How to avoid other vessels at night? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 16 Old 05-31-2016 Thread Starter
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How to avoid other vessels at night?

Hey folks, I'm not a sailor or anything but am interested in the liveaboard lifestyle and would like to learn how to sail in the future. I have a question about being out in the open ocean.

There are many liveaboards who sail on their own out into the oceans. When you anchor out there and head in for sleep, how do you sleep comfortably knowing that a cargo ship, yacht, another liveaboard, or any other boat might crash into you in the night?

I know there are folks who sail out to Australia from the U.S.
How do you manage to sleep at night? I would have an anxiety attack lol. Do you depend on their radar? Do you have radar on your own vessel in the event one is coming to close?
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post #2 of 16 Old 05-31-2016
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

I have lots of respect for people who do that. I wouldn't go unless my boat was solid steel or aluminum. I know of too many people even one friend who was holed by a piece of floating crap that would have simply bounced off aluminum or steel.

But If I was out there, I would most certainly have radar. Most ocean treading boats I see up here have a radar system.
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post #3 of 16 Old 05-31-2016
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

My only ocean crossing was the North Atlantic, and that was nearly 40 years ago. I also spent a month on a research vessel in an area just off the Gulf Stream and south of Bermuda, similar era. That's a total of about 2 months at sea. We rarely saw another vessel. Our first sighting on the trans-Atlantic was mid-way through the crossing, around day 12. That vessel was the Chevron Felly, then one of the largest supertankers. On the research vessel I don't recall seeing any other vessels, except very near Miami, which was our base.

I'm sure that shipping traffic is much higher today, but still, most of the big ships stay close to major sea lanes. So, if you are outside the shipping lanes, the ocean is a pretty big place. Aside from a random piece of debris, such as Zarathu mentioned, I don't think there's much to worry about. There's also AIS, and receivers allow for alarms to be set, as well as radar reflectors (for whatever they are worth), in addition to radar. Lastly, single handing (although all my crossings have been with a full crew), you probably don't sleep a full night anyway. Up once an hour or so is quite common from what I understand.
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post #4 of 16 Old 05-31-2016
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

Avoiding other vessels at *night* is as simple as avoiding other vessels during the day: Steer an appropriate course.

The more difficult problem is detecting vessels and flotsam. Sight, sound, radar, AIS are all used to better one's chances of preventing collision. You should know that collisions on the open ocean are very rare. But on the other hand they usually have very bad outcomes. Also, nobody anchors out on the ocean to sleep but generally continues sailing with some kind of automatic steering device.

I've sailed much farther than from the USA to Australia, alone, and slept most of the way. Based on the time I spent looking about, and the always alert instruments, I'd say there is close to *nothing* out there in the open ocean that would do anyone any harm as elliowb mentions above.

Interestingly, on a recent crossing from Manila to San Francisco I encountered about a dozen other vessels. All but one were exactly on the great circle shipping routes between well-known ports: Two ore carriers plying the route between China and Northern Australia, Two on the route between Panama/Los Angeles and China/Tokyo, two a bit further south on the route to Singapore/Persian Gulf, a couple of small cruising boats on random courses like me, and one tug & tow that was on a course between Hawaii and Oregon as far as I could tell. That's not much to write about for sixty days at sea.

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post #5 of 16 Old 05-31-2016
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

Adam, as others have indicated, people usually continue sailing with some kind of autopilot/automatic steering while they sleep. If you are solo I suppose the best you could do is to have radar and/or AIS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automa...ication_System) with some kind of proximity alarm to sound and wake you if anything detected or broadcasting came within a certain radius of your vessel (or appeared to be within a certain margin of a collision course per AIS).

AIS seems like a particularly good concept because it broadcasts YOUR position and heading (if you have a unit that sends and receives) as well as that of pretty much all major ships. So it makes YOU more "visible" to the ships as well as the other way around.

Unfortunately this, like anything else, is not completely foolproof. There could be objects not big enough, reflective enough, or high enough off the water to be detected by radar and not on AIS but that could still do you damage. This would include completely sumberged things like a whale.

