night sailing there
will be some magical, never to be forgotten moments.
Alone in the
cockpit on a balmy, summers night, a school of dolphins playing in
phosphorescence around the bows as you ghost along under a full moon,
However, most sailing at night, especially for the first time, will be
of trepidation and anxiety, which can spoil any magical moments.
It can be cold, lonely, the time can seem to drag and staying awake can
There can be a number of reasons why sailing at night is either
desirable despite any anxieties.
It can make your cruising
Allow you more time at your destination,
Take advantage of tidal
Lack of a suitable stopping place on a costal strip.
Allow you to arrive at strange harbours in daylight,
Avoid long detours to find suitable anchorages.
Or you wish to cross a stretch of open ocean.
So, here are some tips to help make those nights less stressful.
Every one should try some night sailing.
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There is no substitute for experience, start off gently, preferably
someone more experienced and with a short trip at night in home waters.
schools include night sailing within their programs.
Then, having survived even that short trip you will hopefully feel more
confident if you should get caught out or wish to try a more
As with any passage, night sailing should be planned in advance,
Going over the charts,
waypoints in your GPS
making a list of lights
etc will give you a clearer picture in your mind of the proposed route.
Sailing in home waters to begin with will also give you an
etc and how
things can appear different at night.
It might also be helpful, if on your first trick on the helm at night,
someone else keeping watch for other vessels while you focus at
If you can plan your first night sail for a time when the moon is full
can see the stars in all their glory, it won’t, in reality make it any
safer but it will be a more memorable experience.
One of the biggest problems with night sailing is staying awake.
This will be more of a problem in the early hours of one of those
‘magical, balmy nights’ when you are warm and comfortable.
Experienced single handers get used to catnapping, waking fully aware
For someone who is used to having their recommended ‘eight hours’
per night waking after a ten minute nap can be very disorientating.
Not only can falling asleep when you are on watch be
can also be dangerous, you may be far from any geographical hazards but
surprising how quickly another vessel can come up from over the horizon.
So, make sure that you get plenty of rest, preferably sleep while you
Having a thermos of hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate and a few sweet,
energy-boosting snacks will help keep you company, on a long watch.
Time can seem to move very slowly when night sailing, in the dark, on
If you feel yourself drifting off you could try slapping your face or
yourself but that hurts, better to move around.
It is tempting to huddle in one sheltered spot in the cockpit but
position occasionally will help keep you awake and allow you a
from which to keep watch, which after all is what you are supposed to
Singing might help keep you awake but might not be appreciated by the
In some ways night sailing navigation can be more clear-cut than navigation
During the day, costal features can be difficult to distinguish, viewed
the deck of a small boat one headland can look very much like another.
At night these headlands can be distinguished by the lights which mark
each having their own distinctive light sequence.
In the same way it can be easier to identify other vessels and their
of travel for their navigation
Be sure to check your own navigation
before setting off.
And familiarize yourself with the
lighting configurations of other
vessels, and keep a reference guide handy.
The caveat is that depth perception at night and the ability
distances, will be affected.
Passage planning and pilotage plans are perhaps more important when
Do the planning during daylight hours but make the plans simple and
read so they can be referred to easily at night with low lighting.
Pay particular attention to the weather forecasts, at night you won’t
able to see approaching clouds the way you can in the day.
It has long been held that the best time to make land fall is at dawn.
The reason being that the coastline can be better identified just
by the lights marking it, then having established your position the
anchorage can be approached as daylight increases.
Nowadays with GPS to verify our position and with most harbours well
lights this is not quite as important.
However, sometimes the hazards and channels are not well lit as they
And of course you will not be able to see any unlit objects such as
floats, day markers and any other unlit buoys when night sailing.
Besides, what better way to end a night sail than to watch the day
over a perfect land fall with the prospect of a safe anchorage in sight?
These were my original opening remarks on preserving night vision.
(Let’s start by debunking the myth
about red lights
preserving night vision.
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Not only is it an old
wives tale but used over a
chart table it can in my opinion be downright dangerous.)
However, thanks to the comments from D a trainee eye doctor (you
can read his full explanations here) I shall bow to his
superior knowledge and accept that red light is better for preserving
But, a red filter will affect
perceive the colours on a paper chart we are trying to view.
I still believe that it is much better to have a white light over the
chart table that can be properly dimmed
well shaded so you don’t look directly at the source of the light.
Charts use colour codes to highlight between different aspects such as
and deep water so that they can be quickly identified, viewing a chart
red light will alter how these are perceived making it necessary to
up the light or squint harder, neither of which will do much for your
The less time your eyes are exposed to light and the dimmer the light
However, the ‘old wives tale about eating carrots isn’t a
Well it doesn’t have to be carrots, spinach, dark leaf lettuce etc will
do, just make sure that you are getting enough vitamin A and
your diet and keep you blood sugar levels up.
You might be playing with your sleep cycles but don’t skip meals.
How your eyes recover their night vision after exposure to light will
their general health.
And the more you strain your eyes the longer they will take to recover.
So, keep a small, dim, flashlight in your pocket, then if you need to
something, perhaps you have dropped something in the foot-well, you can
quickly with out eye strain.
If you do use a spotlight to identify markers, use it sparingly and
beam up, away from reflective surfaces such as your decks and sails.
Which brings me on to binoculars, they can be surprisingly useful at
bringing into focus distant navigation lights.
However, you will find that navigation and shore lights usually appear,
naked eye, to be much closer that they actually are.
Apart from the safety and navigation aspects of preserving your night
it is worth nurturing it so you can fully appreciate the natural
glories of a
night at sea.
Far from the light pollution on shore, the shimmer of the stars and the
of phosphoresce around in the bow and in your wake are something that
lubbers will never be able to appreciate.
Sailing with a crew, whether night sailing or in the day will be more
and enjoyable with if organised around a watch keeping rota.
This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate and can be as flexible as
Four hours is a common time spell for watches, however this can seem
long time for inexperienced crew, particularly when it is cold dark and
There is no reason why watches should not be of two or three hour
if possible overlapping so that there are always two people on deck.
But clearly this will depend on the number of crew available and the
While a single overnight passage without sleep may not seem to be too
it is important to remember that if it ends with a difficult landfall
be the time when the skipper will need to be most alert.
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Always wear a safety
harness when night
Make it a strict rule that everyone on deck and in the cockpit is
clipped on to
a jackstay or secure anchor point.
Finding and retrieving a man overboard is difficult enough in daylight,
virtually impossible at night.
Have jacklines set up so that anyone moving about on deck can remain
at all times.
Wrap up well before going on watch, it can get very cold at night, it
to stay warm and dry than to try to get warm again once you are cold.
While it is very comforting to be surrounded by all the modern
there is absolutely no substitute for keeping a good visual lookout.
And that includes keeping a radio watch, always, keep
your VHF radio
tuned to Channel 16.
And slow down, take your time, reef down, throttle back, night time is
time to risk running into problems.
Just sit back and enjoy the beauty of all that night sailing has to