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Top tips and the latest kit you should always carry when sailing at night

by Liz Rushall 25 Sep 2020 04:00 PDT
Exposure RAW Pro headtorch in use © Alex Thomson Racing

The nights may be drawing in, however, there's no need to shorten your sailing days. Sailing into dusk and through the night can be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences.

Advance preparation makes for stress free night sailing. Ensure that:

  • navigation lights work
  • engine batteries are charged
  • you are dressed for the occasion
  • lifejackets and lifelines are on
  • the crew have had sufficient food and refreshment before night falls
  • reduce power or shorten sail to suit the conditions
  • dim the chart plotter screens and switch on instrument backlights

Night vision

Adapting your eyes to the dark and preserving your night vision is one the most important safety aspects of night sailing. It can take between 30 to 40 minutes for our eyes to fully adjust to the night.

However, your night vision can be lost instantly by exposure to bright light. Inside the eye are rods and cones. The cones are used for daytime colour vision, and the more sensitive rods work harder at night. Fortunately, these rods are not sensitive to red light, so when on board in the dark red lights are preferable.

Below decks:

  • make sure all white cabin lights remain off
  • the chart table and galley have a red light
  • ensure everyone on board has access to a red light torch or headtorch

Headtorch with Red Light

The Exposure RAW Pro is the headtorch of choice for many top Volvo Ocean Race and Vendee Globe sailors including Ian Walker, Charles Caudrelier, Dee Caffari and Alex Thomson.

Designed for the harsh marine environment, it's light and compact, made from a fully waterproof, robust aerospace aluminium casing. Being 5m shock proof it will withstand everything you throw at it and keep working.

RAW Pro has a glare-free red light and high power LED white light, each with three lighting levels - low, medium and high. A simple, single click operation allows quick access to each colour and level. The torch angle can be adjusted whilst on your forehead - which is particularly useful if you are working on deck, looking down at instruments or simply want to avoid dazzling your fellow crew.

USB rechargeable, it has a maximum run time of 12 hours on the red light low setting.

Search lights and strobes

Despite the need to protect your night vision, a powerful search light to highlight obstructions, traffic and navigation marks is an essential night sailing tool.

Picking out a navigation mark against a confusion of lights ashore can be difficult:

  • head on a bearing to the mark you are seeking
  • have the crew scan 10 degrees either side of this line with the search light

The Exposure MOB Carbon combines a powerful 1000 lumens LED light with a water-activated MOB strobe. Very lightweight, compact and IPX8 waterproof rated to 5m, this work light floats too.

Use it as a search or trimming light. If you go overboard the MOB Carbon will float to the surface and automatically start strobing, flashing every second for up to 20 hours. Keep one in your pocket or by the helm and throw towards the man overboard. It will clearly mark the patch of water and the strobe is visible from 3 nautical miles.

Trackable crew lights

If the worst happens and there is a MOB incident - there's a lot to do immediately:

  • stop the boat
  • hit the MOB button on the chart plotter and/or DSC radio
  • get all the crew on deck
  • throw life rings, lights etc in the direction of the MOB
  • make a Mayday call

At night having a spotter pointing at the MOB is simply not going to work. However, this is where technology can help.

The OLAS Float On is another multi-functional safety aid and a smart personal crew torch. Minute in size, just like the MOB Carbon, it is fully waterproof, floats and has the same water activated strobe technology.

The OLAS Float On is a transmitter too. When paired with the OLAS (Overboard Location Alert System) it acts as your virtual tether to the boat. If you go overboard in the dark, where your absence may not be immediately noticed, it not only triggers the strobe light, it also triggers a piercing alarm on board instantly alerting your crew.

The alarm sounds either via your mobile device, the OLAS Core or OLAS Guardian Bluetooth activated hubs, and track back begins instantly. The mobile screen on the OLAS App switches into recovery mode, recording the position the MOB occurred, giving bearing and distance back to the exact point of the incident so search can commence quickly.

This saves valuable time whilst the crew are stopping the boat and doing all the MOB procedures, undoubtedly under a level of stress. The screens help with orientation and process information. As well as position data there's all the information required for making a quick and accurate Mayday call and MOB recovery.

The OLAS Float On is an additional safety tool that does not replace technology such as EPIRB or PLBs, although not all boaters carry these onboard. Rather, it helps support these devices and adds to your chances of survival.

The casualty does not need to manually activate it, nor do you need the crew to notice you go overboard. The device triggers the alarm as soon as it hits the water.

For a torch that's small enough to sit in the palm of your hand, it really is quite smart!

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