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Spending the Night on the Hook

We do a lot of things on out boats but some of the most enjoyable time you can spend on your boat is at night.  The peace and tranquility of staying out under the stars, the water gently rocking you into a mode of relaxation while looking up at the moon and the stars just cannot be matched by any other experience.  If you have done this before, then you know what I mean.  If you have never done this, you are missing out.  It’s time you started sleeping on the hook.

Night time on the water can be very relaxing.

Of course, if you plan on doing this, just like everything else, it is a good idea to be prepared so you can make the best of your peaceful time on the water.  There are boats of all sizes and types with all of them being equipped somewhat differently, but for the purposes of this article, I will assume that your boat has these basic features:

1.       Engine and Electrical System – Clearly a powerboat has this but even most sailboats over 16 feet do as well.

2.       A Head (that’s a bathroom for you landlubbers)– Staying overnight without a place to take care of things that come naturally to us humans can be a bit uncomfortable.  Some boaters do get a bit creative in this area but if your boat does not have a head, you will have to figure out how to deal with that.

3.       Running Water – Even if there is only one water faucet, having a water supply makes life a bit easier on the hook.  Again, some boaters may get creative. 

4.       A Place to Lay Your Head – You may like to stay up late looking at the stars and the moon but most likely, at some point, you will need a place to turn in.  It doesn’t have to be a bed, but it should be comfortable.

5.       Refrigerator or Cooler – Hunger and thirst do not go well with long periods of time on the water.  Have a plan to provision your boat to make your experience a more pleasant one.

6.       A Roof Over Your Head – Okay, maybe not a roof but at least a bimini top.  It’s even better if your boat has a cabin.

7.       Anchor – It is difficult to spend the night at anchor without an anchor.  See my previous blog on anchoring for more details. 


Here are some things to think about and do before you head out on the water.

1.        Check the Weather – Make sure you are prepared for the weather conditions where you will be boating.  Having a weather radio handy is always a good idea (Most Marine VHF Radios have the ability to tune into NOAA weather reports).  Obviously, if the expected weather is of a serious nature, then your plans will change.  Still, knowing things like expected temperature and wind direction are important.  This allows you to bring along the proper clothing and gear for the trip.
You can check the weather by tuning to the NOAA weather channel on your marine VHF

2.       Check Your Vessel – Check to make sure everything such as radios, electrical systems, propulsion systems, bilge pumps etc. is in working order.  Check your fuel levels to make sure you will have enough on board for the expected and the unexpected.  If your boat has a water tank, make sure it has adequate water and if your boat has a holding tank, make sure that it has plenty of capacity left.  Realizing that your holding tank is full at 3 am is not a lot of fun.

3.       Provision your Vessel – The rule here is that it is better to have more food and drink than you will need than to not have enough.  What you choose to do here will depend on the resources your boat has in the galley such as a stove, refrigerator, grill etc.  Even if you have the ability to cook a meal on board, you may decide that you want to spend more time enjoying your environment than slaving over a stove.  That’s okay.  Just keep that in mind when deciding how to provision your boat.  You can choose to bring pre-prepared foods or foods that do not require cooking.  Plan each meal beforehand and obtain the necessary items.  Don’t forget to allow for snacking too!

4.       Clothing – Make sure you have adequate clothing of the proper type.  This is where knowing what the weather is going to do really helps.  It may be sunny and hot during the day, but in some locations, it may get cool at night or you may have a brief rain shower.  Be prepared for whatever Mother Nature has in store.

5.       Getting Ashore – Some of us have boats that we can take up to the shore for exploring beaches and islands but many have boats that are not capable of this due to their running gear or keels.  Consider taking an inflatable boat or a kayak so you can explore the land nearby.  It also can serve as a transport for the family pet (should you choose to bring one along) for island bathroom breaks.

6.       Don’t Forget the Toys – This is a must if you have kids.  If you are going to be on the water all day and all night, make sure you have plenty to do.  Of course, your idea for being on the water may be so you can do nothing and that is fine.  But, if you want to make the best of your time on the water, bring out the toys!  Floaties, water chairs, lily pads . . . whatever your toy of choice is, this is the time to bring it!

Dropping Anchor

If you have already spent a lot of time on the water, you probably already have some favorite spots to spend the day at anchor but what makes a great daytime anchoring location does not necessarily mean it is a great spot to spend the night.  Here are some good tips to finding a good spot for anchoring at night.

The right spot to spend the night makes all the difference.

1.        Away From Boat Traffic – You do not want a spot that is subject to waves from passing boats.  Just because you are turning in for the night, it does not mean everyone else is.  There are many locations where you still have boat traffic late into the night and a wave from a large cruiser is not my idea of being rocked to sleep. 

2.       Find a Cove - It is definitely better to find a cove for the night as opposed to anchoring in the open.  The nearby land protects you from the wake of boats as well as the wind should there be any.  When checking your weather reports prior to leaving, be sure to note the forecast direction of the wind and anchor on the side of an island that protects you from the wind.  For example, if the wind is coming out of the east, anchor on the west side of the island.  This would be called the leeward side.

