Multiple Gulf crossings, numerous intra Texas sailboat deliveries and many multiple night pleasure sails have led me to draw a few conclusions concerning watch systems. Here are the basics that have worked for me. First a quick explanation.

A traditional watch starts at 2000. Each watch consists of a duty period of 4 hours. The crew is divided into shifts which are called, divisions or sections. When there are only two divisions or sections to divide the duty, it is at best difficult. On 4 hours then off 4 hours doesn't allow for a good rest. Some skippers dog one of the watches, (split it in two) causing the schedule to skip. Historically this was done on the the watch which occurred between 1600 and 2000. It was dogged into two, 2 hour segments. This accomplished two goals. First, the watch pattern was broken up. Instead of always being on the same watch schedule day after day, the duty rotated daily. The second, was that the traditional evening meal was served at a somewhat normal time.

Within the modern Merchant Marines there are 3 sections or divisions. Each section stands a 4 hour watch. The watch times do not rotate. If your scheduled duty is 4:00 AM to 8:00 AM watch you will also have duty on the 4:00 PM - 8:00PM watch. This type of schedule is fine on a large ship with proffesional crew. It is also effective on a shorthanded sailing yacht as long as you have 3 sections and a high level of experience. If its a husband and wife team making a passage, you might find out things about each other you really didn't want or need to know. The extreme exhaustion, the appearance of hallucinations, the hearing of the sirens... These things are very real and sometimes... very dangerous.

The Swedish Watch system is a variation of traditional watch methods. A Swedish Watch is not a defined watch system, rather it is a modified schedule that has been adopted. The most experienced sailor should stand the night watch. In my case, on a delivery, I use one of the schedules below. In order to make this work it is very important that you do not interferre with each others sleep time. Let your shipmate have 6 hours undisturbed rest. If there are questions about unusual light configurations, changing weather or other items important to the safety of the boat by all means wake him or her. I normally stand the 0000-0600 and if I have a concern about the crew, (especially early in the passage), I'll sleep on deck from 0600-1200. If you are the skipper and trying to sleep on deck, council your crew on when its appropriate to wake or even speak to you during this time.

Depending on your personal constitution either of the below methods could work for your vessel. But...If you can comfortably have a crew of 4 or 5 by all means take them. Put the most experienced crew on the night watches where their value is greatest. Ensure that your most competent navigator is off watch at noon. This will allow time for a noon sight and to plot a fix.

According to Bodwitch, the navigator should plot the position every hour on the hour. In practise an hourly log will suffice, listing; time, lat, long, engine parameters, barometric pressure, electrical system performance and weather observations. Plotting hourly positions on large scale charts isn't very effective. Your fixes will be 1/2 inch apart. Just keep an hourly log and plot the position every 4 hours. Once you leave the open water and come into congested areas you'll move back onto smaller scale charts and an hourly plot is a good practice.

2 Section Watch 3 Section Watch
Time Section # Time Section #
0000-0600 Starboard 0000-0600 Section 1
0600-1200 Port 0600-1000 Section 2
1200-1600 Starboard 1000-1400 Section 3
1600-1800 Port 1400-1800 Section 1
1800-2000 Starboard 1800-2100 Section 2
2000-2400 Port 2100-2400 Section 3