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Old 06-13-2007, 12:43 PM   #1
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On long passages, how do cruisers handle "Sleep Deprivation" which must of course go hand-in-hand with "Cabin Fever"? Many accidents at sea are known to be a result of the effects of these conditions on mind and body. Any tips on how to counteract this?

Sleep deprivation:

Common symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

* tiredness

* irritability, edginess

* inability to tolerate stress

* problems with concentration and memory

* behavioral, learning or social problems

* frequent infections

* blurred vision

* vague discomfort

* alterations in appetite

* activity intolerance

"Cabin Fever":

Cabin fever is a condition that produces restlessness and irritability caused from being in a confined space. The actual word is a slang term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a party is isolated and/or shut in together for an extended period of time.

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Old 06-30-2007, 10:58 AM   #2
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Hi Manor,

Your post has been sitting, unanswered, for some time. I am a regular guy with no medical background, but will attempt to put some of my thoughts into your query.

Firstly, I deliver yachts for a living and we tend to have long legs on our voyages – the first on a delivery from Cape Town is 1700 nm to St Helena and the second to the Caribbean is 3800 nm from St Helena to Trinidad – sleep deprivation always occurs but I have never experienced “cabin fever” as you describe it. But, as you say, the two go together and I would rather say that cabin fever is part of sleep deprivation.

For insurance reasons, we never sail short-handed although the crew on board sometimes have little or no sailing experience. I try and sail with a 1st Mate and two crew members but sometimes we are only three-up on board. I teach my crew the basics on how to sail within twenty four hours of departing port but leave strict instructions to wake me if there is anything that they are not sure of – and believe me, I get woken on a regular basis for the first week or two. In the rough and cold conditions of the south Atlantic, sleep deprivation takes its toll very quickly.

I have found that the selection of crew plays a vital roll – if I am confident in the crew when they are on watch, I can catch up on my sleep but if there is any doubt in the ability of a crew member, it is hard to sleep or you never really get into a deep sleep that will revive your soul – you tend to sleep with one eye and one ear fully alert and the slightest change in the motion of the boat has you on deck very quickly. If any crew member is not compatible with the rest of the crew, it also produces a great psychological strain on everybody which tends to have a chain effect, resulting in sleep depravation and, sometimes, a big altercation – I have found it is best for all aboard to put the incompatible crew member ashore at the first port you can stop at to get some kind of normality back into life aboard.

Whenever you have the opportunity, take a book to your cabin/bunk, get nice and warm, read a page or two and soon you will be fast asleep – the extra sleep will revive your soul and let you think properly and ultimately, make good decisions.

When the seas or rough, the waves are reaching the height of 3, 4 or 5 story buildings and breaking over your boat, set up your boat properly for the conditions – a well founded boat and one set up for the prevailing conditions will look after you better than you think. Then make sure your watch system is working and get some rest. Go with the flow – it is no use trying to fight the might of the sea if you are safely offshore and have plenty of leeway. Of course, being near land is a different kettle of fish – try to get into the shelter of a port or bay as soon as possible, before being deprived of sleep makes your judgement and decisions questionable.

This subject can be expanded on greatly but lets leave it at the above for now.

John
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Old 06-30-2007, 11:10 AM   #3
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@JohnT



Great post on a very interesting topic.
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Old 06-30-2007, 12:54 PM   #4
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Boat's magnify the importance of non-confrontational personalities and how essential teamwork can be. Sound guidance, John T!
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Old 10-01-2007, 01:19 AM   #5
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For insurance reasons, we never sail short-handed although the crew on board sometimes have little or no sailing experience.

John
If I had only known...............
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Old 10-01-2007, 03:11 AM   #6
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Interesting topic and JohnT’s comments are right on the mark. Apart from choosing your crew (which may not always be possible on a commercial delivery), I think the way you manage your watches is probably the most important decision you can make as this will impact on their off-watch ability to relax.

On longer ocean passages (+ 5 days) I have tried a variety of formulations based on the climate and weather expected (more crew and shorter watches in cold, stormy weather).

Below is the basic formula that has, from my experience, worked the best.

