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-   -   Sleep Deprivation And "cabin Fever" (http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/f29/sleep-deprivation-and-cabin-fever-1004.html)

manor 06-13-2007 12:43 PM

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.

http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/pub...helm6_icon.gif

JohnT 06-30-2007 10:58 AM

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

Lighthouse 06-30-2007 11:10 AM

@JohnT

http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/pub...>/nicepost.png

Great post on a very interesting topic.

luffer 06-30-2007 12:54 PM

Boat's magnify the importance of non-confrontational personalities and how essential teamwork can be. Sound guidance, John T! http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/pub...n_bowdown1.gif

Therapy 10-01-2007 01:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by JohnT (Post 9055)
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...............

Pelagic 10-01-2007 03:11 AM

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!

maxingout 10-01-2007 04:53 AM

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.

Lighthouse 09-04-2008 10:21 AM

An interesting topic with regard to solo sailing.

imagine2frolic 09-09-2008 02:57 PM

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.

redbopeep 09-11-2008 04:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by imagine2frolic (Post 25262)
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 http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/pub...IR#>/smile.gif Strangely, processed sugar, candy, etc don't have the same effect as OJ.

imagine2frolic 09-12-2008 05:02 PM

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.

sailronin 09-13-2008 12:56 PM

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

Nausikaa 09-13-2008 08:02 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sailronin (Post 25421)
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

sailronin 09-14-2008 12:55 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nausikaa (Post 25430)
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.

Dave

JeanneP 09-14-2008 11:30 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nausikaa (Post 25430)
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.

Nausikaa 09-14-2008 11:36 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by JeanneP (Post 25465)
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

redbopeep 09-14-2008 09:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nausikaa (Post 25467)
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 (NTSB) 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") http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/pub...IR#>/smile.gif

Nausikaa 09-15-2008 04:03 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by redbopeep (Post 25501)
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") http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/pub...IR#>/smile.gif

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

redbopeep 09-15-2008 03:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nausikaa (Post 25513)
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 http://www.cruiserlog.com/forums/pub...IR#>/smile.gif

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.

JeanneP 09-16-2008 02:16 AM

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.

Nausikaa 09-16-2008 07:58 AM

I think the important thing here is to treat this, or any other device, purely as an AID.

When I was a very young cadet I had hammered into me the fact that RADAR, LORAN, Decca, OMEGA, RDF and so on were simply AIDS to navigation. None of these was to be relied upon 100%. The reliability of navigational aids has increased, especially since the introduction of GPS but they still remain as aids to navigation. The same can be said for the Watch Commander. It is not going to keep a lookout for you and as an indicator to the skipper that the watch on deck is not asleep it is not a cast iron garantee but I would think it a good aid.

The formula for good seamanship is:

GOOD SEAMANSHIP = Common sense + Experience + Caution

Aye // Stephen

Aussiesuede 09-16-2008 06:51 PM

I'm fairly lucky in that I've never been a really big sleeper. It's difficult for me to sleep more than 6 hours in a stretch, even if I'm dog tired. I'll usually awaken from a headache when I'm horizontal for 7 hours. It's also difficult for me to get to sleep much before midnite - 1am and IMPOSSIBLE for me to sleep during daylight hours no matter how tired. When the sun comes up, I'm wide awake, even if I've just pulled an all nighter (although my overall energy level will be lacking usually resulting in an absence of motivation to do anything more than sit around). So I take the majority of watch time (just NEVER between the hours of 3am-7am) which usually works well for all concerned. The downside of requiring such little sleep is that practically nothing can wake me once I'm asleep. Kick me, hit me, and I'm still not budging. Slept through a car wreck in the back seat of a car back in high school and the buddy who was driving still ribs me to this day about how I was there in the mangled heap still snoring after the other 3 had exited the wreck. I awakened next too the car after they'd pulled me out unaware of exactly what had occured and was instantly upset with my buddies as I thought they'd ruined my new shirt as a joke. So if someone was lax on a pre dawn watch and we collided with a ship - I'd likely drown before ever being aware of what happened. The joke is that I don't sleep, but rather die nightly...

alan 12-17-2008 09:04 PM

Lately I've been having to do some solo passages of 1 or 2 days (140- 250 miles). I bought a clockwork kitchen timer and set it at 10 mins for short nano naps, if still tired have a good look about and go below for another 10 mins. This system of getting some sleep is very dependent on weather and sea conditions being considered safe at any particular time before going below.

