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Bakewell-White Yacht Design

Watch keeping

by Sail World on 25 Nov 2005

There are as many different ideas as there are cruising boats on this subject. The issues are:

1. The crew (particularly a two-handed crew) needs to be well rested at all times, in top form to cope with any emergency. “Be prepared’ is not only for boy scouts. You can rove the oceans for months without a drama, and you may have one on a simple overnight sail.
2. Going to sleep inadvertently is the one of the most dangerous aspects about single person watch keeping.
3. The longest time the watch keeper should spend between horizon scans is 10 minutes. (Work it out. If you are doing 6 knots and the container ship is doing 30 knots, the closing speed is 36 knots. If you count the practical horizon as between 5 and 10 miles, depending on visibility (say 7miles), the time between a container ship appearing on the horizon and collision is 12 minutes. )
4. Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. Just because it’s a nice sunny day and everyone’s awake does not mean that you will necessarily see the container ship on a collision course.
5. Some people think of themselves as ‘day’ people, some as ‘night’ people

Therefore, whatever decisions you make about watch keeping, the above four issues need to be taken into account. The challenge is, then, how to design a watch keeping system that will:

a. Keep everyone well rested – don’t allow super long watches, particularly with a two handed crew.
b. Make sure the watch keeper stays awake – terror may do the job
c. Ensure there is ALWAYS someone taking responsibility – ALWAYS have a nominated watch keeper
d. Ensure a horizon scan every 10 minutes – understanding the situation followed by the resulting terror may do the job here too.
e. Accommodate the individual wishes of the crew – needs an understanding watch controller




One of the most effective and innovative pieces of gear for assisting Watch keeping on a boat is the http://www.sailsafely.com/watchcommander.htm!Watch-Commander!same. It’s an investment that can bring peace of mind if you have any doubts about either the ability or efficiency of your watch keepers. It’s a piece of equipment which, once turned on, cannot be turned off. You set it for a length time, say 11 minutes. After 11 minutes, a small alarm sounds which does not wake sleeping crew members. If you do not hit the button in 45 seconds, the small alarm turns into a noise of police siren proportions, which will wake the sleeping fish around the boat. Once you hit the button, the 11 minutes re-commences. Very simple, very effective. Take a look at the website by clicking 'Watch Commander' above

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