Overnighting Offshore

Overnighting Offshore Tips

I’ve been overnighting offshore in my Hydrasport 2900VX since July 2007 and have been “hooked” ever since.  Over the years I’ve concluded I prefer overnighters to day trips, as there is just not enough fishing time in the day to do everything I want to do.  There is just not enough time to (1) troll (2) bail (3) deep drop (4) fish a wreck (5) sharking and/or (6) sword fish.  But an overnight trip I don’t feel pressured to hurry up and find the fish.  I’m more relaxed and just enjoy the day (and night).

Here are some of the advantages I see to overnighters offshore.

Running Out and Back. You get to leave mid or late morning after the sun is already up and return early afternoon. Typical offshore day trips you have that sun burning into your eye sockets running out and back. No need to rise at 2 am so you can be underway by 4 am and run halfway or more in total darkness. You can sleep in some and leave at a reasonable hour.  Plus you can get gas and ice on the way out vice the day before. Take your time getting out as you’re not trying to rush to catch the early morning bite.  I hate running at night unless it’s flat calm and a bright moon.  But most of the time running at night to the offshore grounds it’s dark, dark plus you are running into a head sea (that you can’t see).

Fish the best times of the day. Late afternoon and evening and first thing in the am. Plus if there was pressure on the fish during the day, you get to fish when the fleet has already left for the day in the late afternoon. You also get a couple of hours of fishing from dawn to when the other boats start showing up the next morning. You might even get some of the anglers that fished during the day to tell you where the bite was since they are pretty much done and running home.  The best time to fish for big eye tuna is last and first light so an overnight trip is almost always necessary for a shot at big eyes.

It’s like 2 trips for the price of 1. Fuel is our biggest expense so doing an overnighter you get to fish for 24 straight hours which is almost like 2 trips. Certainly gives more time for other options like deep dropping or changing over your game plan.  I probably only burn an extra 10-15 extra gallons of gas by doing an overnighter vs a daytrip.

A shot of big fish at night. Yea sometimes I don’t even get a pull at night. But sometimes you do. I would say at least 30% or more I at least hook a sword or have one on for a little while.  And if I don’t see a sword, many a nights we get to battle very big sharks. But you have a shot. And even if you don’t get a pull all night, then so what. As long as the weatherman didn’t lie too much, it’s just downright peaceful and beautiful out there. The stars and planets are so bright since there are no city lights within miles. And best of all, come dawn, all you have to do is put the spread back out and you are right where you want to be to start the day off for that early morning bite. And most of the fleet is still underway. I mostly sword fish at night but have tried the tuna chunking too. I have had limited success tuna chunking, but I think mostly because there are just not many around when I’ve tried. And it’s still a big ocean out there and you have to setup in the right place (where the fish are). 

Some safety thoughts……

Know the weather (at least don’t rely on a single source). I like to see the overnight winds stay 10 knots or less. I drift at night and drift to beam so anything over 10 knots makes the drifting uncomfortable.  Please visit my weather page for my recommendations on weather sites to look at.  http://seaductionfishing.com/?page_id=2480.

Buddy Boats. Great to have a buddy boat out there with you. A buddy boat is a boat you stay in contact with, not necessary within visual range all day but close enough for good VHF communication. If something goes wrong, it’s a long way to shore and your buddy can save your life if the unthinkable should happen.

Radar. I think radar is essential for running offshore. First, it’s important when running in the dark in the morning. Second, if fog or other limited visibility conditions show up, radar can let you see other ships. The biggest concern I have out there is those big container ships that roll through at night so keep the radar on all night to track them. Have the crew check it often.

AIS.  Automatic Identification System.  I have a Standard Horizon Matrix 2150 VHF radio with AIS receiver.  While it does not transmit my boat information, it does receive all AIS transmissions.  One of my biggest fears out there is my crew not paying attention while I’m down sleeping and a large container ship is bearing down on us.  Even if they see you on their radar, most likely they are not going to change course for you.  They expect smaller vessels to move out of their way.  With AIS I can see the ship on radar and AIS.  With AIS I get the vessel name, heading, speed, MMSI #, and most importantly CPA and TCPA.  Closest Point of Approach (CPA) will tell me just how close the vessel will get to me at the closest the point (if both vessels maintain their present heading and speed.  And Time Closest Point of Approach (TCPA).  This tells me how many minutes away the CPA is. So if I can see a ship out there and it might say the CPA is 1 mile in TCPA 5 minutes.  One mile is a pretty good separation distance so I would not worry.  Just looking at the lights on the vessel and your radar alone, it might be hard to tell just how close he will get to you.  So AIS gives you this peace of mind.  I have been out there when my CPA is 800 feet and that is just too close so I am pulling lines to scoot out of the way.  The other thing AIS can do is set up safety alarms around your boat.  I usually set my AIS alarm at 2 miles so any vessel that gets within 2 miles of me, an alarm sounds and alerts the crew to be on the lookout.  Radar can do this too and is also a good idea to set both as not every boat transmits AIS.

