Seven things to keep you awake at night on a boat

We are currently cruising in the Marlborough Sounds. A beautiful part of the South Island of New Zealand. It’s secluded tree lined bays provide perfect quiet anchorages to spend the night. 

However despite how quiet and sheltered the bay, there are still plenty of things that will keep you awake on a boat at night. 

1. Sea creatures 

No I’m not talking about big scary monsters lurking in the shadows below your boat – they are actually nice and quiet. I’m talking about the crackling kind. Just as soon as you lay your head in the pillow you will hear the most unusual crackling noise which kind of sounds like a crackling fire. After you’ve turned the boat upside down and identified that the boat isn’t burning, you eventually realize that the noise is coming from outside the boat. Apparently it’s shellfish. God knows what they are doing to make all that racket. Tap dancing perhaps. Eventually you get so tired of listening to it you fall asleep. 


2. Wind

Wind always sounds worse at night. You will lay there listening to it shrieking through the rig while you quietly worry about what is going on out there. Eventually when the sun comes up and the howling increases to a crescendo, you pop your head up and realize that it’s just a light breeze. 

3. Halyards

Generally silent through the day, and right up until you are just about to nod off – then your halyards will start clanging against the mast incessantly. (Halyards  are the ropes that go up the mast to pull your sails up). Even if there is no wind. They will do this right up until they drive you crazy enough to get out of bed and attempt to identify the noise. Once you get on deck they will be silent again and will only resume clanging once you are tucked up in bed again. 

4. The mystery knock

Happening on an irregular basis. Knock… Arraggh what was that? Could it be a tin rolling in the bilge? A bottle of wine moving in the chilli bin? The dinghy banging against the hull? Who knows? The mystery knock is almost impossible to find. 

5. The squeaky fender. 

We’ve been rafted up with our friends for the last few days. We’ve got nice fuzzy covers on our fenders, but our friends fenders don’t. “Squeak, squeak, squeak.” It sounds like we are torturing mice. Thankfully there is a cure for this noise. My lovely friend Nicci who we were rafted up with, popped her head up at the same time I did. She had a bottle of liquid soap in her hand and proceeded to give the fender a good squirt with it. Problem solved! Back to sleep. 

6. Other boats

Everyone complains about people anchoring too close. When there is a huge amount of space in the bay, why do people choose to drop their anchors on top of yours? Who knows? Perhaps I should get in the dinghy and go ask the people who just did it to us. Either way, a closely anchored boat will cause you to lay awake worrying about whether you are going to swing round in the night and hit them. 

7. Anchors

I’m sure even the most experienced sailor still lies awake at night worrying about their anchor dragging when the wind comes up. Anchor chains are noisy in the bow roller unless you’ve rigged a snubber, and you can sometimes also hear the chain dragging along the bottom too.

Sadly not all these noises can be cured with ear plugs. Noises are only amplified with imagination. Perhaps that’s why sailors tend to drink so much beer/wine/rum. It helps ease the worries and gets us off to sleep! 

What keeps you awake at night? 


19 thoughts on “Seven things to keep you awake at night on a boat

  1. Ahhh! Yes, the mysterious sea creatures crackling along the hull. We haven’t heard them since we left New Zealand because the water’s too cold (it took ages to figure out what was making the noise!). Not much keeps me awake at night anymore except when the wind picks up . . . and I have to admit that if David’s awake, I fall back asleep pretty quickly. I think we’ve gotten pretty spoiled up along the Inside Passage! Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Someone told me the chrackling was electrolocyc eating my street boat when I was in a Marina, that kept me up all right!, done forget that dam dingy bouncing off the hull and shooting or other crew, if you,re a light sleeper it can be hell!, bungies on the hall yards, dinghy on end of spinnaker pole, tin cans standing up, did you ever experience an earthquake while on board, I felt a mag 5 at night, thought someone had hit the yacht!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Company, they 🙂 are happily what keep me awake at night, but I suppose that is off topic…
    But changes, those are what wake me up and sometimes keep me awake. All the little agreeable noises (who wants to live in a ‘dead’ sounding house anyway, what a bore… 🙂 are like a spouse to most of us, but when something changes, the wind, the waves tapping on the hull, the halyards and all those you listed (fish make crackling noises too as they talk) I’m immediately brought up to subconscious attention. I first noticed it when I would sleep on deck at night, but you can condition your awareness while sleeping, and even wake up before dawn for that round of star sights :). That’s what keeps me awake, for a few seconds anyway, until all is clear and I drop off. You probably are much cautious, but the throb of a distant ships propeller and waves breaking on shore woke me up from miles away. To sleep well is to know the environment and your vessel, and set your smart brain, not your smart phone, to control your body and your yacht. So that’s the 8th thing, from Huit, your admirer, Vicky. Happy sailing you lucky mermaid.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The weirdest I ever had was a grey whale scratching itself on our anchor chain. I thought it was an earthquake! No, this grey had found that it could cruise an anchorage and get his “barnacles off” by rubbing anchor rodes as he passed. I saw more than one crew scramble up on deck looking around wildly.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We know every one of these sounds except the shellfish.

    I, for one, have little patience with clanging halyards. So I’ll put a light line around both the halyards and our shrouds, tie the line into a loop, and tension the loop with a taut line hitch until the halyards have been pulled far enough toward the shrouds to keep them off the mast, ending the clanging.

    However, in our five-month career on our boat, we haven’t yet spent a single night at anchor. When we finally do, I might have to weigh my anti-clanging solution against the potential need to keep the halyards free for a fast getaway.


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