Standing watch while your boat lies on anchor might sound easy, but try staying awake and alert to potential dangers all night on the hook. Unless there are fish biting under the boat in the dark, you’ll eventually fall asleep, at least momentarily. I know. I’ve been there.
I have a solution for you, but first let’s talk about the importance of a lookout if your fishing takes you on a trip that involves anchoring for the evening. In this situation, an anchor watch is not only a good idea, it’s required, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s interpretation of international maritime law.
The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) Rule 5 (known as the Look Out Rule), states: “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.” On top of this, I insist that anyone who stands watch or ventures out on deck wears a Coast Guard-approved lifejacket at all times.
Lest you believe I'm getting all high and mighty, I’ll admit to having left the deck unattended on occasion while my crew and I caught some shuteye in a quiet, secluded anchorage. Yet I always make it a practice to get up at least every hour to scan the surroundings, check our angle on the rode and make sure the anchor isn’t dragging.
However, in anchorages subject to boat traffic or where there are other boats fishing, it’s a different story. I post an anchor-watch at all times.
The Coast Guard is aware that not every vessel maintains a lookout while at anchor, but also admonishes skippers and crews who sleep through the night. “This practice is dangerous, as well as well being a violation of basic seamanship law,” the Coast Guard states in a recent news release directed at Alaskan commercial fishermen. The Coast Guard may issue citations for violations of Rule 5, with potential fines up to $6,500.
Relying solely on radar guard-zone alarms or GPS anchor-watch alarms is not sufficient, says the Coast Guard, though this equipment should be used to augment lookout measures.
While it’s the captain’s ultimate responsibility to maintain an anchor-watch, the best procedure is to rotate lookout responsibilities among the crew. It helps to have four crew available, but it can also work with as few as two. In any case, two-hour shifts keep each crew alert throughout his/her watch. To stay awake, set your mobile phone or digital wristwatch sound an alarm at 15-minute increments.
Crew members also need to be able to respond in an emergency, so make sure everyone knows how to start the engine(s), maneuver the boat and retrieve the anchor line if, for example, another vessel approaches too closely, the anchor drags, the rode breaks or a sudden storm threatens the boat. At the very least, the lookout should awaken the captain and call on hands on deck as soon as he or she senses impending danger.
Though no one likes to get rousted out of warm bunk in the middle of the night, rotating the anchor watch shares the burden and helps ensure the safety of the crew, while also allowing everyone on board to rest more comfortably knowing that there’s a lookout on deck. It will also means you are complying with the law.
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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.