Night Watch

Author:
Publish date:

Robert Reeder is a seamanship instructor for a series of online courses through Boaters University. His course, Fundamentals of Seamanship: Rules of the Road, is a great way to get a full understanding of how to interpret the USCG rules of the road and how to apply the rules in your daily navigation when on the water.

Sign up today and use the coupon code: SAIL for 15% off.

NightWatch-01

In the wake of so many collisions between ships and boats of all sizes over the past couple of years, much focus has been given to the role of the lookout in these incidents.

Maintaining a proper lookout is a large responsibility even on a clear sunny day, but at night on the water, we have some additional challenges to consider:

We must be able to classify other vessels and estimate their heading solely from their running lights; we must be able to identify aids to navigation by their light-characteristics alone; we must be able to avoid unlit debris in the water; and, we must be able to navigate in proximity of land that we may not be able to see.

The USS Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine container ship, MV ACX Crystal, on June 17, at 1:30 in the morning. The US Navy noted “physical lookout duties” were not performed in their incident report on the accident.

The USS Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine container ship, MV ACX Crystal, on June 17, at 1:30 in the morning. The US Navy noted “physical lookout duties” were not performed in their incident report on the accident.

There are also some advantages to driving in the dark; for example, on a clear night we can see vessels and lighted aids to navigation from a much greater distance than is possible in daylight. Also, in heavily traveled areas, there tends to be less boat traffic at night, and the remaining traffic tends to be larger commercial vessels, which are usually fairly predictable in their movements.

By understanding the arcs of visibility of various vessel lighting arrangements we can identify what kind of ships we see at night as well as their heading in relation to ours.

By understanding the arcs of visibility of various vessel lighting arrangements we can identify what kind of ships we see at night as well as their heading in relation to ours.

A few tips for nighttime lookouts:

7x50 binoculars provide the best balance of magnification, light collection, and field-of-view

7x50 binoculars provide the best balance of magnification, light collection, and field-of-view

  1. Allow ample time for our eyes to night-adjust before taking the watch. 10-15 minutes of darkness is adequate for most situations, but on truly dark nights we may need 30 minutes before we are sufficiently night-adapted.

  2. Once our eyes are night-adapted, keep them that way. Darken our console lights to the best of our ability, and do not look directly at lights on other vessels, on shore, aircraft, or even the full moon if we can avoid it. When we are well night-adapted our pupils are much more dilated than normal, so any bright light can ruin our night vision for another 10-30 minutes.

  3. Keep our eyes moving. You can do this by scanning step-by-step and pausing briefly in adjacent visual sectors rather than staring at one spot or making long visual sweeps.

  4. When scanning the horizon, focus about a finger-width below it so as to not lose contacts in our optical blind spot.

  5. Use binoculars to magnify newly detected objects, and occasionally for long-distance scanning, but mostly rely on our naked eyes. Over many years of trial-and-error, we have learned that for nighttime lookouts, 7x50 binoculars provide the best balance of magnification, light collection, and field-of-view.

  6. If we decide to use "starlight" night-vision binoculars or infrared binoculars, have one lookout committed solely to this task and another using only their naked eyes and optical binoculars, as the screen illumination of the former will render our natural night-vision useless. Also, with passive IR-only binoculars remember that what we are seeing is differences in temperature, so things like wet floating logs will be very difficult to discern from even light chop on the water.

  7. As in daylight, correlate any visual contacts with our radar and AIS, whenever possible.

  8. If we are operating in an urban area with lots of lights on shore, remember that a vessel's lights may be hiding among them. Sometimes even very large ships are best seen as a silhouette against the city skyline.

Good watch!

April 2018

Related

210115-AC36

Prada Cup: Brits Take First Two Races

Who saw that coming? After getting skunked in December, INEOS Team UK has swept the first two races in the Prada Cup elimination series of the 36th America’s Cup  Racing took place on racecourse “C,” sheltered between Auckland’s North Head and Bastion Point to take advantage of ...read more

ac-2048x

Hutchinson: 36th America’s Cup will be a Close On

On the eve of the Prada Cup challenger series, the official start of the 36th America’s Cup, New York Yacht Club American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson says it’s anyone’s game. "As we've seen in the last week, everyone's gotten faster," said Hutchinson said at the event’s ...read more

Episode1_Thumbnail4_00000_00000_00000_00000

Sailing Docuseries Released Online

Endless Media's Reaching Reality is the story of three friends, a 24-foot sailboat and 1,200 miles. With candor and humor, this series proves that you don't need to be an expert or a millionaire to cast off on the journey of a lifetime. Produced by Emmy-award winner Barry ...read more

01-LEAD-nder-sail-3

Prepping for a Transatlantic

Growing up on the coast of northern England, I dreamed about crossing oceans on my own boat. Like most of us, though, education, a family and a career took precedence, and before I knew it, we had mortgages, young children and endless work obligations. We also became landlocked, ...read more

210111-Vendee

Vendée Update: Josche Forced to Abandon

A week ago, the canting keel on Isabelle Jocshe's IMOCA 60, MACSF, failed. She managed a jury rig with a replacement ram, which held the keel centerline and allowed her to keep sailing, but with a major hit to her speed potential. Jocshe had been in 8th at the time and remained ...read more

rudder

Vendee Update: Emergency Rudder Replacement

A devastated Hare talks about the breakage Pip Hare (Medallia) is back in the game after an emergency rudder repair deep in the Southern Ocean. “Every part of my body aches. I have bloody knuckles on every finger, bruises all down my legs and muscles I didn't know I had that ...read more

Oracle-RBYACFEVD3_2870

PRADA Cup Pairings Announced

The schedule for the PRADA Cup has been revealed as a multitiered extravaganza featuring over a month of racing, stretching from January 15 through February 22. First, the three teams—American Magic, INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli—will face off in a 12-race, six-day ...read more

01-LEAD-Opener-ETNZ1_-106_silo

The 36th America's Cup

A Superbowl is a Superbowl, and a World Series is a World Series. Sure, the names of the players and the teams change from year-to-year, but otherwise, the game pretty much remains the same. Not so the America’s Cup. Still, in many ways a hot mess left over from the days of Queen ...read more