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Setting up a good watch keeping rota is one of the fundamentals of a safe and comfortable passage and this is no less important on a cross-Channel trip.

The classic error is that on departure, everyone is too excited to rest up. This means that by the time the French coastline is in sight, everyone is knackered and no use to you at all.

This is, in part, because it will almost feel as if you can get away with staying up for the cross Channel trip. This, however, is a risky strategy: You want to be feeling sharp and alert as you approach an unfamiliar coastline, so you want to make sure everyone gets enough rest.

Here are a few pointers:

Brief the Crew

This is often overlooked on a short passage, but before you set off you need to work out a clear rota with your crew and explain it to them.

  • Make sure that your crew understand that they need to rest during their watch off.

If there’s no watch keeping system in place people will often feel obliged to stay on deck.

  • Bear in mind what time you are going to hit the shipping lanes in order to ensure you, as skipper, are on deck.
  • Lay down clear rules in terms of when the skipper should be called on deck. for example: when sighting ship on a constant bearing, changes in weather, or perhaps at a pre-determined waypoint.
  • You also need to have firm rules in place about clipping on when on watch on your own and also on leaving the cockpit and going forward.
  • In addition to this, you need ensure you have clear standing orders when the watchkeeper is being relieved.

The person coming on watch needs to be fully briefed on the course, position, any ships around you and whether any of those ships are on a constant bearing, weather information and current position.


There are plenty of options in terms of watch rotas: three on, three off is often popular, but you can vary things depending on how many crew you have and also what kind of weather conditions you are experiencing.

If it’s freezing cold and your beating into driving rain then it might be an idea to shorten the amount of time people are spending on watch accordingly.

Concentration levels drop and people naturally get tired more quickly in these kind of conditions, so its sensible to ensure that people don’t get too cold or tired on watch because that’s when people get careless.

These are just a couple of basic tips, but it’s well worth bearing them in mind. Sailing is all about having fun and the last thing you want to do is exhaust yourself and your crew unnecessarily.

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