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Old 04-02-2013, 04:54 PM   #1
Join Date: Apr 2013
Home Port: Boston, MA
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Default Solo sailing

I'm new here and joined because I have a question nobody has been able to answer for me. I apologize if it's a stupid question.
How can sailors sail long distances solo, legally?
It's my understanding that maritime law requires that a vessel maintain a lookout when not anchored. Commercial vessels that fail to maintain a 24 hour watch are often found at-fault in maritime accidents. Is there an exception in the law for solo recreational sailors, or are races such as the Vendee Globe knowingly violating the law but organizers just turn a blind eye to the inherent need to sail without a watch? I know a fishing vessel that fails to keep a watch is violating the law (though they do it all the time). I know Taiwanese, Panamanian, Liberian ships do it all the time, but they're held accountable in case of accident. How can race organizers get away with sponsoring a race that requires participants to break the law? Is it like the Cannonball Baker Coast-to-Coast Memorial Dash was; run in defiance of the law?
I'm familiar with radar alarms etc., but they don't meet the legal definition of maintaining a watch.

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Old 04-02-2013, 09:33 PM   #2
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Hi Jim,
Guiding the vessel safely is the task and the only task; and while there are rules (varying in application between naval, merchant, recreational etc) the frequency of eyeball watchkeeping in this day of very sophisticated and effective electronic surveillance and warning capability, can assist crew (whether solo or not) to spend time away from the binoculars.

Radar, AIS and radio communications, particularly in poor weather are a better option than one man's eyes. Aircraft pilots certainly understand the worth of instrument navigation in inclement weather. Boats travel relatively slowly and a first hand, visual scan of the horizon on a constant basis when out of shipping lanes is overkill.

Solo sailors generally understand this and avoid shipping lanes as a result. Even so, a full night's sleep is not a part of the solo sailor's regime. REM sleep which is more difficult to awaken from than a short sleep, generally comes in after about 20 minutes. Therefore, a routine of napping throughout each 24 hours on passage, which allows one to awaken to be instantly alert, is a fairly common routine on voyaging boats.

When starting or ending a voyage, it is therefore not difficult for the solo yachtsman to remain awake for the many hours it may take to get into deep water where navigation obstacles, including other craft, pose a reduced threat.

Ancient maritime law (much like gun laws in the US) fail to consider the impact of new technology. Therefore, particularly where not-for-profit vessels are concerned, the applied criteria to 'safely navigate the vessel' is often open ended and relies on consequences of failure when seeking to apply penalties.

Incidentally, it is still against the law in Ireland, to move a boat under its own power manned only by a single crew member.

In such events as the Vendee Globe, the law requires the Master to be competent and to manage and navigate the boat safely with due regard for Colregs (The international regulations for the avoidance of collisions at sea).

Largely, maritime law still recognises 'intent' and, as long as intent doesn't result in imperilment, we can continue to sail solo as long as we are competent to do so, as long as our vessels are suitable to the task ahead and for as long as we can demonstrate that safe passage is our singular or pre-eminent purpose.

I am not versed in international law, but I don't think there is an enforceable, international law relative to watchkeeping. Indeed, I believe it is largely a matter for independent states. The STCW, the UN Law of the Sea, Admiralty Law and such are all light on specifics when it comes to behaviour outside of territorial waters. While many countries have ratified the various laws it is difficult to pin down universal laws pertaining to watchkeeping.

It strikes me Jim, that you have specific knowledge (Legal definition of maintaining a watch) and would be thankful to be supplied with that definition as it applies to the circumstances of the average voyaging single hander.
Best wishes.

"if at first you don't succeed....Redefine success"!

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Old 04-03-2013, 12:29 PM   #3
Join Date: Apr 2013
Home Port: Boston, MA
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Default Thank you

Thanks for the comprehensive reply. I have some offshore experience, and know the habits of fishing vessels. Often, the Captain will nap at the wheel after a good look around and setting his various alarms.
I guess since there isn't a traffic cop on the Grand Banks, you don't have to worry about sanctions until after the collision , when you get to court.
I'm too much of a worry wart to try it. I always think there may be a semi-submerged shipping container that won't be picked up in time by the forward looking sonar. A friend hit a whale while they were both sleeping, his wooden boat always leaked a little after that.
Thanks again.
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Old 04-30-2013, 08:39 PM   #4
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Personally, I find it a lot more fun to sail with someone rather than alone. Whenever I had to sail alone I found my cat had little interest in things I wanted to share, such as whale sightings.
However, when necessary, I have sailed alone and found that the old fashioned kitchen timer worked best. I figure that if nothing can be seen from the highest point on deck in a 5 minute look around, I have about 20 minutes of "safety" before a vessel could be a danger to me. This does not include military vessels, which I found out the hard way, but has held true in general. Therefore, I would set the kitchen timer (do not use the battery operated, electronic ones) for 20 minutes while I took a nap at the table. I NEVER went to some place comfortable like a bunk to nap. After 20 minutes, another 5 minutes or so on deck, then 20 more minutes napping.
But the reality, as mentioned above, is that you are responsible for insuring that you are not putting yourself or others in danger by your actions. The laws are not what you should be concerned about; safety is the necessity. In a career spanning over 50 years as a professional mariner, I can assure you that there are many, many commercial vessels out there which do not keep an adequate watch.
AIS, radar and other electronic systems are subject to failure, so find a system that works for you and stay safe.
My last insurance policy was not valid if I was single handing, by the way.
"Any a**hole can make a boat go; it takes a sailor to stop one"
Spike Africa, aboard the Schooner Wanderer, Sausalito, Ca. 1964
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Old 05-01-2013, 12:04 AM   #5
Join Date: Apr 2013
Home Port: Boston, MA
Posts: 4

I have Zero knowledge of single-handing and wondered mostly about the responsibility and legalities, concerning the requirement to keep watch. I know the worst offenders are commercial ships, having encountered them. It was clear to me that a Ro-Ro off the Connecticut coast had no watch, even in daylight.
Could the Vendee race sponsors be held responsible in court for promoting reckless behavior? That was the core of my question.
I always went with 2 watchkeepers because I scare easy.
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Old 05-01-2013, 10:07 AM   #6
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Set up AIS with a proximity alarm.
"The cure for anything is salt water... sweat, tears, or the sea" -- Isak Dinesen

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Old 05-01-2013, 12:16 PM   #7
Join Date: Apr 2013
Home Port: Boston, MA
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Originally Posted by haiqu View Post
Set up AIS with a proximity alarm.
....Then hope everybody else on the 7 seas has functioning AIS.

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