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Navigating at Night

The night is alluring, especially with the right gear and crew.
Boating Safety

Light Up the Night
Boats don’t have brakes. Know what? They don’t have headlights either. And with good reason. In open water, the light reflecting off waves and mist is often more blinding than beneficial at night. Try shining a light ahead of the boat at night while under way when there is nothing but water and sky to see, and you’ll agree.

However, there are occasions when a searchlight or spotlight is handy, particularly if you are trying to locate or identify a nearby object such as an unlit boat, buoy, shoreline or jetty.

There are three basic types of spotlights — fixed-mount, remote-control searchlights such as the Jabsco 135SL (, $187.99); handhelds with 12-volt plugs such as the Optronics NightBlaster BlueEye 400,000 Candlepower (, $36.99); and rechargeable battery-operated handhelds such as the Brinkmann Q-Beam LED (, $69.99).

Fixed-mounts are nice on bigger boats, while handhelds lend themselves to smaller boats. Whichever you choose, try to use the light sparingly and briefly, particularly if there are other boaters in the immediate vicinity. The harsh glare of a spotlight is not only annoying to others, but it also can ruin the night vision of nearby skippers. And nothing sours an intimate cruise quicker than another boater who is hopping mad at you.

Docking lights are another option, usually flush-mounted just below the rub rail on both sides of the bow. Yet, they are designed for use only in close-quarters situations such as when pulling into a slip at night. They don’t cast their beam far enough to be of as much use as the auto headlights they resemble.

Scope Things Out
You can also buy night vision — a technology that amplifies light through a scope. This lets you see as if it were daytime, though everything’s cast in green. For tricky harbor entrances or foreboding shorelines, night vision is tough to beat.

An affordable night-vision device is the NVD mini scope from Minox (, $299). Measuring just 5½ inches long and 2 inches in diameter, this rechargeable scope not only amplifies available light, but also beams infrared light. Though invisible to the human eye, the reflected infrared light is picked up by the scope and illuminates objects up to 200 feet away.

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