(note: this is an unposted blog entry from my previous Pacific Cup race. References to that boat and crew have been left in place, just because I'm too lazy to update them.)
So, I thought I'd try my hand at making up a watch schedule. It's something I feel I could contribute while I'm at the office and the rest of the crew are working on the boat. It couldn't be *that* hard, right?
The first thing I do is come up with the objectives I want to achieve:
Fair to everybody
Maximize rest/off-duty time
Rotate the shifts (aka "dog the watches")
Spread out experienced crew across the schedule.
So off I set to research and grab any templates I can use as a starting point. The first thing I find is that a lot of people have an opinion on how a watch system should work, not many offer hard examples. No matter, I can persevere. Based on what I can find, I come up with this:
It hits all the objectives, except it’s difficult to read. A sleep-deprived crew member would have a tough time glancing at this and figuring out if they are on or off watch right now. After some conversation with the rest of the crew, I go back and pivot the schedule to list by crew member.
That’s better! I even managed to start indicating when someone is finishing their shift, but remaining on-call for any maneuvers that require more hands. You can see where I dog the watches by switching from a 4-hour watch to a 3-hour watch. I’m pretty pleased with this. Except for one thing — the navigator.
The navigator has several very critical duties aboard the boat. He is not only responsible for keeping track of exactly where we are, he must keep a track on the weather patterns, predict what they are likely to do and set a course for us to take the best advantage of favorable winds. On top of that, he is required to check in with the race committee daily to update them on our position. Without the navigator, we wouldn’t be racing, we would be vaguely cruising. To do this, he must have several hours each day where he isn’t on deck helping drive the boat, but isn’t off-watch catching his rest.
So, I tried to take this in to consideration. Maybe I can steal an hour or two of time from other crew members to cover for the needed navigator time. Perhaps I could try anchoring the navigator’s schedule (not dog it around) and have everyone else fill in around him. Once I started playing with the squares I quickly realized how difficult it was to do this and keep the goal of being fair to everyone.
I spent several intense hours shifting the schedule around using any combination i could think of before I threw up my hands and just took the navigator off the schedule entirely. I reasoned that he could just use the honor system to come on deck when he was rested and had no other duties to attend to. At those times he would just tag someone off to let them get a little extra rest. This ( in my mind) creates a nice naturally flexible schedule for people that want hours on or off that a rigid watch system doesn’t account for.
When I presented this to the crew, it was received with silence. One person finally chimes in “May I give it a try?” I reply “Be my guest” and wait to see if he can tweak my work to everyone’s benefit. This is what I get back:
Instead of the minor changes I was expecting, this is a complete rework. It throws out the concept of dogging watches and special needs for the navigator. It is about as simple a schedule as you can get.
As it turns out, simple is best. When it's 0300, pitch black, you're exhausted and wondering when you're off-shift, you do not want to try and calculate a spreadsheet. A 6-hour on/off rotation means that you only need to remember a pair of numbers: "11" and "5" for example. AM or PM doesn't matter any more - if you're on at 11am, you're off at 5pm and then on again at 11pm. The schedule has the navigator on-watch when he's due to run his calculations and check-ins, so that is covered.