Don’t neglect the Colregs when sailing single handed
Sailing single-handed represents several challenges for skippers, not least how to manage sleep, keep watch at all times, and avoid breaching IRPCS Colregs Rule 5.
If you can’t keep a look out whilst sleeping, you’re technically in breach of Rule 5 of the ColRegs which states that ‘Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight as well as by hearing as well as 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.’
Colregs Rule 5 is the critical rule
The RYA says: ‘This is the most important Rule. If it is not observed, the rest of the Rules might as well not exist’. The danger of breaching Rule 5 of the Colregs is why the RYA has a policy of not endorsing single-handed races.
However, in reality the single handed skipper must sleep a bit and typically manage sleep according to surroundings.
Tips for sailing singlehanded on long distances include:
- Setting a course further offshore, where there are fewer boats, fewer nets, lobster pots and bits of drift wood.
- Sizing up the density of the traffic around you. In the middle of the ocean, you can allow yourself to rest with a lower level of risk, especially if you have (see below) a working radar with an alarm.
- Keeping your eyes open at all times when you’re crossing a shipping lane, or a fishing area.
- Fitting electronic aids but not relying on them too heavily:
- Radar target alarms and active radar target enhancers (such as Activ’Echo or Sea-Me) will help make your yacht appear larger on another vessel’s radar display.
- Fitting an AIS unit (now a requirement in the Vendee Globe Sailing Instructions) and ensuring it is switched on (which is specified in the Barcelona World Race SIs).
The safest course of action is not to rely too heavily on electronic aids; they must not become crutches and must not supplant the skipper’s instincts.
For those training to be single handed sailors a good tip is to practise going below during short afternoon excursions, and to spend 5 minutes performing specific tasks like checking charts, making coffee and practising knots.
Safe Skipper nautical apps will help you learn and implement IRPCS Colregs, but for tips, techniques and tactics on single handed sailing you can download the 180 page ebook for free from The Single Handed Sailing Society. The ebook is packed with practical tips and advice on sleep (including “Polyphasic Sleep” for single handed sailors), and it has a whole chapter called “See and be seen”, which deals with the single handed sailing /ColRegs controversy as well as the correct use of electronic aids.