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
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.
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.
I am perfectly aware that the majority of Wooden Boat aficionados are sensible folk. However, I need to point out that I am an amateur wooden boat enthusiast simply writing in order to try to help other amateur wooden boat enthusiasts. And while I take every care to ensure that the information in DIY Wood Boat.com is correct, anyone acting on the information on this website does so at their own risk.