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I hear lots of cruisers saying they do passages with watches 2 or 3 hours long. I wonder why they dont jump overboard. No wonder they are tired. It even seems 4 hours is unusually long.
My watch system (when I have someone to watch with) has 4, 5 and 6 hour watches.

Anyway, the US navy has some interesting new research...
Navy OKs changes for submariners? sleep schedules - The Washington Post
 

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Most folks have their circadian rhythm at slightly greater than 24h. "Time givers" then modify it so we are in synch with the natural world. Main time giver is blue/ green frequency light which is in sun light but not many artificial lights. Activity and feeding also influence us. Navy is just getting with the program abett around 50y behind..:laugher
 

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美国华人, 帆船
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I can't speak for others. After doing many passages, I prefer to start of my watch from 9 pm to 3 or 4 am. It works very well for me as well as for other crew members.

I usually keep myself very busy and always have music on, so passing time is no so hard. Having a radar on board is nice and add comfort. :)
 

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Nice little study they have there but it doesn't mirror real life on a submarine. It's not the on watch time that is difficult but the myriad things that occur on each watch that require all hands and interrupt the sleep cycle of off watch sailors. They'll probably work it out.

An issue unmentioned in the article is the need for alert and attentive watch standing...and eight hours of watch isn't conducive to that. Some watches are physically demanding and all are significantly more demanding than being a lookout. The watches are tedious and boring...except when they're not...and a few seconds can be the difference between minor issues and potential catastrophe when it's not.

I hope they get this right. Things generally are the way they are for good reason...and those reasons aren't always obvious to new generations.
 

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Eight hours is a long stretch. Six hour watches aligned with meals at watch change 6, 12, 6PM. Otherwise it would be 6, 2PM, 10PM.
 

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The Air Force has had this down for the better of half a century. I taught the "Circadian Disruption" portion of Aircrew Survival, and went on to be a Polysomnography Nurse. There is no "right way" when it comes to assigning crew watch times. Everyone is different. I, personally, prefer a longer watch because it allows for a longer rest period (it takes me awhile to fall asleep). Others prefer a shorter one.

Having never made a sailing passage where this would matter, but having flown thousands of hours where it did, I would urge the crew that will be sailing together to work this out before leaving port. A dry run of a couple of days would be mandatory, and give those who are unaccustomed to sleeping during the day a chance to figure out what works best for them.

An interesting thread, to be sure. Thanks for bringing it up.
 

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Nice article, but I agree with Fryewe 100%. Shipboard watchstanding is only 1/3 of the daily equation. I can't speak for submarines, but I can speak for surface ships.

Watchstanding is a big chunk of the day, but you have a day job, too. So the average guy in the Engineering department is working a full day repairing and maintaining gear (and cleaning, training, etc) and also standing two four-hour watches. It really is two full-time jobs. Then the other 1/3 of the day is drills. Lots and lots of drills. Main Space Fire (engineroom fire), Engineering Casualty drills, Battle drills, Man Overboard drills, Aircraft Crash, Flooding- oh and Underway Replenishment...the list is endless. Between two watches per day, drills, the day job, and then gear breakdowns which always happen just about the time you get off your second watch... working 24 hours straight is not uncommon. A 16 or 17 hour workday is typical.

The holy grail is when you are on the 0400-0800 / 1600-2000 watch rotation. Up at 0315 to be on watch at 0345. Off watch at 0800 to start the workday- then knock off work an hour early to be on watch at 1545. Off watch at 2000. If nothing breaks down at night you can theoretically get an actual nights sleep. You savor the plan all day- off watch and hopefully a shower, in the rack by 2100 and ZZZZZ to 0315. Heaven! It may even happen twice in one week, but probably not. Captains love nightime drills. Night time drills don't interrupt the daily work routine as much.

At sea, a Navy sailor sleeps as a target of opportunity. There is almost never a time when he can count on unbroken sleep. He will go weeks at a time with 1 hour of sleep here, 2 hours here. A five hour aggragate in 24 hours is pretty fantastic. I used to sleep through lunchtime when I could because no matter how hungry I was, if I was sleeping I wouldn't be hungry- but food wouldn't give me sleep. NEVER miss an opportunity to sleep. Finding a bite to eat throughout the day isn't nearly as hard as finding half an hour to grab a nap. It's amazing how nice diamond plate feels when you have 15 minutes to lie behind the switchboard before you go on watch! A folded red shop rag for a pillow? That's so nice you feel guilty!
 

