No lights offshore a common fault?

From Ocean Navigator #66
March/April 1995
In our experience, it is a very common situation for yachts to be keeping little or no lookout and to be steered by autopilots (Chartroom Chatter, Issue No. 64). We have sailed our 30-foot boat more than 30,000 miles throughout the Pacific in the past eight years. In that time we have discovered that, with frightening frequency, especially in the last few years, not only are boats being steered by autopilot with little or no lookout, but, as RV Knorr reported, they also are showing no lights.

We have met and had lively discussions with many of these same sailors, and the reasons, excuses, and rationalizations for their behavior are numerous and varied. The most often used excuse for no lights is, “I have to conserve my battery power” or “lights draw too many amps.” French sailors are famous for this one: “We have a steel boat. We do not have to worry.”

The “conserving battery power” is very frustrating when it comes from the owner of a 40-plus footer equipped with a weatherfax, SSB, a backup autopilot, VCR, refrigerator, freezer, watermaker, and, of course, two GPS receivers (and more than likely no sextant). No amount of spares are going to matter if there is a collision due to “no lights” or no one being on watch. We know of one couple and their two teenagers who go to sleep after dinnerall of themwhile the autopilot steers their unlighted 45-foot boat. “We figure you guys are keeping watch,” they say. They actually made it from California to New Zealand, and thankfully are back in their slip in California.

It’s not only against the Rules of the Road, but operating a vessel with no lookout is “just plain foolish” and selfish.

We wonder about the increase in the practice of this concept. Are there that many more sailing vessels out there? Has the type of sailor changed so much that their shoreside values are going offshore with them because of the apparent ease and comfort of sailing nowadays? Whatever the reason, what the Canadian fishermen who were holed by Coyote and what RV Knorr experienced has been seen by us and not just in the mid-Atlantic, so, look out!

Mary Anna Duffy lives on Whidbey Island, Wash.

By Ocean Navigator