On Watch Means WATCHING

20 February 2009 By Victoria Allman

If you've been yachting for 10 years, you've probably been on watch about 450 times. You’ve raised the flag, accepted alarms and answered the phone. You think you might know what being on watch means, but you may have no idea. I thought I knew, until this past summer that is.

It was the perfect day in St. Tropez. The sun sizzled hot. The quai was wall-to-wall people decked out in their Cartier watches and Prada sunglasses, all hoping to catch a glimpse of a celebrity boarding one of the boats. Our crew was off for the day. I was on the aft deck making sure no one boarded uninvited when the rumble of the crowd grew in pitch. Some pointed, some gasped. I walked forward to see what the excitement was all about. That’s when I saw the problem.

A 150-foot yacht was coming right for us. Its captain was on the wing station frantically trying to gain control of the vessel. I could see the panic on his face. His crew stood guard with fenders but no one knew where they would hit.

I sprinted to the bow to grab one of our own fenders, puny in the face of the oncoming wall of white. The boat swung, approaching us like a “T”. The tip of our bow was pressed against its main saloon windows. The fender I had put between the two floating palaces squished down to nothingness.

Our captain pulled me back. He readjusted the fender and held on tight. There wasn’t anything more to do. Eventually, the yacht drifted off with the help of the marina tenders. I looked from the fender to the paint job on the bow. Amazingly, there was no damage done.

Emergencies happen all the time on yachts and are the reason someone is posted to be on watch every day. It's not a punishment from the captain – it's a safety precaution for the boat. Nautical traditions dictate the raising of the flag at sunrise but there is more to being on watch than just turning on a few lights and unloading the dishwasher.

Here are a few helpful hints for your next watch day:

  1. Know who is on board at all times. In the case of an emergency, you’ll save wasted time searching cabins for a crewmember who is off the boat.
  2. Know where all the fire extinguishers are on board. Remind yourself where all the safety equipment is kept, and the procedure to follow in the event of an emergency.
  3. Know who to call in an emergency.
  4. Check all cabins. If a pipe bursts or a small leak occurs, it can create havoc not only for the carpet but also for the floors and wiring as well. Catching this early will save time and money in clean-up.
  5. Don’t forget about the tenders. Keeping an eye on the big boat is easier since you are on it, but the tender tied to the hip may be taking on water and sinking. Walk around the exterior of the boat and check all aspects of the yacht.

Take your next watch day seriously. It's more than just a day to catch up on e-mails and check your Facebook page. Your next watch day may be when you have to save the day.

Have you ever had an emergency happen on your watch?