Minimum 4 crew, 2 watch-keepers, 2 look-outs. Captain 6 to 12, Mate 12 to 6. Least experienced lookout 8 to 2, with stronger having the more difficult 2 to 8 watch.

Primary benefit is that you have fresh eyes and energy every 3 hours and the 2 watch-keepers can assess and train the look-outs to changing conditions inside and out.

Main Psychological benefit is that it stimulates our competitive nature to be the “best we can be” with different crewmembers, so that complacency does not become unnoticed in one set team.

Developing small traditions of camaraderie (sunset hour) with rotating duties, helps keep morale up.

Lastly, the captain has to instil in the crew a commitment to hourly safety and position checks with detailed logging, so that those off watch can read later that their counterparts have been on the ball. We all sleep better, knowing that!
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Old 10-01-2007, 04:53 AM   #7
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When Exit Only sailed across oceans, we never had a problem with sleep deprivation because of the way we took our watches.

We started our circumnavigation with a watch schedule, and it never worked out that well. The people who were sleepy were often on watch, and the people in their bunks sometimes couldn't sleep because they knew their watch was coming.

We finally developed a system where the person who was most awake took watch, and the sleepy people slept soundly. When the watch keeper became really tired and could quickly fall asleep, he woke up the person who had slept the longest to take watch, The person going off watch would fall to sleep almost instantly, and the new watch keeper stayed up until he became really sleepy in two to four hours. He then woke up the person who had been sleeping the longest, and then he hit the bunk and went to sleep almost instantly.

This technique prevented anyone from lying in their bunk worrying about going to sleep, and it kept the watch standers from suffering from sleep deprivation. We didn't have any slackers on Exit Only, and on average everyone stood about the same amount of watch. More importantly, nobody suffered from sleep deprivation.

After we switched to the this routine, life was better for everyone on board. We no longer worried about watches. They simply evolved each day in a natural manner that reflected the biorhythms of the different people on board.
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Old 09-04-2008, 10:21 AM   #8
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An interesting topic with regard to solo sailing.
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Old 09-09-2008, 02:57 PM   #9
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Like Maxingout, we tend to sleep when sleep is needed. There's only 2 of us, and we have only done 450 miles together at a time. Usually this consumes 48 to 72 hours. Not enough time to fall into a rythum. In the night the person on watch always has a pot of fresh coffee prepared for the person coming on watch. That first cup of coffee gives us time to discuss what has happened, and what our next move will be.

Luckily for me my wife enjoys the night sails. In the beginning she would constantly wake me. Now that she has some knowledge of lights, and some cue cards in the nav station. I get to get some long sleep in. We also take turns taking naps throughout the day. So far this has worked well for us.
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Old 09-11-2008, 04:41 AM   #10
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Like Maxingout, we tend to sleep when sleep is needed. There's only 2 of us, and we have only done 450 miles together at a time. Usually this consumes 48 to 72 hours. Not enough time to fall into a rythum. In the night the person on watch always has a pot of fresh coffee prepared for the person coming on watch. That first cup of coffee gives us time to discuss what has happened, and what our next move will be.

Luckily for me my wife enjoys the night sails. In the beginning she would constantly wake me. Now that she has some knowledge of lights, and some cue cards in the nav station. I get to get some long sleep in. We also take turns taking naps throughout the day. So far this has worked well for us.
Some individuals tolerate sleep deprivation better than others--its good to know ones own tolerances. Between my husband and I, I'm typically the one who gets the "wee hours of the morning" watch standing--especially early in a trip; it takes him longer than me to get into the swing of things.

Caffeine (coffee, tea, soda) works well for some folks; for others--like me--caffeine doesn't do it (I can drink coffee and then go straight to bed and sleep like a baby). I've learned that a cup of orange juice goes straight to my brain and wakes me up like nothing else. When in grad school, I routinely pulled all-nighters and lived for days on 3 hours sleep/day simply by making sure I was drinking OJ--my husband calls in my "sugar high" and he's right--it keeps me up Strangely, processed sugar, candy, etc don't have the same effect as OJ.
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Old 09-12-2008, 05:02 PM   #11
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The sugar in OJ

gets processed immediatley. The sugar that gets chewed has to go through the process of the ole stomache muscles breaking it down.
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Old 09-13-2008, 12:56 PM   #12
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Great topic, a major problem for short handed sailors and as stated a major contributor if not prime cause of most marine accidents (see Exxon Valdez for example).