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For our use, on sailing boats doing overnights or longer crossings, the 4 on 8 off is the only logical watch schedule for a 3 crew boat. That gives each crew member an 8 hour sleep period, twice in 24 hours. With 4 crew, it works out to 3 on 9 off, a great improvement for sure. One can start getting some serious time off with only 2 hours on and 10 hours off with 6. Often, with just 2 aboard, we will do 12 and 12, but only with a pilot or vane. I try to always do crossings with at least 3 aboard.
I have found that rotating schedules tire a crew much more than a repetitive one, so we always stick to the 8/12/4 or 3/6/9/12 schedule for the whole voyage.
I've never understood the desire to double up on watches on a boat under 65', as there's usually someone else awake; available to help the watchstander if needed. If not, the rest of the crew are just a minute away, at a yell (heavy sleepers do not make good crew members). An autopilot or wind vane is a great second crew member, freeing the watchstander from the drudgery of steering. Watchstanding is just that, however, and no computers, tablets, books, games or any other distraction is allowed.
 

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Taking it day by day
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In my working world it's.......

Bridge/Navigational Watch

Master: 0800 > 1200 & 2000 > 0000

Chief Officer: 0400 > 0800 & 1600 > 2000

Second Officer: 0000 > 0400 & 1200 > 1600

Be on the bridge to take over your watch not less than 15 minutes prior.

Also each put’s in another 4 hours doing other duties = 12h overall in a 24h period, although under STCW/ILO 180 this can be taken out to no more than 14h in a 24h period.

Explained in detail here >> http://www.imo.org/OurWork/HumanElement/VisionPrinciplesGoals/Documents/ILO-IMO-Hours of rest_1.pdf

On my own boat in my own time it all depends on where I'm going, how long it will take and who is with me.......or single handing......
 

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I agree with Mark...

My wife, who is a very experienced blue water sailor, needs a longer period of sleep than 3-4 hours. She does 20:00 to 01:00 and I do 01:00 until she smells the coffee and bacon at about 06:30.

She calls the 3 on 6 off, when we have crew, the 'cruise ship routine'.
 

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we are planning to do a three man 450 mile trip from the Solent to Edinburgh

we are taking food for six days

I have yet to decide how to organise the watches

but it will be the end of May so there will only be about seven hours of darkness

it has been suggested that we do three hour watches through the dark hours and during the day abandon a formalised watch-keeping system

steering will be primarily by tiller pilot - although I have recently been playing with a steering sail mounted on the jack stay

which is producing very promising results from fetch to broad reach

I am hoping that with the help of a whisker or spinnaker pole I can even make it work on the run - but we shall see

D
 

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If we look at the usual sleeping pattern of an grown adult, we see that 1 cycle through all the different phases lasts around 90 min...
For that reason the 4 hours shift would be just ideal and would give the guys off watch 2 full cycles which would give them the best rest...
4 hours because after doing the handover takeover you need some time for eating, drinking, getting into the berth and falling asleep... You also would stand up befor the full 4 hours have expired, getting dressed and rub your sleep out of your eyes, getting some coffee and a bite of something, do the handover takeover...
All this leaves you with the mentioned 3 hours sleep which is quite good in regard to the 90 min of sleep cycles...
Solo sailors do it differently because they have no 90 min timeframe... So they train their sleep to 45 min then check the boat, weather and stuff for 15 min and sleep another 45 min...
This pattern has been laboratory tested and showed the least fatigue over an extended period of time...
 

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Sailboat Reboot
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Like most long distance sailors I have experimented with watch schedules when I (infrequently) have crew on board. Where I ended up is non-standard schedules - very short watches from midnight to dawn, long watches in the daytime. I found that most of the crew would be up in the daytime watch or not, most had trouble standing a long 4 hour watch at 0300. So we go 2 hour watches between 0000 and 0400, a 3 hour watch from 0400 to 0700. Also, as Captain I don't stand watch. That is because I am pretty severe about the events that I want to be called to evaluate - any ship, change in weather, etc. As a result I almost never get to sleep through an entire watch. This, it turns out, also has an unexpected benefit. Since I, like many, have difficulty sleeping during the day I will frequently send the watch below or not call up the next watch during the daytime. That way everyone (but me) might get as many at 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I frequently will sit in the cockpit for the entire 0000 - 0200 or 0200 - 0400 to keep the watch stander company and alert. My experience with great crew (rare but wonderful) is that they also watch out for each other. If a particular crew member is tired and the previous watch stander is awake and alert they might take a pass on waking their relief. Of course one rule is they have to wake me up for permission! So much for my sleep!

During long passages (5 to 30 days) a crew of 3 plus me works out. I would add a fourth person but the sleeping arrangements would get a little cozy. One advantage of the 3 person crew is both off-watch people get a private stateroom with a door when they are off watch (I sleep in the salon.) Similar to a Navy Captain's at sea bunk this puts me steps from the cockpit. I can also just raise my head and see the multifunction display.

I think it important to talk to the crew about watch schedules. When we left the Canaries I had set up a standard watch schedule. Based on personal preferences the crew asked for a couple of changes. We made them and everyone agreed that for that particular crew on that particular passage they preferred the modified schedule. In addition, our crew schedule includes meal prep and clean up. Frequently the on watch person would volunteer to take responsibility for either prep or clean up. In the open ocean cycling between the galley and the cockpit (3 steps) is not a big deal - plus while we had fresh food a lot of prep took place in the cockpit.

