Day sails (departing and returning on the same day) may be the most popular form of boating, although some of us make longer trips, even overnight. Once the sun goes down, it can be a whole new game on the water. From items you should make sure to carry on your vessel, to additional information you should have before your voyage, these tips will make for smooth sailing.
One of the major rules of boating is: Keep yourself on the boat. Of course, this motto applies during the day, but as the sky grows dark, anyone in the water will be more difficult to locate. According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) Boating Safety Division’s 2015 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, there were 259 reports of falls overboard in 2015 alone.
The best way to make sure you are always on the boat is to keep yourself tethered to it. Place a harness over your personal flotation device (PFD) that has a tether you can clip to the boat. Usually there are places in a cockpit to attach the clip, although if you find you need to move along the deck, you’ll want to clip in to a jackline (a nylon rope running from the bow to the stern). If for any reason you do go overboard, you’ll still be attached, allowing your crewmates the ability bring you aboard.
Once the sky grows dark and the horizon and sea seamlessly blend together, it can be difficult to distinguish vessels on the water. USCG regulations mandate each vessel comes equipped with working navigation lights in order to be seen by others in the dark. This means you should not only have all lights on your own vessel in working order, but you should also know how to read them.
A working knowledge of navigation lights will be able to tell you:
This will enable you to adhere to the rules of the “road” and allow you to ascertain the important information about other watercraft so that you may pass it properly and safely.
Thoughts of a day out on the water can conjure up images of escaping the hot sun with frequent dips into the cool water. But once the sun goes down, the air temperature can drop dramatically and if you’re not prepared, sun-kissed skin can become chilled very quickly. Being on the open water gives you no protection from the wind, and it may be advisable to bundle up as soon as it gets dark. Long pants and sweaters or fleeces will usually be enough in warm climates, but the further north you go, the more layers you may want to add.
Even slight winds can make a big difference to the temperature — something we often don’t notice during the day. You will likely be well aware of it at night, when a 15-knot wind can make temperatures feel significantly cooler. Also, make sure to have inclement weather gear (insulated, waterproof) to keep you both warm and dry during rain and storms.
Whether you have two people aboard or six, planning a watch schedule before you leave can be very important. Traveling on the water overnight means you will still need to have a person at the helm, keeping watch over your route and aware of other vessels. Just because the day cruisers have gone back to their dock does not mean you can forget about the tankers and cargo vessels. Make sure to enter the important waypoints (reference points of physical features or landmarks used for navigation) into your electronic navigation device to help keep you safe during night sailing.
Watches typically consist of two- to four-hour shifts, with the other crew members sleeping below deck. Yacht World suggests playing to the strengths of each person — some may feel more comfortable being awake late at night; others may rather be awake early in the morning. Talk to your crew members before leaving to see who might work best with which hours and if pairs of watchers are preferred (depending on the number of crew members).
Overnight passages can be a great way to cover many miles, or to make sure you arrive at a familiar harbor in daylight. And with these basic tips, there should be no need for worry once the sun goes down.