On commercial vessels per USCG and MCA and ILO regulation there are work hour regulations including the most basic requirement that there be a rest period of minimum 6 hours of uninterrupted rest per day. Of course on a small vessel this is usually difficult and for single handers, impossible.

I have used a variety of watch rotations depending on the number and experience of the available crew, most of which have been mentioned above. My favorite with 4 crew is a simple two hours on six hours off from dusk to dawn and four hours on, twelve hours off during daylight. This toggles the night watch duties, gives someone a "day off" every few days, insures all have plenty of rest and leaves most people happy.

What has worked well for me singlehanding (which as we all know is violates the requirement to "keep a lookout" at all times and thus is impossible to defend legally in the event of a collision at sea) is to drink a large (20 oz) glass of water before going to sleep. In about 45 minutes I wake up to pee, have a quick look around on deck and then another glass of water and back to the bunk. It works better than any alarm clock or timer I've tried.

Happy sailing,

Dave
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Old 09-13-2008, 08:02 PM   #13
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What has worked well for me singlehanding (which as we all know is violates the requirement to "keep a lookout" at all times and thus is impossible to defend legally in the event of a collision at sea) is to drink a large (20 oz) glass of water before going to sleep. In about 45 minutes I wake up to pee, have a quick look around on deck and then another glass of water and back to the bunk. It works better than any alarm clock or timer I've tried.
No doubt about the waking up after drinking so much water but 45 minute intervals I am not so sure about. Years ago I sailed on two containerships. They were sister ships and each had a top speed of 36 kts. Given that 12NM is pretty good visibility, it would take not more than 20 minutes to cover that distance thus, if maintaining your 45 minute intervals a ship, at that speed, could come over the horizon (although from the deck of a yacht your horizon would be far less than 12NM), pass you and be hull down over the other horizon without you klnowing a thing about it. Food for thought isn't it?

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.

Aye // Stephen
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Old 09-14-2008, 12:55 AM   #14
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No doubt about the waking up after drinking so much water but 45 minute intervals I am not so sure about. Years ago I sailed on two containerships. They were sister ships and each had a top speed of 36 kts. Given that 12NM is pretty good visibility, it would take not more than 20 minutes to cover that distance thus, if maintaining your 45 minute intervals a ship, at that speed, could come over the horizon (although from the deck of a yacht your horizon would be far less than 12NM), pass you and be hull down over the other horizon without you klnowing a thing about it. Food for thought isn't it?

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.

Aye // Stephen
That is the reason the COLREGS require a lookout. Single handed sailing is a calculated risk and I do not advocate single handed passage making, however, it is a fact that people do sail single handed.

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Old 09-14-2008, 11:30 AM   #15
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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've never tried it, but its description sounds like a great tool to carry on board. Their comment that ships will find it more difficult to see a small yacht during the day is so accurate, yet everybody tends to relax their vigilance during the day. Clearly made by a cruiser for a cruiser. I'd get one.
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Old 09-14-2008, 11:36 AM   #16
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I'd get one.
My ex wife in an electronics engineer. I am trying to get her to make a circuit diagram for me so I can build one myself. It just isn't easy going cap in hand to her. If I ever get it I will share it here.

aye // Stephen
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Old 09-14-2008, 09:14 PM   #17
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My ex wife in an electronics engineer. I am trying to get her to make a circuit diagram for me so I can build one myself. It just isn't easy going cap in hand to her. If I ever get it I will share it here.

aye // Stephen
This type of device has been proven (yes, strong word "proven") not to work.

How do I know this? I used to be involved in railroad accident investigation for the US Department of Transportation (DOT). Both DOT and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTS have investigated countless train accidents/incidents with one of the causes being train operator error. No locomotive engineer is going to admit he's asleep at the controls...when an accident just occurred...but, union officials and locomotive engineers have told DOT that falling asleep is a problem which isn't fixed by devices like this.