Cheers,

Alan

Istioploos 12-18-2008 04:40 AM

I missed the beginning of this interesting discussion. So, belatedly here is my contribution.

I have been long distance sailing either with another crew member or solo for the past 25 years and so far I have been fortunate enough to avoid any mishap. Here is what I do:

When we are two on board, we keep regular watches at night. It seems that one gets sleepy after the evening meal so we alternate watches every other day: first watch, an hour after dinner, 2 hours, second and third watch 3 hours, fourth and fifth watch 2 hors. No formal watches during the day. The longest we have used this system comfortably, that is without getting sleep deprived, was for 17 days.

When singlehanded I use two approaches. On one night passages in relative congested waters (mostly in Aegean) I do not sleep at all. Next day I anchor in a nice quiet anchorage and catch up on my sleep. I find that this is great fun as I love sailing alone at night.

On long passages, in not crowded waters, I do a number of things. First I have equipped my boat with a very loud buzzer which is triggered by an alarm condition form either the radar, the autopilot, or the GPS. No one can sleep when that buzzer goes. I set the radar to raise an alarm whenever a target enters its 16 mile range. I have also found a rather old fashioned alarm clock that makes a lot of noise. When I feel sleepy, I set this clock for 20 minutes, put the clock next to my head, and go to sleep. When the alarm goes I get up, while half asleep half awake, scan the horizon and check the radar, autopilot etc. If all is well I set the alarm for another 20 minutes and go back to sleep. I have no problem going back as I am still half asleep. Of course, if I see anything I wake up instantly. I can keep this process going all night and well into the morning. The longest I have used this system is for 5 days and I felt fine. Most of the times that we had an encounter with another ship the radar had raised the alarm but there were a few times that it had missed but I have always been lucky to see the ship when checking visually.

I have arrived at the 20 minute interval by assuming that my boat is sailing at 6 knots and a ship is moving head on at 20 knots, 26 knots closing speed, and it is 25 m tall including her masts superstructures etc. The approximate range, in nM, along the earth's curvature is given by 0.54 x SQRT (13 x h) where h is the sum of the observer's height plus the target's height in meters. In my case I assume that I scan the horizon from a 2.7 elevation (my height plus the cockpit's height) so we have a range of 10.2 nM. This means that a ship just beyond this range will take to reach me 23.6 minutes. The same ship moving at 25 knots will reach me in 19 minutes, so there is a risk but any sleep period shorter than 20 minutes will be very hard to take.

worldwideoptimize 12-31-2009 03:23 AM

I am a someday cruiser so I am not sure about this but I saw a video of a solo navigator that used a device that sounded an alarm when it detected ANOTHER ships radar signal. It was a small box with some type of wire antenna. Granted, this would not be useful for detecting other ships not running radar, but it seems that you could increase your nap time using this device assuming that most other smaller sailing craft will likely only travel at 10 knots or less whereas a cargo ship will run much faster and always runs radar signals?

Maybe with this method you could increase your naps to 35 mins?

Counting down the next 9 years when the last kid leaves, and so do we.....

Jason and Patty

mico 01-01-2010 07:17 AM

Sailing from Brisbane to Vanuatu and then back down to New Caledonia we did the 2 -3 hr watches with the proximity alarm on the radar set and used my mobile phone's alarm for the occasional 15min nap in the cockpit after checking up top and below. It worked ok for the long passages but on stopping off at Chesterfield Reef (midway between Noumea and Mackay, Oz) we met up with a Brisbane based yacht owned by an electrical engineer. He installed a 'watch alarm' they were selling back in Oz. Man! - it worked a treat! you can set it for 5min, 10, 15, 20 or up to 35min. We had ours set on 15min.

