Be­fore dark

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As rou­tine, dis­cuss what sail changes may be re­quired overnight then set up as much as pos­si­ble be­fore dark. This helps min­imise snags and should in­clude check­ing sheets are cor­rectly run, sails are well packed and ready to come on deck, spin­naker hal­yards are not tan­gled and on the cor­rect side of the forestay for the next hoist.

When work­ing with mul­ti­ple hal­yards I of­ten sep­a­rate them be­fore dark by at­tach­ing the higher one at the base of the shrouds and the lower at the base of the mast. That way any hal­yard can eas­ily be iden­ti­fied with con­fi­dence it is not tan­gled. If stor­ing at the base of the shrouds, re­mem­ber to check the hal­yard has not swung be­hind the spread­ers be­fore each hoist.

Re­gard­less of con­di­tions en­sure you’re ready to re­duce sail quickly: hal­yards should be flaked, ready to run. Re­mem­ber a quick drop would be es­sen­tial in the event of a man over­board. Be­ware over­stuffed hal­yard bags. I coil hal­yards and tack lines as large fig­ures-ofeight and hang them over a winch dur­ing the night rather than put them in pock­ets.

Sep­a­rate the up and down ropes for any snuffers, mak­ing sure ev­ery­one is aware which the down rope is – you could mark it with a piece of white tape. Run­ning the down rope through a snatch block on deck is also a good safety mea­sure for drops in the dark. This al­lows the fore­deck team to pull up on the snuffer line so if the spin­naker sud­denly re-fills they’ll not get pulled off their feet. For furl­ing of­fwind sails put the furl­ing line onto a winch so it’s ready to bring in un­der load.

At the change of watch, make sure the on­com­ing crew know which ropes are where in the cock­pit.


Par­tic­u­larly when work­ing with spin­nakers in the dark, good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is es­sen­tial – quite of­ten the bow team are the only peo­ple who can see prob­lems un­fold­ing.

When on the bow en­sure you’re fac­ing to­wards the cock­pit (re­mem­ber to turn off your head torch) to com­mu­ni­cate a prob­lem, and keep in­struc­tions short and clear. Fold down large coat col­lars so your words are not muf­fled. Avoid us­ing words that can be mis­taken and try to be pre­cise with your in­struc­tions – eg I’d say: “Drop spin­naker hal­yard one me­tre’ in­stead of ‘ease it a lit­tle.” As­sume the cock­pit team can see noth­ing.

It’s best to agree one per­son who will run the ma­noeu­vre, if sail­ing dou­ble-handed this will of­ten be the per­son on the bow.

With a larger crew chose some­one in the mid­dle of the boat who can re­lay in­for­ma­tion be­tween helms­man and fore­deck. Helms­men used to tak­ing con­trol in th­ese sit­u­a­tions may need to learn to step back.

Dur­ing the ma­noeu­vre

Make life as easy as pos­si­ble by sail­ing low and re­duc­ing the ap­par­ent wind for furl­ing head­sails, drop­ping or snuff­ing a spin­naker – even when rac­ing keep­ing the fore­deck as flat and wave free as pos­si­ble will of­ten re­sult in a


Go­ing for­ward at night presents a greater risk so use har­nesses and stay clipped on us­ing the short­est prac­ti­cal tether. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers now sup­ply safety lines with lu­mi­nous gates on the cara­bin­ers so crew can check at a glance that they are prop­erly at­tached.

In the event of a man over­board, im­me­di­ately mark your po­si­tion on a GPS – if the MOB but­ton on your in­stru­ments is not back­lit con­sider mark­ing it with a lu­mi­nous sticker or just a piece of white tape. Make sure your search­light is close to the helm and fully charged. Prac­tice MOB drill reg­u­larly, al­ways keep equip­ment in the same place and check lights on all life­sav­ing equip­ment reg­u­larly. quicker ma­noeu­vre and a gain over­all.

When reef­ing, drop the trav­eller and over sheet the jib. This will en­cour­age the main­sail to back-wind with the min­i­mum amount of main­sheet re­leased while keep­ing the boat rel­a­tively flat.

Use lu­mi­nous clutch la­bels and white or lu­mi­nous whipped marks in ropes to iden­tify when hal­yards are at full hoist and where reef­ing po­si­tions are. Avoid us­ing red twine as this can­not be seen un­der red light.


Think through the pros and cons be­fore us­ing the lights, if you can get by us­ing nat­u­ral light it will be best for every­body. Deck or steam­ing lights will help fore­deck crews to see and be seen which is an im­por­tant safety con­sid­er­a­tion. How­ever, if there is a prob­lem above the spread­ers this will not be seen if us­ing deck lights and crew work­ing with their backs to the light can cre­ate shad­ows ex­actly over the spot where they’re work­ing.

Head torches equally have their down­sides – they can eas­ily blind oth­ers, in­clud­ing the helms­man. When buy­ing a head torch, chose one with a red fil­ter and sev­eral set­tings for bright­ness. I use a red light as stan­dard, switch­ing to white for de­tails or if greater dis­tances need to be seen. Set a white light to the low­est bright­ness re­quired for your job.

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the re­flec­tion of bright white lights off a white deck – even if look­ing for­ward a head torch can kill the night vi­sion of those be­hind you. Be­fore turn­ing on a white head torch, warn the crew around you and al­ways avoid look­ing di­rectly at any­one else. If work­ing with a head torch down be­low, try hanging it around your neck so if some­one talks you don’t have to worry about turn­ing to an­swer them.

In­vest in a high pow­ered, fo­cussed torch ca­pa­ble of il­lu­mi­nat­ing the top of the mast, look for some­thing over 500 lu­mens.

Re­flec­tions from white fore­decks can di­min­ish night vi­sion so be wary when us­ing torches

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