Following up on that information, human factors research performed by the US government at a leading research university with cooperation of the railroads and employee unions (in a full-scale locomotive simulator) show that engineers can be asleep sitting at the control station and push a reset button on a device like this IN THEIR SLEEP. Such devices are at control stations in trains and the engineers do sleep while shutting off the buzzer every few minutes. Similar studies have been performed with pilots in aircraft simulators simulating long trans-oceanic flights and found the same results--the pilot is doing his job, even responding to a warning light/buzzer by flipping a switch, etc, but actually asleep and unable to react to an unexpected event. In both cases, very long shifts and very little sleep contribute to the problem.

A device such as this, IMO, is entirely useless. Conversely, if you engineer a device that requires you to perform a non-routine non-motor set of tasks combined with motor tasks (e.g. perform calculations on a computer, answer a random question on a computer PLUS perform a non-repetitive motor task or tasks, you might have a chance of it doing something for you).

Hubby and I own a company together...That company has a computer-run PBX system which we sometimes use as an alarm clock--if requested, it will give us or our employees a wake-up call which includes a mathematics question--if you answer incorrectly, the PBX keeps calling you back until you get the math right (and are presumably "awake")
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Old 09-15-2008, 04:03 AM   #18
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Hubby and I own a company together...That company has a computer-run PBX system which we sometimes use as an alarm clock--if requested, it will give us or our employees a wake-up call which includes a mathematics question--if you answer incorrectly, the PBX keeps calling you back until you get the math right (and are presumably "awake")
Too complex an installation for s.y. NAUSIKAA

You are right about people being able to shut off alarms in their sleep though. How many people don't shut off an alarm clock automatically?

I do not say that this device is the ultimate sollution but it must be better than the egg-timer used by so many solo sailors.´Also, if placed in the right position then it should, being sufficiently akward to get to, require more than a simple outstretched arm from a bunk to reset it.

I am not sold on this kind of device but, on the other hand, I know of none better for use in a small vessel where a computer run PBX system is not practical.

Anyone out there ever used the watch commander?

Aye // Stephen
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Old 09-15-2008, 03:07 PM   #19
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Too complex an installation for s.y. NAUSIKAA

You are right about people being able to shut off alarms in their sleep though. How many people don't shut off an alarm clock automatically?

I do not say that this device is the ultimate sollution but it must be better than the egg-timer used by so many solo sailors.´Also, if placed in the right position then it should, being sufficiently akward to get to, require more than a simple outstretched arm from a bunk to reset it.

I am not sold on this kind of device but, on the other hand, I know of none better for use in a small vessel where a computer run PBX system is not practical.

Anyone out there ever used the watch commander?

Aye // Stephen
har, har, I didn't mean one should run a pbx onboard

However, it wouldn't be too difficult to program something like a palm pilot to do what you want--they can be used to control all kinds of things, you know. I really think this type of device is a waste of money though. No true substitute for crew, good watches, and good rest.
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Old 09-16-2008, 02:16 AM   #20
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Some things haunt me.

Sometime around eight or ten years ago a sailboat headed for NZ was hit by a freighter and sunk. One of two children on board was lost immediately, the husband, wife, and other young child, a daughter, clambered into their inflatable dinghy. When the dinghy reached land, only the woman was still in the dinghy and alive.

The woman recounted that she was on watch, the weather was the usual gale and nasty weather, poor visibility as they closed with NZ. She had gone below to check position, make a log entry, and get her husband up to take the watch. They were both below and chatting when the freighter took the bow off their boat.

I've learned the hard way that time has a way of speeding up when you are distracted or your attention is occupied by something as trivial as discussing the change of watch. A few times when I came back into the cockpit after a quick trip below I would be surprised to see a ship quite close to us. Obviously I had been below longer than I had thought. Even though I used a kitchen timer most of the time to keep me aware of the time that passed, it was easy to forget to reset it and lose track of the time below.

I would welcome any device that could jolt me or nag me into staying alert. No matter how disciplined one may be, it's difficult to maintain vigilance consistently on long passages, and I'll take any help I can get.
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