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Watch-standing tips

Dec 28, 2018

• Before you depart, and certainly before you change watch standers, make sure the oncoming watch stander knows how to talk via VHF, steer with the autopilot, interpret the radar to track targets, understand the rules of the road, and sound the horn five times for danger or an emergency.

• On a passage, run at a steady rpm. Agree up front with the crew that if there is a change in rpm, that means to assemble in the pilothouse. This is a signal that everyone will “feel” and is the safest way I know to communicate to a fellow crew in the engine room that they need to get out.

• Be comfortable, but don’t get too relaxed. Falling asleep by resting your eyelids, especially after dark, is too tempting. If you are getting tired, chew ice or ask for a replacement.

• They do call it watch-standing, and though you are very comfortable sitting down on the job, make it a habit to stand up every 15 minutes — or at least every 30 minutes. This will get your blood flowing and help keep you alert and fresh.

• Divide each hour into four quadrants. I like to update the ship’s log on the top of the hour at 00, stand up and physically look in all directions at 15 and 45, and listen to the weather update on VHF at the bottom of the hour, 30.

• Be aware that 15 minutes is all the time it takes for a fast-moving ocean freighter to appear out of nowhere from over the horizon and intercept your course. Some trawlers keep a 15-minute egg timer in the house and reset it after each ding to make sure they remember to scan the horizon four times an hour.

• Don’t forget to look behind you — traffic can approach from all directions.

• Learn how to operate the tracking features on your radar/chartplotter so you can acquire and track targets to determine closest possible approach (CPA) and time to closest possible approach (TCPA).

• As a general rule, try to stay one mile apart from any target when offshore.

As a final note, there is no shame in asking for help. If you have any doubt, get the captain involved in decision-making.

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