It worked on the 'dead man switch' principal i.e : press once to start - after 15min an alarm and flashing light is activated in the cockpit - press to resett or 60 secs later 2 alarms and flashes will go off - miss this and in another 60 sec 3 alarm blasts and flashes will go off. If this is missed, 60 sec later a massive siren goes off below decks guaranteed to wake anyone unfortunate to be down there.

While we always wear harnesses on watch and never go on deck without waking the other person up - it was good to know that there was a fallback in place and it did enable us to reclaim some much needed shut eye on the 5 day return trip.

Mind you, I agree totally with everyone about the importance about keeping good watches but on long passages with just a single or two up - its not always possible to keep an eye out 24/7. For our coastal sailing we'll never use the 'watch alarm' - too many vessels and reefs around but for our next long blue water? you betcha!

Fair winds

Wiggly 11-27-2010 10:36 PM

Just as aside, you might want to check out the "triple bell", by 'Shakeawake.

Dinky little thing that can be clipped inside a jacket, can buzz (vibrate), sound a loud beeping and flash a red light (or any combination)

I doubt it's waterproof but as an exta backup, for cooking, or even when ashore as a reminder of something, very handy and portable. Super-easy to set too, just shove a little switch on the back to change between minutes and seconds or hours and minutes.

Roughtly the size of a box of matches and dirt cheap - I bought 2 of 'em for mediation but have found them handy for all sorts of things.

http://www.amazon.com/Alarm-Clock-Ti.../dp/B000M1UI1I

W.

sylph 04-27-2012 03:17 AM

As a long term single-hander I would like to put a plug in for the "Watch Commander". I have used one for years now and would say it is my most important piece of safety equipment, especially when coastal. More recently I have also installed an AIS which is great to reduce the risk of being run down by something big (which might not even notice that it has done so). With the aid of the "Watch Commander" I have found I can go for very long periods on 20 minutes of sleep, and shorter if necessary for limited periods.
I also accept that in sailing solo I am very much taking a calculated risk and am in fact breaking the COLREGs as one cannot maintain a proper and effective lookout long term. I am therefore grateful that the authorities concerned, while labeling single-handed sailing as irresponsible, have not yet made it illegal. So I sail as responsibly as I can, balancing fatigue management with the risk of collision and other hazards.

mico 04-27-2012 10:00 AM

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,


Mico

redbopeep 04-27-2012 04:16 PM

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.

redbopeep 04-27-2012 04:16 PM

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.

roverhi 04-27-2012 05:40 PM

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.

mico 04-27-2012 08:48 PM

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.

Fair winds,


Mico

Coyote 04-27-2012 11:52 PM

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.

redbopeep 04-28-2012 12:53 AM

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,

sylph 04-28-2012 01:02 AM

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).

redbopeep 04-28-2012 01:15 AM

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.

sylph 04-28-2012 04:10 AM

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)

berniekatchor 04-29-2012 12:50 PM

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.

redbopeep 04-29-2012 05:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by berniekatchor (Post 33451)
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.

sylph 04-29-2012 07:11 PM

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?

redbopeep 04-29-2012 10:01 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sylph (Post 33456)
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.

sylph 04-30-2012 12:16 AM

Thanks for the info, easy for conversations to take a path of their own, makes them interesting. AIS is loosely related as being a great tool to help manage fatigue. While I certainly would never allow that electronic navaids could replace a proper visual lookout, everything helps, especially as a single or short handed sailor, and the the two that I think are excellent value are AIS and the "Watch Commander". Radar would be nice but I reckon despite technological advances still has a few problems, ie size, power consumption, and not least expense. Maybe a separate topic on best value navaids for the offshore yacht might be worth starting, if there is not one already. But this combined VHF/AIS sounds brilliant. Definitely going on Sylph's Christmas list.


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