Night Sailing A Challenge Not To Be Taken Lightly

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Night sailingNight sailing


Night Sailing A Challenge Not To Be Taken Lightly

Sailing at night might have become more commonplace, but that does not make it any less intimidating.

Operating at night – be it manning heavy machinery, a control tower or a sloop - is at odds with the natural human state. Artificial lighting may have allowed people to perform duties beyond dusk and into the dawn, but at their core lies an inherent apprehension about the dark.

The best sailors know this, and respect it.

Navigating the oceans in the dark is considered one of yachting’s great accomplishments, and while more sailors are testing their mettle “against the stars” thanks to technology, the night passage is never one to be taken lightly (so to speak).

As always, preparation is key, but there are some additional issues to consider for the night journey.


Superb lighting is a given, but there are other factors that one may wish to consider. Most yachts are equipped with good lighting, but for night enthusiasts, LED lighting is highly recommended.   

Obviously they do come at extra cost, but they do not have to be charged, saving valuable engine power. points out that when specifying navigation lights and bulbs, it’s important to choose items that are type-approved by the relevant authorities in the territory in which the vessel is kept.

Another aspect worth keeping in mind is that some parts of the boat might not appear as “obvious” in the dark. Veterans might have hundreds of hours under their belts, aced the yachtmaster offshore exam and even won several trophies, but failure to see even something as simple as a hatch latch could spell disaster.

Some manufacturers have started producing glow-in-the-dark taping and paint for this very purpose.

Onboard equipment

Modern control panels may be lit up like a Christmas tree, but that doesn’t mean pilots will be able to see those knobs and controls that are not. That is why it is essential that skippers make the effort to learn every aspect of the panel before heading out. 

The location of the GPS plotters and other electronics is equally important. On some yachts these may feature below deck, which obviously is hardly ideal for night navigation.

Ideally these will be located together at the helm.


At the risk of sounding like Tyler Durden from Fight Club,the first rule of night sailing is: don’t do it alone the first time out.

The challenges that come with navigating in the dark are too numerous, so it is important that there are enough people on board to deal with each as it arises.

Experts recommend that one person should be designated to man the helm throughout the journey, thereby ensuring that they are not distracted by any other duties. Peripheral crew can then be used as spotters of any potential obstacles that may lie in the water.

Of course avoiding other vessels is paramount, which is why a sound understanding of navigational lights is so important.

Night sailing