Watch keeping responsibilities
The information below details the watch-keeping responsibilities of an
average crew member in contrast to say a two handed experienced racing crew
where each person effectively sails single-handing during their watch period.
The key points in the average cruising yacht is to ensure that everyone
understands and follows the safety rules laid down by the skipper. Whilst the
skipper would ideally have watch keepers fully familiar with the collision
regulations this is often not the case and thus it needs to be made clear to the
crew that they should not hesitate to call the skipper when faced wit any
situation with which they are uncertain or unfamiliar.
From a skipper's perspective you cannot assume your crew have the skills
outlined below - if they don't then you need to train them up so that the can be
a safe watch keeper. In an ideal world everyone on board would learn the
Collision Regulations, and demonstrate appropriate judgement in using them in
real situations. However you may have:
- colour blind crew (about 14% of men are red/green colour blind)) who may not
be able to adequately distinguish between the various colours of navigational
- crew aboard who don't sail that often or whose sailing generally tends to day
time only, inshore and away from areas frequented by commercial shipping
In either case the skipper can expect disturbed slumber !
Keeping a good lookout
for other vessels, and if sighted call skipper - unless the skipper has
indicated that he is satisfied that you have a working knowledge of the
Don't forget to look under the foot of the genoa, and to check astern
(both common failings amongst inexperienced watchkeepers)
If any unexpected lights seen - call the skipper
- Look out for debris in the sea (e.g. trees, barrels, containers,
- Look out for whales
- In coastal waters look out for pot buoys - pass at least 20 metres
away from (some have very long floating pick up ropes)
- Remember as watch keeper - the safety of the off watch crew is in
- For recording each hour the log reading (distance run and average
course steered) Recording at each change of course - the course averaged since
last log reading and log reading when course changed
- For recording changes in the weather (wind strength and direction)
- Cetacean sighting may be recorded in the comments section of deck
- Trimming sails to suit the course
- Adjusting the genoa (often reefing the genoa is adequate to keep the
boat under control, and avoids disturbing the off-watch crew)
- If requiring to put in / shake out reef in mainsail - call skipper
- If any DOUBT at any time - WAKE THE SKIPPER
- In an emergency call 'ALL HANDS'
- Do not unclip at any time
- Do not leave cockpit at any time - wake skipper before putting
in/shaking out a reef
- Consciously look around the genoa foot blind spot, and astern
- Remember that it takes a mere 6 minutes for a ship to appear from
hull down to where we are
- A ship's watch-keeper may not see a yacht in waves, may not see the
yacht's radar reflector on the radar, may not expect to see a yacht and may
not have anyone on watch.
- Harness must always worn at night or when the skipper is not on deck
(day or night)
- Harness must be worn at any other time determined by the skipper
- If you hear an unknown sound - identify the source (Torches in
cockpit coaming lockers - but do not leave the cockpit) or call the skipper.
- If the engine is running:
- listen and check for cooling water exiting the exhaust
- listen for the absence of engine alarms
- for changes in engine note or vibrations (rope, net or weed round the
Change Of Watch
- Knock on hatch from inside the boat - person on watch was pass down
- Always clip on from below
- Person on watch will open hatch to avoid taking water below
- Keep hatch closed (if directed by skipper)
- Last watch states course required.
- New watch repeats course required (avoids steering an
Off Watch Responsibilities
- Ensure that you will be in the cockpit to relieve watch keeper on or
before official time watch is due to change
- If you hear ALL HANDS - put on a harness and report on deck
immediately no matter what state of dress/undress. Such a call is only used if
there is a MOB (Man Overboard or imminent danger to the ship).
- The alarms for the engine are mounted inside the boat and may not be
audible by the watch keeper. If you hear an alarm sound - CALL THE SKIPPER.
- Once during your watch check that the navigation lights are working
- Identical piles of snacks will be issued to each watch keeper.
- Turn mobiles off - so that off-watch crew are not disturbed.
- If all awake during the daytime - mobiles may be used.
- Try not to disturb the watch below and they will do the same for
Watch-keeping tactics for single-handing