope this does now come across as sexist, just intended as an observation). Bob (Sylph)
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Old 04-29-2012, 01:50 PM   #39
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for $120 you can get an AIS receiver only with open CPN you get an alarm on your computer when a ship is say 20 miles away. connect your computer speakers and the alarm awakens the dead. Sleep soundly and be awakened when you can view ship course speed etc and call it on VHS by name if worried about collision. Came accross the Pacific and slept well to be awakened a few times by this alarm.
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Old 04-29-2012, 06:32 PM   #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by berniekatchor View Post
for $120 you can get an AIS receiver only with open CPN you get an alarm on your computer when a ship is say 20 miles away. connect your computer speakers and the alarm awakens the dead. Sleep soundly and be awakened when you can view ship course speed etc and call it on VHS by name if worried about collision. Came accross the Pacific and slept well to be awakened a few times by this alarm.
It's a little more costly than that since your AIS needs its own VHF antenna OR a very high quality (fast) antenna splitter. Exception is if you get (what we have) which is a VHF radio that has AIS receiver built into it--then only one antenna required for both radio and AIS. Further, if you do it within your VHF radio, there's a screen on radio--so no computer required, just a $80 (serial) hocky puck style gps.
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Old 04-29-2012, 08:11 PM   #41
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That sounds interesting. I have a stand alone AIS receiver which I like because it consumes minimal power and I do not rely on having a computer on 24 hours a day. Also installed a second VHF antenna figuring it would make a good emergency antenna in case of a dismasting. But very much like the idea of an integrated VHF radio and AIS with inbuilt display. Can you recommend a model?
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Old 04-29-2012, 11:01 PM   #42
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That sounds interesting. I have a stand alone AIS receiver which I like because it consumes minimal power and I do not rely on having a computer on 24 hours a day. Also installed a second VHF antenna figuring it would make a good emergency antenna in case of a dismasting. But very much like the idea of an integrated VHF radio and AIS with inbuilt display. Can you recommend a model?
The one we have is Standard Horizon GX2100 but there may be others out there like it. The street price when we purchased it was $220. One of the really nice accessories is the remote mike which you can purchase for it. You can place the radio inside the boat and the remote mike at the helm--nice thing about the particular remote mike is that it does everything the radio does--including show you a tiny view of the AIS targets. You can scroll through them to see particulars, as well. Very useful little add-on gadget. Street price is a little under $100. You don't need it--it's just a nice little thing. We didn't have one for the first year we had the radio. That particular radio is pretty amazing in numerous ways--you can set waypoints on it and watch your bearing and distance to the waypoint on the mike or radio. Means you don't even have to have a computer/chartplotter turned on. Just your paper charts, a log book and the radio w/gps for easy tracking. We seldom have the computer on--we have a tiny chartplotter on a Nokia N810 (an old PDA w/gps loaded with something called Mameo mapper) and this radio.

Extra VHF antenna. Yes, that's a good idea to have a spare. We keep an extra antenna stored under the cockpit which we can install if needed. We have wood masts so our main VHF antenna is a dipole made out of coax cable which hangs inside the foremast near the top (above the spreaders and anything with a lot of metal) That antenna was inexpensive to fabricate and works better than any external antenna we've ever had. If you've got a wood mast without a whole bunch of other wires going through it, it's worth doing. Our steaming light, spreader lights are below the antenna; our anchor light is on the other mast (main mast aft on a schooner). It's all good. Always figured that the antenna was better off inside the mast than outside of it. My biggest worry is that someday the braided rope holding the antenna up in place will chafe through. Shoulda used something like Amsteel...

I'm sort of hijacking this thread with this AIS topic...sorry.
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