Finally, we do "dog" the watch. In other words each person stands different watches each day. This means that a different crew members stand the "hard to stay alert" watches from 0000 - 0400 each night.

Fair winds and following seas. :)

Fair winds and following seas.
 

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Sailboat Reboot
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An autopilot or wind vane is a great second crew member, freeing the watchstander from the drudgery of steering. Watchstanding is just that, however, and no computers, tablets, books, games or any other distraction is allowed.
1.Reboot has both a vane and an electric autopilot. I have crewed on boats with hand steering and the crew fatigue factor is out of sight compared to using some self steering device.
2. I agree with your rules about no computers ... I also don't let watchstanders take blankets or pillows to the cockpit. Get to comfortable and off to nod you go...

Fair winds and following seas. :)
 

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Would note the following
CV - takes a " normal" adult 90-120 minutes to enter stage R ( REM).
Most adults feel"rested" if they get adequate stage 3 and stage R if allowed required 7-8h of sleep.
Marked variance in morning lark ness and night owl ness in people.
Last stage R period longest. ( reversed in depressed people).
Shift work has significant health risks even increased cancer risk.
There are scales to determine morning lark/ night owl just google.
Many adults can tolerate multiple sleep periods as long as one or two allow stage R and maintenance of circadian rhythm.

Therefore- put larks on early night watches and owls on late night/ early morning. Allow at least one 4+h block for sleep per 24h. Try to not vary sleep much to allow for circadian effects. Use very low dose melatonin 1h before expected sleep, sunglasses and timed sunlight to adjust or maintain circadian rhythm.
Unlike CV- board certified in Sleep Medicine.
 

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Bristol 45.5 - AiniA
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I think there are as many answers to this question as there are boats doing extended cruises. I totally agree that when you go from two on board to three, things become very relaxed indeed. I would suggest that flexibility really matters. We only have formal watches at night. During the day one or both of us is in the cockpit. Basically if I am not in bed, I am on watch. It is not exactly an onerous task in daylight 95%+ of the time.

All of the discussion here seems to clock driven. We have found that the time of darkness varies substantially from one side of a time zone to another. Combine that with the fact that one crosses the time zone fairly slowly means that it may make sense to modify the start time for the first night watch. Sometimes it may make sense to start at 1800, sometimes 1900 depends on the where you are (latitude and date for length of darkness) and longitude (when it gets dark).

Our schedule on the last trip (Cape Town - Caribbean) when we had an extra crew who was not terribly useful except she was diligent and had good eyes, started with 3- 4 hour watches. The crew preferred the middle watch (say 2300 - 0300), but had problems with four hours so we went with 4 - 3 hour watches and I did the first and last (1900-2200 and 0400-0700). I got six straight hours and had at least some daylight in the morning watch. Often my wife would be up around 0630 when it was light and I had off for an extra hour in the sack. With just the two of us I would often do a first and last watch with June doing the middle one and relieving me in the morning when she woke up. Being flexible seems to work well for us.

Edit - Should have mentioned we have a Monitor and backup autopilot. Everything changes without self-steering.
 

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Bristol 45.5 - AiniA
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we are planning to do a three man 450 mile trip from the Solent to Edinburgh

we are taking food for six days

I have yet to decide how to organise the watches

but it will be the end of May so there will only be about seven hours of darkness

it has been suggested that we do three hour watches through the dark hours and during the day abandon a formalised watch-keeping system

steering will be primarily by tiller pilot - although I have recently been playing with a steering sail mounted on the jack stay

which is producing very promising results from fetch to broad reach

I am hoping that with the help of a whisker or spinnaker pole I can even make it work on the run - but we shall see

D
Not to drift the thread too much, if you have tiller steering, see if you can find a copy of Letcher's book on self-steering. He has two methods, one on the wind and one off. Nice thing is that it is really cheap to do. Anyway, for a trip that length with 3 crew if the tiller pilot croaks it is not the end of the world to hand-steer.
 

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We wired all lamps red/white. Under hard dodger/ hard Bimini and down below. Red only at night. We use focused narrow beam diver's flash lights to check the sails etc..Our berthing areas are private from common areas so can be made truly dark. This allows folks to shift their light/dark cycles to match their watches. This is easier when you start with watches that nearly match their natural rhythms.
We use 4h during the day and 3 or 4 at night depending on number of crew. If flying from another time zone to join crew try to phase shift sleep 1h per day to match where you will meet the boat.
We use one on watch with designated second below. That way other crew know they will get to sleep.
After a day(s) of " all hands on deck" will hove too or just sit before a landfall or other critical evolution to allow sleep and clear thinking.
 

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Would note if doing coastal jumps of 2-3 d think about it differently. As long as you allow 2d ( young adult) or 1d ( old fart like me) for " recovery sleep" it's amazing how much you can put up with. Interestingly young recover REM first day and stage 3 second. Old farts have less REM to begin with and recovery seen in hypogram first night then return to baseline . Old males have the least. The cougars dream more .
 
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