Watch-keeping – 6 responsibilities


For those wishing to increase sailing experience, crewing on a multi-day passage is an exciting opportunity to apply basic sailing skills, gain new ones, and share in achieving something great as a member of a team. The following five responsibilities are general guidelines for watch-keepers aboard private cruising vessels sailing with small crews.

A person serving watch should be prepared to:

1. Set an alarm to arrive at the helm at least five minutes early and be prepared

  • Prepare by dressing appropriately for the elements, attend to personal toileting needs, and gather necessities such as a personal flotation device, sunscreen, sunglasses, water, a snack, and head lamp with both a red and high beam light to view sails and rig.

  • Discuss wind, sea, sky, and traffic trends with the previous watch stander

2. Actively observe for anything against which the vessel might collide

  • Look low for semi-submerged articles such as logs and buoys marking nets and traps

  • Look just above the water for other vessels

  • Look high at the sky for squalls and thunderstorms so you can shorten sail area or skirt around them

  • Scan 360 degrees for vessels ahead as well as those approaching from behind

  • Use chart plotter to gather and interpret data on AIS transmitting vessels

3. Take early intervention to maneuver around identified objects

  • Use the VHF radio to start communication early with encroaching vessels

  • Monitor also AIS and RADAR for vessel proximity

  • For less experienced crew, the captain may offer support empowering you to take the helm or may ask to be woken to assist reading ships' lights and taking the helm at night.

4. Maintain indicated course and double check the routed course for obstructions

  • Zoom in close and “sail” the projected course on the chart plotter looking for turns, navigational aids, obstructions, and contour lines

5. Be aware of weather changes

  • Adjust sails to keep full in changing winds. If you're not familiar with hydraulic winches, use a winch handle to avoid accidental damage and to keep the boat quiet for sleeping crew members.

  • Ask the Captain for “standing orders” such as, “When the wind increases to 17 knots, let’s reef,” “When speed drops to 4.5 knots, let’s start the engine,” and “If the wind shifts 20 degrees, let’s tack.”

  • Monitor radar for rain

6. Make a log book entry at the end of your watch

Speak with the Captain to log information according to the onboard sp

Practice these basic watch-keeping expectations before heading out to sea. While interviewing for a position, gather details about the expectations on that vessel and, once onboard, review them as a whole team. Be honest about your level of experience and comfort level performing each task. Develop a plan of support for performing unfamiliar tasks, and spend extra time productively visualizing deck and sail handling procedures, practicing knots, learning the ropes, asking questions, and listening carefully. Finally, serve each watch quietly allowing other crew to get needed sleep. Then go out and achieve something great as a team member aboard a traveling cruising yacht!

#nightsailing #watchkeeping #passagemaking #teach2sail

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