Satellite Weather. Both XM and Sirius have satellite weather than can be beamed directly to your chartplotter for a small monthly fee. I use the XM Weather on my Garmin 478. It is great for tracking storms and there intensity long before your ship’s radar picks it up. Anyone who spends a lot of time offshore will eventually get caught in storm. With this service, you can pick up and get out of the way before it arrives.

SPOT Tracker. Really more a comfort item for those left on shore so they don’t worry but it also serves as a PLB that can get help should my EPIRB fail for whatever reason. You can create a shared page so family and friends can track you out there.

Ditch Bag. A ditch bag is all your essential safety items in one bag you can grab in case you have to leave the boat or worse case go in the water. I keep my EPIRB, flares, strobe, flashlight, mirror, handheld VHF, airhorn, and signaling flag.

DSC Radio. Pretty common feature now on my most VHF radios but don’t forget to connect it to your chartplotter for this is the only way for your GPS location to be transmitted.

EPIRB. A must have item for offshore fishing. One flip of the switch, my boat’s lat/long coordinates are transmitted instantly to USCG rescue personnel who will send a ship or plane to an activated EPIRB. If you fish offshore, strongly recommend an EPIRB.

Lifejackets. Obviously we must have a least one lifejacket for each passenger. But it’s important they are stored in a place the crew can easily access them. Stowed down below in a hatch that is hard to get to is not a good idea. Mine are stowed overhead in the hardtop for easy access.

Liferaft. I have a 6 man coastal life raft should the need ever arise. With the ditch bag and lifejackets, I feel pretty safe and if we ever had to get in the life raft, I can’t image we would be in there long with my DSC, SPOT, EPIRP, handheld, and flares all going off.  I recently had my raft repacked and filmed the unpacking so I know where everything is.  I also asked my crew to watch the film so they know too.   Here is my video of my raft being unpacked.  https://vimeo.com/86030737

Keep the batteries charged. Running the generator to keep all your electronics and batteries charged. And if you don’t have a generator, perhaps an extra battery or 2 or one of the jump starters to get you going in the morning. Some just leave the engines going all night to keep the batteries charged too.

Radar reflector. Raise up a radar reflecting flag or other radar reflector so other ships can see me better with their radar. Our small fiberglass boats don’t paint much a radar signature.

Keep at least 2 crew awake at all times. Don’t let everyone fall asleep and having just one awake as he could fall asleep easily. And sitting in a beanbag on the deck means they will probably fall asleep and they are not watching the horizon for ship either. Their main job is to keep an eye out for the big ships that pass through at night. Those big ships are usually on autopilot and even if they see you, they may not change course for you. It’s best to scoot out of their way if they get too close.

Safety Brief.  Give a detailed safety brief to all your crew each trip.  Make sure everyone knows where the life jackets are, life raft, ditch bag, EPIRB, fire extinguishers, and DSC radio.  Give a short brief on the life raft, AIS and DSC so everyone knows how to operate.  In the event of an emergency, you don’t want only one person to know where everything is. 

Fishing at Night.  Fishing at night is such a blast.  You just never know what is going to jump on your line from a big tuna to a sword, or shark.  And sometimes the life around your lights at night is amazing.  I keep a long handled dip net to catch small critters swimming around the boat and there are just so many different things that swim at night.  Your crew can be entertained just by watching and catching little critters at night.  And you can catch squid on squid jigs, baitfish including tinkers on sabiki rigs or sometimes bail mahi on spinning gear.  Me, I’m usually swordfishing at night.  See my article on how I target swords at night.  http://seaductionfishing.com/?page_id=2539.  I do like to chunk at night.  I will chunk butterfish mostly but will do bunker or any cut bait I can lay my hands on.  I dispense the chunks using a chum chucker.  I do believe that a chunk line will bring in many forms of life including swords and tuna but will also bring in sharks too.  We try to work a feeder line for tuna and drop jigs down on any mark that shows up on the fish finder.  Have not had a tremendous amount of success on the tuna chunking front but I don’t know too many guys in our waters that have either.  Tuna seem to bite better on the northern canyons than the southern ones.  But we have caught tuna on the chunk plenty of times, just not nearly as successful as the northern canyon boys.  You have to be ready for everything at night.  Once a big fish is one, all lines should be cleared and the engines started to maneuver to keep the lines from going under the boat or in the engines.  We keep a harpoon on the ready in case it’s a nice fish that comes up still lit up.   

Once we see a little pre-dawn light we pull the night spread and change back over the troll.  Usually we have the spread back out before we can even see where the lines are and head back over to the tuna or big eye grounds.  If no decent troll bite, we will change over to deep dropping and fish until around noon or but usually no later than 2 pm or so.  See my article on deep dropping.  http://seaductionfishing.com/?page_id=2625

So think about it and give it a try. If the safety of it all has you worried, plan a trip with a buddy boat and fish with visual sight of each other for added safety. I don’t think one has to have a big boat to consider overnighting.  If you see a weather window in the forecast, odds are I am thinking about a trip so give me a call if you want to book a seat or just buddy boat with me.