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Night Sailing tips and Must-have equipment

The nights may be drawing in, however, there’s no need to shorten your sailing days. Sailing into dusk and through the night can be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences. 

Advance preparation makes for stress free night sailing. Ensure that:

  • navigation lights work
  • engine batteries are charged
  • you are dressed for the occasion
  • lifejackets & lifelines are on
  • the crew have had sufficient food & refreshment before night falls
  • reduce power or shorten sail to suit the conditions
  • dim the chart plotter screens and switch on instrument backlights
 
LED lights and other technologies such as Bluetooth, are changing the face of sailing in the dark.  Lighter, smaller, more powerful, USB rechargeable these products are now ‘wearable’ too. 
 
Imagine a smart torch that virtually tethers you to your boat, and automatically alerts your crew if you go overboard. It’s all now possible.
 
Night vision
 
Adapting your eyes to the dark and preserving your night vision is one the most important safety aspects of night sailing. It can take between 30 to 40 minutes for our eyes to fully adjust to the night. 
 
However, your night vision can be lost instantly by exposure to bright light. Inside the eye are rods and cones. The cones are used for daytime colour vision, and the more sensitive rods work harder at night. Fortunately, these rods are not sensitive to red light, so when on board in the dark red lights are preferable. 
 
Below decks:
make sure all white cabin lights remain off 
the chart table & galley have a red light
shut the hatches if you need to use the cabin lights to avoid ‘blinding’ the helm
 
Try to ensure everyone on board has access to a red light torch or headtorch when they are on deck and down below. 
 
Crew headtorch – what to use:
 
The Exposure RAW Pro is the headtorch of choice for many top Volvo Ocean Race and Vendee Globe sailors including Ian Walker, Charles Caudrelier, Dee Caffari and Alex Thomson Racing. 
 
Volvo ocean sailors wearing the headtorch
 
Designed for the harsh marine environment, it’s light and compact, made from a fully waterproof, robust aerospace aluminium casing. Being 5m shock proof it will withstand everything you throw at it and keep working. 
 
RAW Pro has a glare-free red light and high power LED white light, each with three lighting levels – low, medium and high.  A simple, single click operation allows quick access to each colour and level. The torch angle can be adjusted whilst on your forehead – which is particularly useful if you are working on deck, looking down at instruments or simply want to avoid dazzling your fellow crew.  
 
USB rechargeable, it has a maximum run time of 12 hours on the red light low setting. 
 
Picking out buoys or obstructions 
 
Despite the need to protect your night vision, a powerful search light to highlight obstructions, traffic and navigation marks is an essential night sailing tool. 
 
Picking out a navigation mark against a confusion of lights ashore can be difficult: 
  • head on a bearing to the mark you are seeking
  • have the crew scan 10 degrees either side of this line with the search light
Traditional boat spots lights are large and bulky and restricted how they can be used having to be plugged in. Now modern LED technology means lights can be far smaller, more powerful and rechargeable. 
 
Look for a light that performs multi-functions and can be used for man overboard rescues too. 
 
Search light & strobe combined – what to use:
 
The Exposure MOB Carbon combines a powerful 1000 lumens LED light with a water-activated MOB strobe. Very lightweight, compact and IPX8 waterproof rated to 5m, this work light floats too.
 
MOB carbon search light
 
Use it as a search or trimming light. If you go overboard the MOB Carbon will float to the surface and automatically start strobing, flashing every second for up to 20 hours. Keep one in your pocket or by the helm and throw towards the man overboard. It will clearly mark the patch of water and the strobe is visible from 3 nautical miles.
 
Transmitter & tracking lights
If the worst happens and there is a MOB incident - there’s a lot to do immediately:
  • stop the boat
  • hit the MOB button on the chart plotter &/or DSC radio
  • get all the crew on deck 
  • throw life rings, lights etc in the direction of the MOB
  • make a Mayday call

At night having a spotter pointing at the MOB is simply not going to work as it can do in daylight. Yet we all know how important it is not to lose sight of the casualty. 

This is where smart lighting technology can help with the situation. 

Wearable transmitter & strobe – what to use:

The OLAS Float On is another multi-functional safety aid and a smart personal crew torch. Minute in size, just like the MOB Carbon, it is fully waterproof, floats and has the same water activated strobe technology. 

Float-on water activated strobe

The OLAS Float On is a transmitter too. When paired with the OLAS (Overboard Location Alert System) it acts as your virtual tether to the boat. If you go overboard in the dark, where your absence may not be immediately noticed, it not only triggers the strobe light helping you be seen, it also triggers a piercing alarm on board instantly alerting your crew.
 
The alarm sounds through your mobile device, the OLAS Core or OLAS Guardian Bluetooth activated hubs, and track back begins instantly. The mobile screen on the OLAS App switches into recovery mode, recording the position the MOB occurred, giving bearing and distance back to the exact point of the incident so search can commence quickly. 
 
This saves valuable time whilst the crew are stopping the boat and doing all the MOB procedures, undoubtably under a level of stress. The screens help with orientation and process information. As well as position data there’s all the information required for making a quick and accurate Mayday call and MOB recovery. 
 
The OLAS Float On is an additional safety tool that does not replace technology such as EPIRB or PLBs, although not all boaters carry these devices onboard, especially on smaller yachts or powerboats. Rather, it helps support these devices and adds to your chances of survival. 
 
The casualty does not need to manually activate it, nor do you need the crew to notice you go overboard. The device triggers the alarm as soon as it hits the water. 
 
For a torch that’s small enough to sit in the palm of your hand, it really is quite smart!
 
 
 
 
 
Liz Rushall
Contributor
Published on 2020-09-28