Some of these might be detectable by an awake watchstander, but at night still might be difficult to see until you were right on them, if they were low in the water and there were waves.

So I think doing ocean passages incurs a certain amount of unavoidable risk. You can minimize that by being a good and experienced sailor, having a really good boat (especially if it's made out of metal, lol), and equipped with all the awesome safety gizmos as mentioned, and you reduce that risk further if you can have someone continually standing watch, but you can't eliminate it entirely.

Also, as the other poster mentioned, you can't really anchor on ocean passages, the water is way too deep once you are significantly offshore. You could "heave to" to move very slowly at night but this would be pointless as you could still get run over by a ship while "hove to" so you might as well continue sailing towards your destination. Getting there sooner should decrease your "risk window" by simply decreasing the time you are out there.

But my impression is that aside from getting damaged in bad weather conditions or freak accidents like a whale strike, the risk in ocean passages gets much higher as you get closer to land. More boat and ship traffic, and there are actual land features you can run into and get beat to pieces by waves against.
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post #6 of 16 Old 06-01-2016
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

I sleep more during the day and try to stay awake at night in the areas with lots of shipping.

Generally speaking I assume that at night the big stuff is relying on their radar and hence may miss spotting a small GRP yacht. So I get out of the way.

It is essential to stay off the great circle routes and the rhomb line courses as modern electronics allow these to be followed exactly by shipping.
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Corraliza View Post
Hey folks, I'm not a sailor or anything but am interested in the liveaboard lifestyle and would like to learn how to sail in the future. I have a question about being out in the open ocean.

There are many liveaboards who sail on their own out into the oceans. When you anchor out there and head in for sleep, how do you sleep comfortably knowing that a cargo ship, yacht, another liveaboard, or any other boat might crash into you in the night? ...
Ah... When one sails the "Ocean", there is no "anchoring out there". One sails. At most one might heave too and "stop" to rest. In the pre-GPS days when there were fewer boats on the water, once one was out of the shipping lanes it was not uncommon for folks to heave too and turn in for the night or a few hours sleep but, these days, with much more traffic and point-to-point sailing, that would be unwise without someone on watch. The maintenance of a "proper watch" is the bane of single handed sailing these daze and the strategies of 15-20 minute "power naps" really don't work well for other than short periods. Some manage it, but few.

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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

I think the most common strategy for avoiding other boats out there is crew. Most of us divide watches and the crew on watch pays attention to the surroundings. AIS/radar aides the watch person at night and in fog. Autopilot is useful, but is not a "watch" person. You are required to have a person on watch. Soloing is an extreme sport and a time when the watch person takes brief naps between looking out. You can heave-too (park) in the ocean, but I don't think it is any safer than just continuing on your journey except in storm situations.
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

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Originally Posted by Skyeterrier View Post
But my impression is that aside from getting damaged in bad weather conditions or freak accidents like a whale strike, the risk in ocean passages gets much higher as you get closer to land. More boat and ship traffic, and there are actual land features you can run into and get beat to pieces by waves against.
And more stuff like crab pots to get hung up on, daylight navigation aids, etc are close in. Things like logs only get washed out to sea where there's currents washing OUT as well as along (river mouths) and as soon as they're pushed past the outwash, they stop going out. Most floating hazards big enough to seriously risk a hull don't tend to float more than a couple of weeks before they stop doing the floating part. So you're not going find them more than a few miles offshore except in really unusual circumstances (like currents going around promontories, that kind of thing).
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Re: How to avoid other vessels at night?

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Originally Posted by Skyeterrier View Post
...

But my impression is that aside from getting damaged in bad weather conditions or freak accidents like a whale strike, the risk in ocean passages gets much higher as you get closer to land. More boat and ship traffic, and there are actual land features you can run into and get beat to pieces by waves against.
Yep. It's not the Ocean that's the problem, its the "hard stuff" around the edges.
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