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Six Tips for Boating at Night

Six Tips for Boating at Night

When you share a love for boating, cruising the waterways at any point in the day is delightful. However, there is extra caution to be had when planning a night trip. Boating at night presents additional obstacles you would not otherwise endure during the day. If you have ever done so, you know why; it is pitch black and hard to see anything in your path. Whether watching the sunset, taking an evening stroll, or planning for a night of fishing, here are six tips for boating at night that will make the process less stressful.

1. Travel at safe speeds while boating at night

One of the most crucial tips when boating at night is to travel at a safe speed. With a black ink sky and waters to match, it is hard to see hazards coming your way, or much of anything for that matter. Things such as rocks, unlit docks and pilings, crab pots, and other elements can spell disaster when traveling at high speeds. Other boats are also challenging to see at night, especially when turning corners. Take it slow and travel at a rate that will allow you to stop in an instant, should you need to.

2. Ensure navigation lights are in working order

All boats are required to be equipped with proper navigation lights, even if you are not night boating. These lights must be in working order during sunset and sunrise hours. Typically, all navigation-light systems include red and green sidelights, which indicate the port and starboard side of your boat, as well as one or more white lights. These lights help other boaters know what direction you are traveling in. Here are some helpful tips when viewing these lights. If you see: 

  • Green and white lights: you are the stand-on boat, and you have the right of way. Boats should pass to your left.
  • Red and white lights: a boat is coming up on your right, and you should give way to them
  • Both red and green: a boat is head-on.
  • Only red or only green: this signifies a sailboat, in which they always have the right of way. Red means you pass behind it to the right. Green means you pass behind it on the left.
  • White light, located on the stern: a stand-on vessel is in front of you or moving away. It may be underway or anchored; approach with caution.
  • Powerboats should have a 360-degree white light on at all times.
  • Three stacked white lights: Large vessel is coming up. Allow them plenty of space and steer clear.

While onboard, you should also reduce ambient lighting such as system equipment and electronics, as it can affect your night vision, and avoid using headlights or spotlights. Only use docking lights when you have reached your destination to help see docks and/or cleats and handholds on other boats. Spotlights should only be used for a few seconds then switched off to see reflective markers or an object you are trying to find. While these lights are great for seeing at a distance, spotlights can alter your night vision and distract other boaters on the water.

3. Appoint an extra lookout — Night boating tips

It is a good idea to have a second pair of eyes and ears when underway, aside from the captain/owner-operator. Ask a passenger to keep a 360-degree lookout for objects and navigational markers, in addition to listening for other boaters, fog horns, or bells. Drivers have many tasks including, adjusting the throttle, checking the gauges and Chartplotter, let alone keeping everyone on board safe. Having an extra set of eyes and ears will only add security while underway.

4. Preparation is key when planning for night boating

Packing supplies for a night boating trip is critical. Ditch bags, lifejackets, flares, communication devices, and flashlights are some of the more essential items to remember. Also, be sure to pack an extra set of clothes, jackets, towels, and plenty of food and water should you get caught boating in bad weather or any other circumstance. Before departure, ensure you have a full tank of fuel, all systems are in working order, batteries in devices are good,  and file a float plan for additional safety. Check out our boating checklist for more ideas on what to pack.

5. Have confidence in your navigational equipment

When it is pitch black outside, and you can’t see 10 feet in front of you, it’s easy to second-guess your navigational equipment. Perhaps your senses are telling you one thing, but your Chartplotter is telling you another. If your systems typically keep you en route and are trustworthy, trust the devices. Your eyes can play tricks on you in the dark, especially if you are staring at system screens, which can throw off your night vision. If your Chartplotter or GPS has not had a recent update or this is your first time using it, slow down and use caution until you figure out whether or not your senses are right or wrong.  

6. Avoid distractions and other boaters — Night boating tips

As pretty as the starlight sky looks, avoid staring at it while in motion. Stargazing can cause distortion or vertigo, which can lead to seasickness. Even the most seasoned boaters can experience this. When anchored safely, take a moment to gaze at the sky, as the stars are much brighter than on land. 

Other distractions include boaters with spotlights or docking lights on. It’s in your best interest to avoid getting too close or staring too long in their direction. If their light directly points at you, the light can temporally blind you, which can cause you to navigate off course. Steering clear of boats, in general, is your best bet when boating at night.  

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