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The wife and I have been talking about extending our range in the Chesapeake by sailing some overnights.

Haven't done any night sailing and was wondering if there are any tips?

For example, we don't have light in the cockpit and my handheld Garmin chart plotter isn't backlit.

Do people generally stick to the channels and lit buoys or trust their charts and GPS?

Josh
 

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In order to preserve night vision and still be able to see you probably want to have some red filtered lights on board and only use them for illumination when you need them. Some of my cabin lights have a red only night mode which helps. Though I have noticed that as I age my night vision is not as good as it use to be. So I am more cautious about verifying lights and other objects. GPS helps but, I would trust but, verify when using it with other marks and always have paper charts in the cockpit too.
 

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I've done a lot of night sailing, a little in the Chesapeake and Delaware.

I think your big challange is crab pot boys and weirs. The crab pots foul your prop and running into a fish trap could ruin your whole week. For those reasons I would try to stick to ship channels when visibility is low. The weirs jut our from the shore line and can be quite far off. The evil ships keep the pots out of the channels, mostly.

Perhaps better advice from others who have done more there.
 

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Though I've been sailing long before electronic nav aids were available to us, I can't imagine sailing onshore with an unlit gps. The biggest problem I'm finding with the chartplotters are that they are way too bright, even on their lowest setting at night. We use theatrical gel or a very dark car window tint sheet to cover the screen at night.
Marked channels and such are really nice, but not of much use if the wind doesn't cooperate. Lights of any color in the cockpit are a real no no (unless absolutely necessary and then only for a few seconds) as they will definitely hinder your night vision to some degree and again, onshore that is a really big deal.
If you are using corrected and up to date charts, they should be accurate. I always say my chartplotter has been 100% perfect everywhere we've ever been (it has), but I don't know about the next place I'm going. So if you are going to be sailing the same waters at night that you've sailed in daylight, you already know how accurate your charts and gps are.
If you aren't very good at counting seconds accurately, then I'd get a stopwatch for identifying the lights (count from the beginning of the first flash to the beginning of the first flash) and a good set of stabilized binoculars has become one of my most important navigation tools.
Be absolutely positive you understand all the nav lights you might encounter, as it might get a bit tricky looking up the lights on a dredge as you are slipping by on the wrong side; crunch!
Good luck and have a good sail.
 

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Mermaid Hunter
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I do Annapolis to Norfolk straight through (and thus overnight) fairly often. I deliver to and from the Chesapeake Bay a lot. How can I help? If you are near Annapolis and want to get together to run through sailing at night I'm happy to help. The only thing I ask is that if we set up a time we make the meeting open to others.
 

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Bombay Explorer 44
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Pick a moonlight night for your first night sail. At least a 3/4 moon.

Have a handheld search light, the more powerful the better.

Every crew should have a head torch.
 

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Deep Blue Crush
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I have done night sailing for the first time just few weeks back. Along with all being mystical and downright awesome, I did find it challenging, obviously because I wasn't familiar with all the rules nor the route (well, I was on a sailing course so I was learning).
Red light is a must, not just in the cabin but also on deck with a headset when necessary. Make sure also your boat is properly lit and also to reflect when you under sail or engine powered. Equally is good for you to know to identify other boats getting close to you ( and their direction) by their lights.
Keep everyone on the boat strapped in even if you hardly have any wind, if someone does fall into water you can lose track of them very fast because it does get pretty dark out there.
When you look for different markers and lights , if they are right ahead of lighted cities or marinas I found it at times quite tricky to make them out from all the back lights. But obviously I am not experienced either (yet! :) ).
 

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My wife and I sail the Chesapeake and other venues a lot a night: hardly any powerboat chop, cooler in mid summer, no crowds, less idiots, etc. etc.

