Can You Sleep While Sailing?

If you want to navigate for longer than you can comfortably stay awake, learning to sleep while you are sailing is essential. This is a problem that pretty much every ocean sailor has had at one time or another, so you should not be surprised to learn that there are a number of tools to help you navigate safely while you sleep.

Can you sleep while sailing? You can sleep while sailing. It will even be essential for you to do so if you want to navigate open waters where you can’t put down an anchor or tie up to a dock. With tools like an autopilot, windvane, GPS, and radar, you can safely sleep while sailing.

If you ever dreamed of open water adventures, you may have wondered what happens between exciting events, when you just want to take it easy. As any sailor will likely tell you, you are probably not going to sleep as well on your sailboat as you would at home in your own bed, but you can sleep while you are underway, enabling many more adventures. Here’s how.

Why Sleep While Sailing?

Steering your boat and tending to the sails is a lot of what makes sailing fun, so why would you want to sleep while you’re on your sailboat?

If you’ll be sailing significant distances, it will soon be clear why you need to sleep while you’re sailing, especially if you are handling the boat alone. Sailing on long journeys requires you to be able to get some rest. Therefore, you need a way to get rest while you’re on the go.

The more conditions in which you are comfortable sleeping while you are underway, the more restful your trips will be. Sleeping while underway is an essential tool for any sailor that wants to go for trips on open water for more than a day. If you are only concerned about day cruising, sleeping while underway will not be a concern for you.

Tools Needed to Sleep While Sailing

The most capable primitive sailors are able to keep the boat going in more or less the direction they want it to go while they take a nap with minimal equipment.

If the wind is very steady, sailors may even be able to simply tie the tiller off and leave it be while they go under into the cabin for some rest. However, if you don’t want to wake up to find out that you are much further off course than you had planned for, you’ll probably want some more sophisticated equipment to help you navigate.

Tool Comparison Table

Autopilot Windvane GPSRadar
Navigate according to a coarse set by compass or GPS using the power of an internal motorNavigate a course set by a compass or GPS using the force of wind and water to power it.Navigate using a set track on a map or a remembered track from a previous trip.Senses objects in the environment that could potentially collide with your boat and alerts you to them
Very easy to learn to use and to set each timeTakes some practice to learn to use and set. You must be able to control the boat with just a finger before letting the windvane take overSimple to use and to attach to autopilot or windvaneVery simple to use and to set alerts to tell you if danger is approachingGreat to have for light conditions, but not necessary if you have a windvaneWorks well in both fair sailing conditions and in rough weather, so essential if you want to be able to sleep while sailing in rougher conditionsEssential for most Sailors today, as it is the primary effective mode of navigationAffordable tool that is absolutely essential for every sailor who will consider sleeping on their boat at any time to have for safety purposes


A windvane can be one of the most effective tools to help you navigate and sail while you are sleeping. Windvanes can be set on a course by compass, receive input from a GPS, or use other information to navigate.

What makes the windvane really unique is that it uses the power of the wind and the water to steer the boat. That means that the harder it blows and the faster your boat moves against the water, the more strength the windvane will have to steer. This makes the windvane hard to beat in inclement conditions and in open water.

However, windvanes have some downsides as well. Most Sailors find it more challenging to get the hang of the windvane than most other navigation equipment. If you are already exhausted by everything that you need to learn to be a successful sailor, learning this challenging navigation technique may be very frustrating for you.

On the other hand, many sailors believe that learning to sail with a winvane may make you a better sailor. To set the windvane, regardless of what input sources you are using, you will need to direct the boat perfectly.

You should be able to steer the boat with two fingers, no matter how strong the wind and waves, before you expect your windvane to handle the boat for you. This is why it can make you a better sailor to use a windvane. Once you get the hang of directing the boat and setting the windvane, you may actually find it quite easy to use.


Autopilots are generally very straightforward and easy to use, as well as being very effective. Autopilots can be set to go in a particular direction by the compass. More sophisticated models can work with a GPS to be set along complex courses and also programmed to retrace tracks they’ve taken before.

Autopilots use a motor to point your tiller or wheel in the direction that you have ordered it to go. Sophisticated models may be able to take into account conditions of the wind or water and adjust the route, to some degree.

However, all autopilots work primarily by fighting against the pull of wind and water, unlike the windvane, which works by utilizing the strength of the wind and waves to give it strength. Therefore, while the autopilot is easier for most sailors to use, it is not as functional in all weather conditions.

Autopilots work well when conditions are relatively calm, even if they are somewhat unpredictable. However, when conditions are very rough, an autopilot is unlikely to be as effective of a tool.


Very few sailors today venture into any but the most familiar of waters without having a GPS on board. GPS’s help you to navigate in a way that is truly game-changing for most sailors. You can connect a GPS to a more sophisticated windvane or autopilot so that your boat can automatically tell where it is and where you should be pointing.

A GPS can be set to keep a very tight course to avoid obstacles or a more general course with flexibility to keep the best possible speed or work with difficult conditions. One of the most essential tasks of a GPS is to alert you if something is going wrong.

If you are being pushed off your course, a GPS can alert you so that you can correct the problem before you are pushed too far. Even if you consider yourself a skilled navigator, you may find that you are pushed far off course incredibly quickly.

A GPS can alert you to the fact that you’ve been pushed off track before you go too far. Even if you do not want to have an alert enabled, a GPS makes it easy for you to realize that you are off course when you get up from your sleep.


If you will be sleeping while your boat is underway, a radar is an absolutely essential tool that you cannot go without. It can certainly be frustrating to have your boat go off course or fail to make as good a time as you had hoped, but not having an autopilot or a windvane is not likely to put your life in immediate danger.

Failing to have a radar, on the other hand, can do just that. Radars alert you to objects with which you may collide on your given course. A radar can alert you to a ship coming towards you on the open sea or let you know that you have gone off course and may be colliding with an island.

It can even tell you about potential threats to the environment which you were entirely unaware of, like a newly sunken ship that is not showing on your maps or your GPS. Radar also gives you information about the weather, but it is the radar’s capacity to alert you to hidden threats while you areleeping that makes it so essential.

Enjoy Sleeping Under Sail

Tthere’s something almost magical about closing your eyes and falling asleep while your sailboat continues to sail through the waves, bringing you ever closer to your destination.

Sleeping while you are under sail in the open water is certainly not for everyone, but if you have a good stomach for risk and a good understanding of your equipment, you can safely enjoy open water adventures and get your sleep too.