With only two crew aboard it can be difficult to get enough sleep. Cold or rough weather also take their toll and make it difficult to stand a whole watch alertly. What we learned is first that different watch schedules can be helpful when dealing with different situations, and second that watch schedules don’t have to be split the day into equal sections.
4-on 4-off Watch Schedule in Cold Weather
We started our trip doing four hour watches around the clock. This has the advantage in cold wet rough weather, as it was in the North Pacific off Washington and Oregon, of brevity. As we had to be in full foul weather gear most of the first week of this portion of the voyage, we were glad to have short watches. As we became more experienced and more confident of the self-steering wind vane the short watches were less of an advantage. We began to feel more comfortable leaving the cockpit and spending more time below. The major disadvantage of the four hour watch is that we were only getting a couple of hours of sleep. The experienced cruisers all say that you get better at falling asleep instantly as you become more accustomed to the life. Still, longer sleeps are better! So to sum up four hour watches:
- Advantages: good for cold, wet conditions where longer watches would be fatiguing
- Disadvantages: hard to get enough sleep
5-on nights / 7-on days to Minimize Waking Dark Time
Next we switched to six hour watches. This gave us more time to sleep, but both of us were having trouble staying awake on the dark watches. Finally we compromised with five hour watches at night and seven hour watches during the day. Jon took 7 pm to midnight – getting a sunset to start his watch. I took midnight to 5 am, getting the beginning of a sunrise to look forward to. Then he took 5 am to noon and I took noon to 7 pm. This gave us plenty of time to sleep in two parts and some time to overlap in the cockpit and spell each other during the day watches. Having daylight at one end of the watch also made the watch seem shorter. Watch schedules that are different lengths during the day and night acknowledge the different needs of those times.
- Advantages: shorter watches at night when it’s cooler and hard to stay awake. Longer watches during the day for the off-watch person to catch up on sleep.