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Boating in Limited Visibility

Fogged in? Fishing before Dawn? Here’s How to Stay Safe.
Boating Safety

In addition to navigation lights, the Navigation Rules require all vessels to carry sound-producing devices for use during meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations.  Sound signals are also required during periods of reduced visibility to make other boaters in the area aware of your relative position and the status of your vessel; for example, a power driven vessel underway and making way is required to sound one prolonged blast at intervals not to exceed two minutes. 

Is it easy to get lost or disoriented when visibility is limited?  It is.  Things look very different at night, which can be stressful for inexperienced boat operators.  Expect the unexpected.  Practice good risk assessment when deciding whether to boat in the dark. Make sure your required safety equipment is on board, including visual distress signals, and that everyone is wearing a life jacket.  Take a boating course through your local Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons® or State boating authority and educate yourself on best practices for boating at night.   Your seamanship skills and good conduct on the water will help alleviate the stress and ensure that you, your passengers and your vessel return safely to your mooring.

Cruising in the Dark

Evening romantic?  Early morning angler?  Be sure to check the weather forecast before heading out, either from local media or your marine VHF-FM radio weather channel.  Statewide weather forecasts and warnings are available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at, which also lists local National Weather Service contacts.  Besides checking for any incoming storms, consider the phases of the moon and the amount of cloud cover, both of which can affect your visibility in the dark.   Practice risk assessment.  Is it a high-traffic holiday weekend?  Is there a full moon?

Have a clear idea of where you want to go and plot a course before leaving the dock.  Study the route for water depth, landmarks, navigation aids and any hazards, then mark your progress on your chart as you go.  Practicing these basic rules of navigation will lessen your risk of becoming disoriented, lost or running aground.  Also make a habit of filing a float plan with a relative or friend who can then make the appropriate notifications if you fail to return as scheduled.  

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