Tips for visual needs:
1. dont look at any object you need to identify 'directly', as that will quickly consume and exhaust the 'visual purple' needed for night vision in your central vision. Instead look indirectly or focus 'just off' or 'next to' the object. If still not identifying, slowly 'sweep' your focus across the object. If that still fails, and the potential of mis-identification is 'serious', use your 'night scope', radar, AIS, VHF, etc. etc.
I still occasionally use a cheapy 'generation 1' Russian made night scope for fairly good effect, especially good for tiptoeing through those crowded zones of crab (and eel pot) floats.
2. The color of the interior and cockpit lighting is unimportant. Whats really important is the INTENSITY of that light. Consider to put a rheostat on the circuit that ONLY feeds the interior lighting and simply turn down the intensity to the barest amount needed to see.
3. Use binoculars that have LARGE objective lenses, the bigger the better for collecting 'light'.
4. When there is the possibility of being 'dazzled' ... put your drugstore eyepatch on ONE eye; saving at least the visual purple in your 'good'/dominant eye and then 'squint' with your uncovered eye to reduce the dazzle.

Tips for navigating:
1. Know where the 'usual' minefield of crab traps are located in your 'backyard' sailing areas ... get to know these areas like the back of your hand and remember the water depth at these areas.
2. When out of your backyard, stay close to the deep water shipping channels or stay in water deeper than 20 ft. as rarely on the Ches during 'crab season' will there be 'pots' set in water deeper than 20 ft. BUT, when the Virginians are catching (all?) the female crabs during their spring and fall migration, or during spring when the eel pots are out, all bets are off for the '20 ft. rule'.
3. When sailing especially in the lower bay expect to find unmarked and unlit fish traps. Usually the 20 ft. rule applies to fish traps, but not always. Night vision scopes then become 'very handy' - mouth of the Patuxent, Tangier Sound, Choptank(s), Potomac, and ALL the rivers in Va. Fish traps on the upper bay are usually set in shallow water and close to shore.
4. A prop in an aperture is best versus wrapping/catching a pot warp on your prop. If the prop isnt in an aperture and the rudder is exposed, be sure that you have a stainless steel 'whisker' pointing down from the hull 'just before' where the rudder shaft enters the hull to help prevent 'pinching' a pot warp there. Folding props are best, followed by folding/feathering, followed by 2 bladed fixed ... 3 or more blades on a fixed prop is 'asking for pot warps'.
Keep onboard a sharp hook knife mounted on a LONG telescoping pole to cut loose any pot floats that you do (rarely) 'catch' ... tow your dinghy for use as a 'hooked knife platform'. Avoid sailing at the times of 'fast water' between high and low tide when the pot floats are dragged underwater ... use your tide and current flow data. If youre careful and observant and a wee bit cautious you really wont be fouling on crab trap floats.

When in / near shipping channels alway look UP higher than normal, as some the larger and newer ships will have their nav lights so high in the superstructure that if you dont look UP occasionally you can easily miss a close-by and oncoming ship (and also the silly sailboats who have only masthead nav lights on while sailing 'inshore' waters !!!!) .... and especially near Bal'mr' and Nap'lis where there is a lot of skyline 'dazzle' and lots of confusing onshore lights.
This always 'look up' a bit higher than normal is VITAL anywhere near and in the C&D canal !!!!!!!!!
When in doubt, use your VHF - Ch16 for hailing 'recreationals' and Ch13 for hailing 'commercials'. Tell them where you ARE - lat/lon, what buoy number, what channel name your navigating in, etc. and ASK if they can SEE YOU, etc. The large towboats 'towing from the side (hip)' are the real confusing ones to figure out by their nav lights - talk to them!

Start your ''build' of night time experience by first going out in benign conditions and with a bit of moonlight and then as you learn, experience and enjoy yourself (with the bay all to yourself)
......... ultimately as your night sailing expertise increases, you will wait for those 'very special' nights that are benign with relative flat water and are darker than a witches tit ... and then to enjoy the incredible LIGHTED water that is illuminated by brilliant bioluminescence that trails wondrous greenish glowing 'silver heels' streaming out in your stern wake and also the 'flashers' that explode twinkling and flashing light on your bow wave. When such bioluminescence conditions are perfect and besides what your boat is doing to the irritate these bio-light emitters, you will then see under 'perfect of perfect conditions' the exact same light caused by every damn fish near the surface of the water moving and escaping out of your way which also disturbs and 'turns on' this bioluminescence, and you will say "HOLY S#!§" what 'incredible magnificence' .... something totally unknown to most who sail the Ches. only in the daytime.

