Boating At Night, How To Prepare
Most of the content republished from BoatUS
Eventually if you are boating or sailing long enough, by choice or not, you will find yourself out on the water at night. Whether the day got away from you, or because of a breakdown, or if you just feel ready for a new challenge, being prepared is key. There’s some gear you need to have aboard and some safety practices to deploy, in order to successfully navigate this. Most of the techniques mentioned for boating at night also apply for boating in fog.
The three main goals of boating at night:
- Avoid hitting anything in the water,
- avoid being hit by other boats, and
- Ensure nobody goes overboard.
Steer clear of those and, once you’re comfortable and prepared, the nocturnal water world can be magical.
When night falls, it’s even more important to have the required safety gear onboard, some of which is more likely to be needed in the dark. Even if you don’t wear a life jacket during the day, everyone aboard should don one at night. Falling overboard is more dangerous after dark because the critical sense of sight is severely diminished, and a skipper can quickly be struck in a frantic effort to find the person in the water.
If you’ve never used a lot of your safety gear before, get it out and make sure it’s in good order before heading out. Start with this checklist:
- Cellphone – And charger. Keep handy for letting those ashore know you’re running late or staying overnight to avoid sending out an unnecessary rescue party.
- VHF Radio – To call for help in case you lose cellphone coverage. For a handheld unit, have extra batteries.
- Anchor and anchor light – Know how to use your anchor in case you need to stay somewhere overnight. You’ll be glad you practiced your anchoring in the daylight.
- GPS – It’s much more difficult to find your way home in open water when it’s dark. Landmarks may look different or disappear altogether.
- Flares – Have these on hand in case you need to signal in an emergency. Before you leave, ensure they aren’t expired — 42 months from the date of manufacture.
- Good Binoculars – Collect the available light and can help you identify aids to navigation (ATONs), other boats, and shore-side landmarks. Night vision devices can be useful, but most aren’t practical for using full time at night.
- Horn or Sound-Signaling Device – You may need to quickly signal. Note: Five blasts is the danger signal, which warns other boaters nearby that something is not right and immediate action is needed.
- Glowsticks – It’s much easier to find someone overboard if he or she has a light.
- Warm Jacket – Nights on the water can get chilly. You should never leave the dock without some sort of jacket or protection from cold in case things go wrong.
- Tie signal lights and whistles to each life jacket.
Much of what applies during the day also applies for night boating, except you need to be even more aware. Landmarks and familiar surroundings disappear. Lights can be deceiving: Is that an anchor light or a far-off street lamp? You won’t be able to easily see things in the water such as crab pots and floating logs.
Check Navigation Lights – Make sure they are operational even if you never plan to be out late. Turn them on before sunset. Navigation lights let other boaters see you, and the configuration and colors let them know if you’re anchored or moving and in what direction. While lights are required to be visible between 1 and 2 miles away, bad connections and crazed covers are common problems that significantly reduce their visibility.
Strong Spotlight – Keep a really good, large flashlight aboard for emergencies or in case fast-moving boats or ships don’t see you. It will hurt your night vision (and maybe theirs) when you use it, so use with caution. Don’t shine the light into the eyes of those running other vessels.
Slow down – Things in the water, like debris and exposed rocks, are much harder to see in the dark. Don’t assume every boater will have navigation lights on; if they don’t, you may not see them until it’s too late.
Be Stealth – Going slower means going quieter, so you’re more likely to hear nearby surf or another boat’s engine. Turn off music and have crew talk quietly.
Increase Night Vision – You want to allow your eyes to be effective at night. Avoid white lights and turn off unnecessary lights onboard. Use red lights (a red LED headlamp or a blue-green headlamp is ideal), and you’ll still be able to see your navigation tools and surroundings. Dim displays as much as possible, and don’t spend too much time looking at them. It can take several minutes for your eyes to readjust from just a few seconds of normal light.
Keep Crew Movement Minimal – Keep them in center or safe part of the boat so they’re less likely to fall overboard.
Dedicated Bow Lookout – Have someone constantly scanning the bow navigation aids and other boats or the shore.
Don’t drink alcohol – Boating at night takes all of your concentration, and being impaired makes it less likely you’ll get home safely.
Stay out of shipping lanes – Be aware of possible shipping lanes. Large ships can leave wakes that cannot be seen during the night and could cause someone to go overboard.
Sea Tow – Make sure your membership to BoatUS Sea Tow is active. They are 24/7 and if you break down, they’ll get you home safely 24/7.
Thanks For Reading!