This video from the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” starts out harmless enough: The rookie aboard Ramblin’ Rose is ordered to keep watch while running at night, scan the radar and remain vigilant at the helm. Cue the somolent music and watch the rookie’s eyes start to flutter as he falls asleep. Bad news. Then cut to the ice flow coming rapidly into focus in front of the bow. You’d think the camera man would have shaken the rook awake.
I haven’t seen the full episode so I don’t know how it turns out, but I do know the night watchman needed a gallon of coffee. I also know that while keeping watch, it’s hard to maintain focus for extendended periods of time. The Coast Guard, the Navy, and commercial vessels limit time on watch to four hour shifts. Anything longer and you risk serious lapses in concentration, resulting in collisions with ice sheets, buoys, jetties…you name it.
Several years ago I wrote a Seamanship column detailing a reason why spending large chunks of time at the helm is a bad idea. The twin forces of noise and vibration can wear you down.
If you don’t feel like clicking on the link above, the gist is that avoiding exposure to sound and vibration aboard a boat is near impossible, and loud noises over time make it hard to concentrate, raise your blood pressure and cause nausea and fatique.
So whenever you’re cruising, fishing or just running around, take a break from the helm after an hour or two, refocus and make sure you keep your wits about you. Crashing is no fun.