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Hi all,

I have been doing a lot of reading and it seems that for passages a lot of people go with 3 hours on/off. I don't know but that seems just painful to me. It takes me 30mins-1hour to fall asleep. Having come off an active (assuming rough weather) shift, it would definitely be closer to that one hour mark (assuming that means a bit of chop/movement as well).

So, is it just me but wouldn't longer ships make things a heck of a lot more bearable? For instance, I am a night person, my wife is a morning person. I have no problem with the idea of me taking the 11pm-5am shift and her picking up the 5am-11am shift. We would both get decent sleep time, could share time together during the day and alternate naps if needed.

Take this plan of course with a huge grain of salt given my total lack of passage experience but that would be what my intuition would have me gunning for if I were heading out on one today.

Thoughts?

Regards.
 

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Keeping alert on watch for longer than that can be difficult. Of course, the three-hour watches works much better if you have more than two people, since that means you can get SIX HOURS of sleep.
 

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I thought the same thing until my first passage of 4 days. We had 3 on board and as SD stated it made for a 6 hour rest between shifts. I also found that 3 hours was about right for a watch based on boredom setting in especially at night with nothing to occupy your mind. You learn to listen to the sounds of night which can easily test your ability to stay awake. The importance is to stay alert as a passing freighter can appear quickly out of nowhere. All and all though it was quit enjoyable and when you make land fall you are rested.
 

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With only two people aboard, I would advise against using a three-hour watch schedule. Four or six hour watch schedules make far more sense.
 

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I do deliveries and always have 2 other crew members with me. We do 4 hour watches. the person coming on watch is awaken 1 hour early for house hold duties. Cook, pick up, wake up etc. So the way it works is 4 hour watch and 7 off and 1 hour for the boat as I say.

For just a husband and wife it is a whole different thing. With my wife and I it is much more of a loose arrangement. No set hours. The way it seems to work out for us is it is 6 hours on for me then 4 hours on watch for her. This may sound unfair but, I do not rest well with my wife on deck alone. Usually I am up a least once to check that she is still there and the boat is not sailing under the autopilot alone.
 

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Don't you mean you check to see that the boat is NOT sailing under autopilot alone???
Usually I am up a least once to check that she is still there and the boat is sailing under the autopilot alone.
 

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Can we call them watches and keep within the seafaring tradition? Shifts is fine if you're in the army or maybe a factory.

There are many different watch systems in use, depending on the situation/crew size/purpose of the voyage. The traditional way from the square rigger days is four-on (hours) four-off with the watch from four in the afternoon to eight at night split into two two hour watches and thus "dogged" (those are the dog watches - not the middle of the night watch which is often and incorrectly called the dog watch) so that the crew alternates the watches and if you have the mid watch one night you don't have it the following night. That's where the the system of bells came from. The end of the first half hour of a watch was marked by ringing one bell, the end of the first hour by two bells etc, till the blessed arrival of eight bells when your four hour watch ended and you could go below. Watch changes take place at 4, 8 and 12 - AM and PM with the dogged watch noted above. Breakfast is at the morning 8 watch change, lunch is at the noon watch change and dinner at the dogged change at 6 PM.

The problem with short - three hour watches - is that in cold or inclement weather struggling in and out of many layers of clothes and foulies in a pitching boat is a chore that takes a lot out of you. In the tropics, where you just roll out of your bunk, put your shoes on and go on deck it works fine. On the other hand, the fourth hour of a four hour watch, especially at night, can be really rough.

My favorite system is one that has 3 four hour watches at night and two 6 hour watches during the day. Watch changes take place at 7 in the morning (breakfast), one o'clock in the afternoon (lunch) and 7 at night (dinner) and then at 11PM, 3AM and so back to 7AM. That way you get a shot a decent sleep to catch up during the day and your night watches are split so that if you get the mid watch (11 to 3AM) you get four hours before that and four hours after. I you get the 7 to 11 in the evening and 3 to 7 in the morning, you have just had six hour off before starting and six more hours off after ending. Six hour watches during the day aren't too bad. This system, having an odd number of watches, automatically "dogs", or alternates from one night to the next.

Of course, these watch systems work well on a fully crewed boat, weather racing or cruising. On a boat that has just a couple or just a couple of people, the need for such formal systems is much less and the individual strengths and weaknesses of the crew plays a bigger role than the tyranny of the hourglass. That can only be determined by experimentation and practice.
 

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My wife and I generally kept 4 hour watches when double-handing...at night, by the end of a watch it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. During the day...we would often allow each other to sleep a bit longer and not abide by a formal watch schedule unless we felt the need for sleep. It is tough to mess with the natural body rhythms for long!
 

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In practical application, I think you have to adjust your schedule to the personnel and/or conditions. For instance, when I left Texas with two crew, in the oil rig areas, we staggered the night watches so there were always two people in the cockpit. One to handle the boat, the other to keep an eye out for unlit rigs. From Destin to Tampa though we only had one atop.
 

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Thanks for the benefit of all your experiences. I plan to sail in May, Fl-NY with a crew totalling four. My plan is three hour watches, nine off, dogging in the afternoon. I'm bringing four to ease the watch schedule, three hours to maintain alertness. I know the not everyone has the luxury of a crew of four.
 

