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  • Writer's pictureDieter Peschkes

Yacht Delivery Watchkeeping

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

One of the key factors for a successful yacht delivery or any long distance passage is an effective watch system. There are many different options and systems but unfortunately there is no system that is perfect for all conditions. Depending on the type of vessel, equipment on board and climate, adaptions may have to be made.

Oceantrax Crew on watch during a yacht delivery

THE PERFECT YACHT DELIVERY So to start let’s look at a delivery of a well-equipped vessel with three capable crew at sea for a duration of several days to several weeks in good weather.

In these circumstances OceanTrax operates a three-on six-off system. This means that every 24 hours the watches change, so every third night one crew member will get a relatively normal night of sleep, midnight to six in the morning.

Oceantrax crew delivering a sailing yacht

Duties on-board can also be assigned such as cleaning, maintenance checks and mealtime rotas. These can vary with climate and time of year. For example in the middle of summer in a hot climate, crew may prefer to eat later in the day when the temperature has dropped; or on a cold night in the winter may be earlier so crew are well prepared and warm for the long evening and night. In the event of bad weather or fog, another crew member may be required on deck. Under this system the person that has had the longest rest is called on to assist, unless the skipper is required, who naturally is on 24 hour call.

THE NOT SO PERFECT YACHT DELIVERY! If the conditions are not perfect or the yacht is not so well equipped, then we need to consider different watch systems. OceanTrax recently completed a yacht delivery to Norway from Poland in March. The yacht had no autohelm, the helming position was exposed, the conditions were often good, slight sea, light winds but very cold especially at night. There were three crew on-board.

In these circumstances we operated a two-hour-on, four-hour-off system, as helming for longer was too demanding (sailing through the occasional snow storm!) and stopped at night. Two-on Four-off systems can work well in these circumstances, but if sailing for 24 hours without stops, after a few days it can be exhausting for the crew, as the hours of rest are short. Four hours off turns into three hours sleep by the time crew have relaxed after a watch and time spent preparing to come on watch.

The other problem with this system is it is divisible by two, so the same person does the same watches every day. There needs to be a way to break the pattern unless you are only sailing for a day. One way to do this is to switch to three-on six-off during the night (for example 9pm to 9am), so crew can get a decent amount of sleep and the pattern is broken.

THE CHANGE OF WATCH On a change of watch it is essential that the crew member starting the watch is briefed and settled before the crew member finishing the watch leaves the deck. This also gives the new watch keeper’s eyes time to adjust to the darkness if commencing a night shift. This briefing should involve any hazards such as:

Reefs, rocks, shallows or overfalls on headlands.

Nearby vessels – there may be a vessel slowly approaching from behind or maybe it has already passed and is no longer a hazard.

Maybe a change of weather has meant a change of desired course, which should also be mentioned.

OCEANTRAX YACHT DELIVERY TIP: People quite often use their phones now as an alarm to start their watch. While there is nothing wrong with this, crew must be aware that a yacht may cross time zones while they are asleep. The border of Portugal and Spain is a good example of this. A phone changing automatically to local time may cause crew to be either an hour early or late for their watch. It is better therefore to set a countdown timer to your next watch.

TO SUM UP The key to organising a watch system is to take in many considerations:

Your crews’ strengths and weaknesses

The vessel's capabilities

The weather and climate

The duration of the yacht delivery

Finally a good skipper must be able to adapt and change the watches when the conditions change. These could include a crew member that is suffering from fatigue or sea sickness, change of weather or a problem with the vessel.


Owner & Manager of Oceantrax Yacht Deliveries

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