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What gear do we need for night passages?

2022 July 1

What gear do we need for night passages?

Dear Boat Doctor,

My wife and I would like to do some longer distance passages, which will entail sailing overnight. We are a little nervous about it but excited about being able to travel farther. What gear would you recommend we have to make these passages easier?


Ryan McNabb

San Diego, California

Dear Ryan,

Sailing in the dark seems daunting, but you will come to love it and it’s a great time to relax and reflect. Safety at sea is mostly about protocol, but there is a gear component.

Sailing overnight means sleep or a lack thereof, you will need to figure out a watch schedule that works for you both. A classic schedule is an alternating watch between two and four hours, but don’t feel locked in. If one of you is a night owl or early riser, feel free to adjust your rhythms. Speaking of rhythm, give yourselves time to get adjusted. No one is comfortable living a 24-hour day on the first day, I’d estimate it takes at least 48 hours on board to feel at home.

Once you are on solo watch and in the dark, you can be vulnerable. It’s important to operate carefully, and if you need to leave the cockpit or undertake any major task, it’s a good idea to wake your partner. Operating carefully is all about being aware, careful when adjusting rigging, and keeping an eye out for traffic and weather. This is no different than how you’d operate during the day with crew, but there is less margin for error.

Speaking of gear, you need to take steps to stay on the boat. A life jacket, harness and tether are a very good idea, especially in the dark. It’s important that the tether is short enough to keep you on deck. A tether long enough to allow you off the deck, banging against the hull, partially submerged, does you no good.

If you find yourself separated from the boat, if your partner is awake or not, you are in an emergency situation. You need to do all you can to not fall off the boat, but if you do, technology can help. A personal AIS beacon can alert and lead your partner back to you. The beacon is attached to your life jacket and will trigger if you separate from the boat. Your position is displayed on the boat’s nav system, and the nav system of any boats around you.

Enjoy your future passages. The magic of sailing increases as you get farther afield, and solo watches are a great opportunity. With just a little prep, this type of sailing is no riskier than a daysail with friends.