;-)
 

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I've done a lot of night sailing over the years and recently out of Galesville on two occasions. First time, it was pitch black and no moon. Used the lighted chart plotter and used IFR (Inst Flight Rules) to Annapolis in 15-20 knot winds. Best thing is to sail the "float free" channels as much as possible. The second time we did it in a full moon. It's like daylight sailing...even had a moon shadow in the cockpit. Red lights and candle lights below are helpful, but you may have to put on a regular light momentarily to check tell tales, for example. Just don't stare into it. Of course have been out a lot at night when off shore, but that's easier. Just remember that when things go wrong at night, you just have to be more cautious....wear life jackets and use jack lines if you have to go outside the cockpit. It's fun to sail at night...do not hesitate to try it.
 

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Night sailing can be great.

I think it helps as you venture in to it, to be familiar with the waters, know where the hazards are, and where you are at all times. Know what the various nav lights on other vessels are telling you with regard to type and direction of travel. Know if you're in the shipping channel or not, if you are, keep eyes astern ( do this anyway) but those big ships come up fast and quiet. Know how the channel bends and which direction to move to get out of it if you need to.
Know where the unlit cans are. Have, a good pair of Binoculars handy.

Auspicious' offer is a great one. I'd take him up on it.
 

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My setup is on a day sailing sport skiff with no elec nor lights, to get away with sailing for an hour or two after sunset, since it's so enjoyable on a nice evening:

Battery portable running lights clipped or taped/ tied in place; improv flashlight partway up mast as steaming light if needed, held in place by tight external halyard.

One red-lens flashlight, another bright white one to shine on sails if needed, and a couple of mini lights to lend to crew. Tip: pocket at least one light we'll before dark so you'll have a flashlight with which to find your other flashlights.

McGyver lives!

Night sailing is magical in a small boat, you'll feel as though you're going twice as fast as you really are.
 

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10,000 plus blue water miles, many overnight races, many more night cruising passages.

Harness in at all times at night; make sure all have life jackets on before they come up on watch or leave the cabin; all PFDs shall have a strobe and a whistle; head lamps should have a red light; all throwable life rings, MOB poles, etc should have strobe lights attached.

And from past Army experience, one quick exposure to a bright light will diminish your night vision for up to a half hour.

Good night sailing and passages comes from good experience on the water. Have fun and be extra safe.
 

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I would suggest starting off early in the morning and get a hour or two in before sunrise. Do that a few times to get comfortable with it. If problems arise you will not have too long for light. This is how I got my wife acclimated before she did a full night passage. It seems to have worked.
 

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Mermaid Hunter
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Every crew should have a head torch.
No. NO. NO NO NO NO NO. No.

The problem with head torches is when one person talks to another THEY LOOK AT THEM. Bang - there goes night vision. Responsiveness of rods and cones doesn't mean anything if your retina constricts. Head torches have their place but it is a constrained place. Light discipline is very important and head torches make that discipline hard to maintain.

On a related note (honest) foredeck lights are better than spreader lights.

Red light is a must
I don't agree. The US military spends a lot of time on vision issues, and to my knowledge have transitioned to dimmable white light. As I get older I find red light to be less and less helpful.[/QUOTE]

Specific to the Chesapeake, note that there are a number of tug boat alleys that the tows run well outside the deepwater channels. The tugs don't want to compete with the big ships any more than we do.
 

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Bombay Explorer 44
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Well I do a fair amount of night miles and to begin with had a fancy French head torch that had red and white options. I almost never used the red. When it died I bought a LED one that controllable brightness which I find much more useful. For me that head torch is essential night safety equipment.

The problem with killing the night vision of other crew rarely comes up as there is only one person on watch at a time.

