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Fear of sailing at night?

Phil Herring

Dethroned Admin
Mar 25, 1997
Hunter 450 Bainbridge Island
We like hearing from our readers, share your tips and stories here.
Feb 21, 2013
Hunter 46 Point Richmond, CA
Large navigation display with split screen for radar and AIS overlay and vhf radio at the helm and at the navigation station below plus charts are my best friends for sailing/motoring at night and in the fog.
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Dec 29, 2008
Treworgy 65' Custom Steel Pilothouse Staysail Ketch St. Croix, Virgin Islands
I love sailing at night. My first encounter was sailing up the Gulf Stream from Florida to Beaufort in 1985 with my dad. I was a little anxious at first. I had the 3AM to 6AM watch, and a few times waves broke over the cockpit and drenched me. But it was also the first time I saw the phosphorescence on the waves and wake - fascinating!

The next time was 9 nights in a row, as we made a passage from Newport, RI to Bermuda, and then our passage from Portsmouth, VA to Tortola. Other than miserable weather on both those trips, and wondering what mostly sunken containers were lurking ahead in the dark, it was interesting to watch the radar, AIS, and horizon, to find other vessels in the night.

More recently, however, I have found it very enjoyable to sail overnight the 40 miles between St. Croix and St. John/ St. Thomas and the BVIs. You can pretty much see one end or the other as you sail, and especially on a well moonlit night, the water is beautiful. Frankly, that is my preferred time to make that short passage, when the breeze tends to be lighter, and there is release from the sun. There’s also less traffic, though there isn’t all that much between the islands, night or day.

Looking forward to our next overnight to the north…
Jun 14, 2010
TBD Looking for my next boat CT
I love sailing at night. Especially a clear night when there's a moon and bio-luminescence. The Admiral has (justified) fears about unseen flotsam. We've had near misses in daylight hours with barely submerged logs, fish traps of various kinds, and even whole trees. Much of this stuff can hole a boat, or trap it, creating a hazardous situation.
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May 25, 2012
john alden caravelle 42 sturgeon bay, wis
day or night, it's all the same to me. on the ships, all the electronic displays were covered and dark to our eyes. 100% blacked out pilot house.
when sailing, it's the same for me. no lights in the cockpit or on deck other than the running lights and compass. navigating is done below with shades to protect the helmsman's eyes. most of the longer runs on the lakes are done at night so to arrive in the morning when the harbors are alive. when children are with us they will be able to sleep during the longer legs.
being at a town or wild beach is fun all day, then sail all night to the next spot. great for the kids.

day or night is all the same to me.
Apr 8, 2011
Hunter 36 Deale, MD
I've been offshore at night coming up and down the east coast from Maine to Delaware Bay a few times, as well as crewing Bermuda to NY after the race. I LOVE the night watch. Seeing the sun set; seeing the sky lighten and the sun rise. Seeing the moon and stars with no light pollution - its stunning. It also makes you SO much more in tune with the rig - you can FEEL/HEAR when something needs a trim, you don't need to see it. I try not to think too much about hitting something at night when offshore. While there's definitely stuff to be worried about it is a big ocean and you are a small boat, so I figure the chances are pretty slim and whatever you do hit you generally do so at ~7mph. Yup, boats sink sometimes like that, but its pretty rare, generally. Also, 13 years as a Marine conducting amphibious ops mostly at night and blacked out in armored vehicles on rivers and at sea - without GPS - gave me confidence to operate well at night (though I don't have the night vision goggles we had, as limited as they were).

I must say, however, that I do worry quite a bit sailing at night in the Chesapeake Bay because of the high risk of fouling the prop or keel on crab traps. They're hard enough to see sometimes during the day; you have no chance to see them at night unless you're sailing with a spotlight off the bow (which I've done, and that is NOT fun). Best to stay in deeper water where the crabbers don't put pots. I haven't sailed Maine at night inshore, where the lobster pots are MUCH worse than crab traps in the Chesapeake (and set in MUCH deeper water). Crab/lobster pots at night will RUIN your evening. You're going NOWHERE until you cut it off. Have fun diving at night knowing your flashlight in the water will attract a lot of curious water creatures. No nightmares there!!
Nov 18, 2016
Hunter 260 Lucky Peak, ID
I enjoy sailing at night however there have been a few morning where I've been happy to see the pre dawn. Have also dealt with crab pots on a Maine to Chesapeake run, but avoided getting tangled.

During the 2018 Race To Alaska we hit a log hard around 2am, north of Bella Bella. I was off watch and asleep - scary - spun the boat 270 degrees. Discovered later that the S2 7.9 daggerboard trunk was cracked above the waterline. Got lucky. "The logs go away when it gets dark"......... well..........yes they do.

The big boys and girls fly their chutes at night. That is an acquired taste.

Fitz Hugh Sound.

