The "merchant ships often don't have anyone on watch" was just me repeating something that I'd been told by many people (including a few merchant marine officers that I met in Boston [that also lived on their sailboats]).
I agree, sounds a bit cavalier for a $150M vessel. When I was in Boston Harbor a container ship came in with a sail boat rig hanging off it's anchor. (never did find out the back story on that) And on Marion-Bermuda trips I've had similar experiences trying to raise these ships on the radio. I was told, while doing a Seattle-San Francisco run that most of the fishing boats probably didn't have a watch (and, it was a zoo out there with the fishing boats... they looked like stars at night).
But - regardless - I try not to follow the letter of the law, but common sense. I'm a speck compared to merchant ships, so best assume I'm not seen. If I am, then yippie, but best to sail as though you're invisible to everyone else.
I'd be surprised if they don't consider us a public nuisance (personal water craft). I can't imagine how annoying it must be for these guys to make land fall an encounter the zillions of clueless yahoos that make up 90% of every harbors marine traffic.
At least in Puget Sound I know the container ships are on their guard... I got blasted the other day when I went to cut into the shipping lane and the merchant ship didn't think I'd make it. (ooops! clueless yahoo +1)
I think single-handing is probably one of the more dangerous things you can do and I completely acknowledge that we're disobeying "Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions..." and I'm not trying to blame merchant ships for possibly not keeping perfect watches while I sleep... I just think it's a pretty safe assumption (in other words, you'd be foolish to assume everyone else is looking out for you).
As for orange sails... um, pretty f'ing ugly
Not that fashion is everything but, can you imagine the pretty bays of the world full of safety orange... yuck! That'd be criminal in my book.