I have spreader lights which I find useful but could be persuaded on the subject of foredeck lights if I knew what the difference was.

I do have red lights below above the galley and chart table.
 

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Get a tablet and run Navionics or some other software to track your progress. Did this a few months ago on an overnight race. (I don't have a chartplotter) Worked great. And running two different programs was even better.
That said, stay in the deeper water to avoid fish traps and crab pots. (25-30' at least)
And don't forget to regularly CHECK SIX! Those big ships come up on you fast and you don't want to be caught unawares. If I'm anywhere close to being in the channel I hail them and tell them where I am to make sure they see me and also to let them know I WILL STAY OUT OF THEIR WAY! They are most appreciative. More than once I've had someone say, yeah, I was just getting ready to hail you.

Night sailing on the Bay is a delight, esp. in the summer; you can pretty much count on some decent breeze.
 

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I have spreader lights which I find useful but could be persuaded on the subject of foredeck lights if I knew what the difference was.
I agree with Dave, a good foredeck light is a far better solution than spreader lights...

The reason being, the source of the light is obscured by the mast when in the cockpit. The harshness of spreader lights can be reduced somewhat by wearing a baseball cap or similar, but that's lost if you look up the rig...

In addition, my foredeck light is very useful for trimming the headsail at night, and still provides more than sufficient illumination for reefing the main, or doing pretty much anything that needs to be done on deck... I've gotten to the point where the only time I ever turn on my spreader lights might be at dockside, or at anchor, but never underway...

The subject of deck lighting came up recently, a bit more of my take on it here:

http://www.sailnet.com/forums/2327098-post18.html
 

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For me that head torch is essential night safety equipment.

The problem with killing the night vision of other crew rarely comes up as there is only one person on watch at a time.
We have different experience. Some may be 'boat rules.' I don't have a problem with reading on watch offshore for example. The only codicil is that if you use a head lamp and look at me coming up the companionway I keep the lamp for the rest of the trip. Some crew want to use a head lamp trimming sheets - look at me when I talk to you and I keep the lamp for the rest of the trip.

That doesn't even address the issue of people using a headlamp while getting ready for watch and LOOKING AT THEMSELVES IN THE MIRROR IN THE HEAD. *sigh* Don't kid yourself. I can tell when I hand off watch by the glazed look on your face when I point out ships on the horizon.

I wouldn't be so adamant about the subject of head lamps if I didn't have so much bad experience with them. I use them working in the engine room or with my head in the bilge. I use a hand-held torch to read. If a jib halyard parts and I really need to see there is the foredeck light, which doesn't impact the person in the cockpit much.

I consider headlamps a convenience item, not a safety one.
 

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We have different experience.
I think you may be unaware of the massive variability available these days in 'head lamps'.
I use one onboard that has variable brightness settings and several intensity LEDs built in, has an ultra bright intensity LED, plus auxiliary small red and green LEDs for diminished light. These small low output aux. LEDs are great for 'just enough' seeing the position of the reflective bottom of the Windex (red) at the masthead, one slightly brighter (green) to see tell tales on the sails, etc. ... and all the switching is done via a small head band push button switch. VERY handy and when needed I can light up the entire foredeck, etc. with the brilliant high intensity BIG reflectorized LED .... changing intensity as needed up or down by simply using the push-button switching on the headband. The whole light assembly array is about the size of US 25¢ piece.

I use the same for aggressive XC speed skiing at night when also you dont want to lose your night vision but you do sometimes need the barest of and 'just enough' lighting to be a bit safer when in the steeps and at speed.

;-)
 

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The other thing I always do when sailing at night is to reduce sail. There are a couple of good reasons for this.

1. Going slower in limited visibility, make it easier to spot hazards, and causes less damage from any you don't spot, and hit.

2. You don't have to worry about shortening sail if a fresh breeze or squall comes up.

I just don't care about sailing fast at night. And, I try really hard to make it happen on nights with a lot of moon. For me, that just feels better.
 
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