3.       Deep but not too deep – I prefer to anchor in water that is about 15 feet deep if possible.  By doing this, I can let out enough scope (remember the 7 to 1 rule) while not having to have 200 feet of anchor rode.  Make sure you allow space for your boat to swing around the anchor should the wind shift.  Anchoring too close to shore could land you in shallow water if the wind rotates in the wrong direction.  Another option, is to drop a stern anchor in addition to your bow anchor. 

4.       Get there early – Get to your chosen spot to spend the night early enough to enjoy it.  You may choose to take a swim before the sun goes down (or maybe even after).  You can enjoy an evening meal or a glass of wine as the sun sets.  You will find that it is amazing how quickly time will pass when there is good company, good conversation and a great sunset followed by a night sky full of stars. 

Get to your spot in time to enjoy the sunset.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

As you can imagine, spending the night on the water is very different than spending the night at home.  Those differences are not restricted to just the scenery and atmosphere though.  Here are a few things that you should also be aware of (and make sure your guests are aware of) while afloat overnight.

1.        Power Consumption – You do not have an unlimited amount of power and conservation of power is something that must be considered.  No, this does not mean that you need to spend your time sitting on the water in the dark but you just need to pay attention.  When on the water, here are the typical sources of power that may be at your disposal.

a.       Batteries – Boats differ quite a bit in this category with some having a house battery bank in addition to starting batteries while others have just starting batteries that may double as a power source for lights etc. when the engines are not running.  If your boat has a house battery bank, then you have more power at your disposal when on the hook.  You could run those batteries completely down and still start the engine(s) the next day because it is a separate bank of batteries.

b.      Generator – If your vessel has a generator, you have a method for charging batteries and providing power to electrical systems on the boat while the generator is running.  Theoretically, it can provide power as long as there is fuel in the tank, but there is a finite amount of fuel and we don’t want to waste it.

c.       Engines – If your batteries are getting low and you do not have a generator aboard, you can always start the engine(s) to charge your batteries.  This is not a very efficient method, however. 

A generator makes managing power easier but you don't have to run it all night.

Personally, I do not like to run the generator on my boat all night.  Although it is very quiet, it does somewhat take away from the peaceful atmosphere of an evening on the water.  That being said, I know that I am going to be consuming power.  I may be preparing a meal, my anchor light will be on all night, and I have lights that I will be using in the cabin and on deck.  We also can’t forget that we cannot seem to get by without our smart phones these days.  Plus, a little music can really put the finishing touches on the perfect evening. 

A method that I like to use is to run my generator for a period in the evening when preparing meals.  During that time, I have the ability to use the stove or microwave and the refrigerator will remain cold as the door is opened and closed.  Mobile devices can be plugged in and charged as well.  After the meal and clean-up is done, the generator is shut down for the evening.  Although my refrigerator will run off of AC or DC voltage, I also turn it off.  It will stay cold all night as long as it is not opened.  Here is where having a cooler on board really helps because cold drinks can be stored there and they can be accessed without going into the fridge. The next morning, I usually run the generator again while making coffee and preparing breakfast.

2.        Water Consumption – How big is the water tank on your boat and how long will that last you?  If you are used to 20 minute showers, baths with the tub being full to the brim, and using a running faucet as the method for rinsing dishes while washing them, this is an area that will be a big adjustment to you.  A lot of boaters, including me, do not drink water from the holding tank but we use it for just about everything else.  You may think that 100 gallons is a lot of water but your family will go through it faster than you think.  Make sure you discuss how to use water sparingly and to not do things like leave the faucet running while brushing teeth or washing dishes.  If you have a water tank level indicator, keep an eye on it to ensure that you do not run out.  Of course, if you run out, you can always go to shore to get more.

Sleepy Time

Some of the best sleep you will have is on the water.  That being said, I rarely sleep the whole night through without getting up.  Why?  Because we are at anchor and there is always the possibility that something could happen.  For that reason, I will get up once or twice during the night and go out on deck and check to make sure that things are okay.  If bad weather moves in, I may not sleep at all until it has passed.  I use my chart plotter to tell me if we are dragging anchor.  I do a visual check to make sure we are not too close to shore or that other boats are not too close to us because they are dragging anchor.  I also check the depth finder to make sure that the depth of water has not drastically and unexpectedly changed.  Staying vigilant helps to make sure the whole experience remains a good one for you and your passengers.  Sometimes I find that I really enjoy these middle of the night deck checks because the tranquil nature of the environment speaks to my soul.

Many chart plotters have anchor drag alarms and there 
are a few anchor alarm smartphone apps as well. 


My favorite thing to do when morning arrives is to fix a cup of coffee, sit out on the deck and watch the world wake up.  The water is usually like glass and all is quiet.  As the time passes, I begin to see more wildlife come out and more boats pass by in the distant channel.  At that point, it is time to start the day and do it all over again.

If you have any tips for spending the night on the hook, please share them here on the blog in the comment section below.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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  1. Good Stuff !! thanks for the article

  2. Great info, would love to read more like this. do you have anything on anchoring ?


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