The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Earplugs For Cruising


I read an interesting book this summer called In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik. One thing that I got out of the book is that noise in and of itself increases our vigilance response (a leftover from the days when we were prey). For example, when the wind is howling in the rigging during a gale, as John talked about in this post, we find it’s impossible not to get tense, even though we are confident that we aren’t in any danger.

So, since we have a drag alarm on our GPS that is hooked to a claxon in our cabin that would wake the dead, John and I now wear earplugs during heavy weather at anchor (though never at sea), on the basis that being as rested as possible is safer than being hyper-vigilant and getting too exhausted to cope with a potential emergency.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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As a “hyper vigilant” person i always use one ear plug with the other ear on the pillow i find i can nod off and then the brain only wakes me when there is a change in wind or motion.
Only once whilst being overtired in a Biscay blow and not being able to switch off i added a swig of Rum and had the most important 20 minute sleep of my life.
Happy sailing Mike.

Nick Kats

Haha, these are definitely not my problems!
I’m profoundly deaf (over 99% hearing loss).
Plus I start snoring within seconds of hitting the bunk, so they tell me. (This only at sea.)

David V

Hi there John and Phyllis…. And the corollary is…
“What y’don’t want to hear will often hurt you”…. TOO !
I have just completed delivery of a 52′ cat from Cairns to Coomera(on the Gold Coast, Qld)(about 1000nm)… returned to the workshop to address warranty issues.

To set the scene…One dark and stormy night while enroute, the Owner was on-watch and delivery crew were asleep. Remember that cats don’t like going to windward in such conditions…. So when one of the crew burst forth from his cabin uttering loud expletive-deletives… I had to remind him that only 2 days previously he had asked me to “zip-my-lips” in case I might offend the nearby Owner… then the anchor winch had failed owing to a Designer-Builder error. On this occasion a huge wave had dumped, via a big overhead hatch, a large amount of water on the supine sleeper!! This is indeed such a case when…
What y’don’t want t’hear will often hurt y’ if you don’t take heed!
PS : I always sleep like a cat.. while on passage, overnight at sea.

Pete Worrell

We do the same thing! But we were a little bashful about telling others because it seemed a little… well, decadent. We have found that even with earplugs in, you DO hear any low frequency noise, e.g. if you were dragging, or if someone knocked on your hull or whatever. For us it seems to cut the high freq background noise and the odd “tinging” of an internal halyard. Love my foam disposable earplugs!

Pete & Kareen Worrell


The U.S. Navy provides me with those disposable ear plugs plus a set of earmufflers that look like earphones when I’m on the flight deck of TRUMAN (CVN 75) during flight operations. Ditto when in the noisy cabin of the C-2 Greyhound flying out to the ship.

Aboard something smaller—like Sea Devil or Wolfgang Reuter’s Ru’ah—I just fall asleep. No ear plugs needed. But then, I’m part of the attainable un-adventure cruising set.


Hi, Phyllis,
Good ear plugs come with noise reduction ratings (NRR). They also vary in ability to attenuate various frequencies (music, gunfire, industrial equipment, etc). The roll, pull and hold variety may or may not be sold with an ANSI, ISO or other rating. (The ones you show do and are good for 28 db.)

28-32 db reductions qualify as “snoring blockers” which is just about perfect for the use you describe. Higher attenuations can mask sounds one wants to hear. You can also get them in semi-hollow versions which reduce the echo of your own breathing, etc.

A couple of thoughts. Don’t put these in if you have even a hint of external otitis. Don’t ever put them in further than your bare finger tips can remove them (fingernails/hemostats are cheating). Washing this kind of foam disposable ear plug will render it ineffective.

A final thought from my flying days. We wore earplugs, covered them with beeswax, then cotton balls and then put on our helmets with headphones. Consequently, we backed up all audible alarms (of serious consequence) with strobes.


Bob Tetrault

Hi Phyllis, after a lifetime at sea and being “the person in charge” I have learned to sleep where any out of the ordinary sound will awaken me. Awaken may not properly describe how I respond, it’s more like a response to a general alarm where we jump up poised for battle. This at sea conditioning requires me to sleep ashore with a television on or some other ambient noise that I can use to mimic an engine or other usual sounds underway, otherwise footsteps in a hotel hallway or party down the hall would wake me in a similar fashion. I find I am never sleep soundly at sea or at anchor but it hasn’t had an adverse effect, at least not one I can admit to. I know of cruising couples and others that don head sets and set alarm clocks to awaken them periodically while “on watch”. I usually speak out when I overhear talk of such nonsense, there is no excuse for not keeping a proper lookout. Bob T S/V Sea Return

Nick Kats

Hi Bob

Your words: “there is no excuse for keeping a proper lookout.”

This is impossible for the solo cruiser. And difficult for 2 people – they will be tired & liable to making serious errors of judgment, or they may simply run out of juice.

In empty seas, the risks that come with sleep deprivation is far greater than the risk of getting run over.

When offshore, in empty seas & stable weather, and when shorthanded, on my boat we sleep thru the night as the boat sails herself. Everyone is rested at all times. Energy is great. Judgment is unimpaired.

New thread for John & Phyllis!




for me the alarm clock while on watch is a precautionary measure only…at 3 a.m. most bodies demand sleep…i fight it successfully most of the time…the alarm clock helps in the fight…sounds like you are compromising with only one earplug, and often compromise is the best solution…richard in tampa bay (m/v cavu’s skipper, formerly s/v sidra’s skipper)

Bob Tetrault

Thought I might touch a nerve or two with the “proper lookout” comment. I understood Phyllis correctly, I would have expected nothing less on Morgan’s Cloud. To clarify our practice, Sea Return stands an anchor watch in bad weather and never is underway without a watch stander. The whole point of my comment was that the body will adapt if you do it enough, if it becomes too difficult to sleep in heavy weather heave to or otherwise get the boat settled down so the other watch can rest properly. Single handed voyaging is another whole subject.