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If you are sailing with four people I would suggest that you have two watches of two crew each - otherwise you'll find that no one sleeps during the day (when more hands aren't needed on deck) and at night you only have one person on deck, lonely and potentially dangerous. The deck watch will still have to get someone up if any sail changes are needed and since no one likes to wake people you may find that sail changes are put off, often to the detriment of the ship and crew.
 

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If you are sailing with four people I would suggest that you have two watches of two crew each - otherwise you'll find that no one sleeps during the day (when more hands aren't needed on deck) and at night you only have one person on deck, lonely and potentially dangerous. The deck watch will still have to get someone up if any sail changes are needed and since no one likes to wake people you may find that sail changes are put off, often to the detriment of the ship and crew.
I'd second this great advice, since you'll have the luxury of 4 crew. When we're fully crewed, we do 6-6-4-4-4 (6-hour watches during the day; 4-hour at night). As soon as you get into the sea-rhythm you realize that you don't need 8 *continuous* hours of sleep. A few hours at night, and a nap in the daytime, and you're fine (at least, that's always been the case for us).

Seems counterintuitive but we *don't* drink coffee to keep you going during those nights. You need to be able to fall asleep easily as soon as you do go off watch. Hot chocolate gives a great sugar buzz but it wears off quick so it won't mess with your biorythms.

Most of all, enjoy! Nights at sea can be sooooo gorgeous!
 

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Watch cycles have to meet reality and compromise against the number of crew you have and how indestructible they feel.

Some folks think they can go forever without sleep, but there are 100+ years of formal studies (railroad, government, university, industry, etc.) from all over the world that come back year after year with the same information.

A typical human (typical--not all) requires at least 6 hours sleep every 24 hours, uninterrupted, to function at their best. You can function with less, but the error rates shoot up and fine thinking gets dulled. 8 hours is better if you expect 100% performance but that's hard to do on a boat.

Keep someone at a task (i.e. on watch, on shift work) more than 12 hours, and the error rates shoot up again. That's one reason so many people are killed by hospital errors, where the interns are limited to 30 hour shifts (!) in 80 hour weeks.

And if you are trying to race competitively--it is almost impossible for anyone to keep a really sharp focus on a job for more than 2 hours. In severe conditions, 20 minutes on the helm may be all you can do without losing your edge. Performing, yes. Performing at your best, no.

But when you are short-handed, or there's no room or money for crew...you do what you have to, and you compromise as best you can. And sometimes you just deal with it, knowing that in 2 or 3 or 4 days, you'll be in port and able to sleep for 12 hours. Whatever works for you, and your boat.
 

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My wife & I have a loose schedule. I usually do watch from around 9pm until I start to ge drowsy. Usually about 1-2am. The wife gets up, and truly enjoys the rest of the night watch until just before sunrise. Then I am up, and the sun replenishes me. We take turns at leisure throughout the day taking naps.

Sometimes we lenghten, and shorten the schedule. We make decisions on how we feel, and do not try, and adjust ourself to a rigid clock....i2f
 

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First off -GENIE great post! very interresting and informative.

the two n.-s. and s.-n. transpots that I helped with last yr we had a crew of four each time and did four hr watches. 2hrs boat duties coffee, clean, navagate, general watch - 2hrs at helm. this system worked out well for us. Although it was difficault during the day hrs since there was so much to see.
 

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I do several 5-6 day deliveries each year with just my son. We have found that 3hr. watches work well for us. We don't waste any time falling asleep as we both go to immediate REM as our heads touch the pillow. I understand this is a sign of a clear conscience and leading a righteous life.

A friend of mine in the Vendee gets 15 minutes sleep every 3-4 hrs for about 80 days straight and he manages :)
 

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On the Atlantic crossing, our crew of three were on a 2 on, 4 off schedule. When the weather gets cold, you won't want to be up there longer than two hours. You are likely to get a big wave right up the ear in the first 5 minutes, and you'll be cold from that moment on.

2 hours is enough.

After that, you will be so bloody tired you will sleep the sleep of the dead.
 

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When it's 2 or 3 people on Pelican, we do four hour watches, and only at night - 8pm-12am, 12am-4am and 4am-8am. We've actually been a bit loose - we change watches when someone gets too tired, so I've actually mostly been doing 8pm-2am (I'm a night person). When we had 4+ people on Pelican, we did watch rotations. We had four "positions" - Helm, lookout, Rest A and Rest B. Each position would be for 2 hours. You would be on helm for 2 hours, then lookout for 2 hours, then Rest A then Rest B for 4 hours of total rest in a group of 4, or 6 hours of rest in a group of 5. With the 2 hour rotation, you got to spend time with more people on the boat - you would spend your time topside with 2 different people as opposed to a single 4 hour shift with the same person the whole time. Plus, responsibilities would shift so you wouldn't get as bored.
 

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I did a delivery a while back and the captain insisted on 2 hour watched. There were 3 of us and I wanted to toss him over the side after a week at sea.

In the Navy I did 6 hour engineering watches in subs, and I can promise you I was not always alert. If you have 3 people and can do 3s you one person gets a full nights sleep from 00-06, and the other 2 should be able to get 6 even if it broken in the rest of the evening/night.
 
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