I remember our first night sail, it was awe-inspiring and terrifying all at the same time. We met friends after work on a Friday in a little known marina called Andijk in The Netherlands. We had a hearty dinner then set off into the darkness. The only way I can describe the feeling is like this. Imagine walking down a street, it’s straight and there aren’t any obstacles. Simple, right? Now, keep walking and close your eyes. Not feeling so confident now? Your rational mind tells you your surroundings are unlikely to have changed in the last few seconds, but your senses are trying to convince you otherwise. “The oceans don’t suddenly become littered with debris after dark” says the article below, so chances are, if you’ve been conscientious with planning and you keep a good watch, you’ll be fine.
Here are some tips for skippers to help ensure your night sail is safe, and sensational!
- Charge batteries in the afternoon to help avoid needing to run the engine at night (when people are trying to sleep).
- As darkness falls turn on your nav lights (checking that your ensign isn’t draped over your stern light) and get the crew together for a briefing (dinner together in the cockpit just before sunset is a nice idea).
- Agree on shifts: who will be on watch, when, and for how long.
- Go through the weather forecast for the night and if in doubt, reduce sails for peace of mind.
- Be sure your crew know when to wake you. Max wind speed, minimum boat speed, and really, any situation where they feel uncomfortable. Better safe than sorry.
- Look out for lights. A full list will be in your almanac so it’s not necessary (even possible?!) to memorise them all. If you want to brush up, here are some flashcards.
- My advice: insist your crew are always clipped in on deck, and politely remind them not to clatter around, the sound of metal on deck is magnified when down below.
- Have the following to hand: a (red) head torch, a knife, binoculars, an emergency searchlight (in case you need to draw attention to your boat), and (for shorthanded crew) a fog horn to allow you to wake your partner without leaving the helm.
- If you’re on watch alone, it’s a good idea to set a (quiet) timer for every half an hour just in case you fall asleep. And boys, please use the heads. A lot of sailors drown with their flies open.
This article is called, “How to tackle a night passage short handed” but much of it is relevant for yachts with more than a couple of crew members. It’s an entertaining read with some good tips.
Sometimes, even with the most careful of planning, things can still go wrong. This family were unfortunate enough to hit a large, and unlit (😡) fish farm off the coast of Spain.