Jul 12, 2011
Catalina 36 1771 Ft Pierce, Florida
Love sailing at night - special time. Whenever I crew for someone that includes an overnight, I always ask for the dawn watch as my first choice; usually no competition as people like hugging the bunk at 3am. It's great seeing the sky bluing up in the morning over the sea.
Jul 18, 2018
Catalina C-36 Portland OR
NIght Sailing is not the problem, night motoring is! Its the crab pot buoys you cant see that wrap around your propellor
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Jan 22, 2008
Tartan 37 Pensacola Shipyard, FL
I enjoy night sailing but the Admiral is terrified of it. "We're gonna hit something and sink." Nah. We're gonna get hit by a dark ship. LOL

One of my very first overnights was during a Harvest Moon Regatta. The owner put me on the tiller, in a race at night during a norther with the spinnaker flying. Surfing waves in the dark is guaranteed to keep your pulse up.
Apr 5, 2009
Catalina '88 C30 tr/bs Oak Harbor, WA
We love sailing at night! I turn the chart plotter to "night" and the lowest brightness so that it does not interfer with night vision and it is amazing how much can be seen. I used to worrry about hitting floating logs until one day when I needed to take a head break and told my 14-year old daughter that she was on watch. We were motoring at +6-knots in broad daylight when we hit a 16"ø by 32' saw-log @ 90º to our travel, almost dead center on the bow. :yikes: That will definatly make you pinch! It made a heck of a racktet as we rode up onto it and then it impacted the side as it spun out of our way. Other than a couple of scuffs in the bottom paint, it caused no damage.
I guess she didn't pick up on the fact that keeping watch was more than admiring the beutiful scenery. One possitive outcome was that for years after that, she would notice anything in the water bigger than a twig! :laugh:


Jun 4, 2009
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
I really prefer the night watches to the day. I always take the navigator's watch (some habits are hard to break), 08:00 to 12:00, twice a day. I'm not much a morning guy, I prefer sunsets.
In unpleasant weather that watch helps me get a "feel" for the seas and wind before the light is gone. I don't like to come on watch at midnight or 04:00 without ever having seen the weather that blew up after my previous watch.
I've seen many more amazing things at night than during the day. Probably the most glorious was the Supernova that Nikki and I saw on the voyage between Bermuda and St. T.


Dec 1, 2009
Sabre 402 Southport, CT
Our club has a 65-mile race that starts around 19h00 the second Friday in September. This helps our members overcome any fear of night sailing. Sometimes they put a flashing light on the starting mark so we can see where it is.


Mar 20, 2014
Hunter 31 828 Shoreacres, TX
I love sailing at night,,,offshore. My first time to do that was a Harvest Moon regatta. I will always remember that night, a full moon, a clear night, running wing on wing surfing waves and getting up to eight knots. In one of the waves I looked brown beside us and in the wave that was overtaking us, I saw a porpoise suffering the wave, he looked silver in the moonlight. It was good.

Now about the unlit gas platforms in the gulf. That will keep you awake.

I like night sailing in the bay, but the crab pots make it hard to relax, although I know it’s nothing like the NE area and all the lobster pots.
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Jan 18, 2016
Catalina 387 Dana Point
I don't mind sailing at night, even though I'm pretty nightblind due to a degenerative eyeball thing. The Admiral does not like it one bit.

She and I tell a story of a trip to Catalina, where we left late due to our guests being very late. Left around 1pm from Dana. Sunset was around 7 or so, 7 - 8 hour trip to the isthmus usually in calm or favorable winds. Good 12-15 right on the nose, so motorsail to point a bit higher. Autopilot died. Make guests helm. Sun sets, no moon at all, guests driving in circles. Admiral has to helm (she's really good at it). VMG towards the isthmus is down around 4 or below. Ink black, first time I've seen the milky way in years. Glorious out there.

Well, every tack to make some north we're pointed right at Long Beach. Bright, glowing, city of Long Beach on the mainland. I hear "Why are we going back to the mainland?" "We're not, we just gotta make some north or we're gonna end up south of the island." 15kts wind steady, gusts above 20. Fine for a C-30, but just getting pounded beating upwind.

Get about 5 miles from the island, make the decision that Two Harbors isn't gonna happen, divert to Whites Landing. Almost immediately get in the lee of the island, wind dies, motor on in. Dunno why, but every megayacht in SoCal seemed to be anchored in Whites that weekend. So anchoring is out, thread our way through these giants into the moorings and there's plenty open. Pull up the first one, it's fouled. Circle around to another one. It's so dark, it's very hard to see angle of the mooring which is important - they're two line moorings. Guest helping on the bow keeps turning around with a flashlight right at me, killing what little night vision I had. There was a boat that heard us pick up the fouled one and turned their outside lights on, which gave me the angle and the second mooring pull was easy. The glasses of wine at 10:00pm were great. Motored to Two Harbors in the AM. Stiffed the island company for the first night's mooring. (Don't worry, the island company gets their pound or five of flesh)

The "Afraid" part:
For me: First row of moorings at Whites is rather close to the beach, you can hear the waves... But it was so dark, you couldn't see the beach. Boat didn't have a functional depthsounder. That's the only scary part.

Admiral: She always begins the exact same story with "The trip to Catalina when we almost died." It's a bit tongue in cheek. She doesn't tell the story about (different trip) where we were harnessed, jackets on, in 40+ kts under bare poles headed back with as much humor.

Guests: "Dang, that was fun!"