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Navigating at Night.

Using your boat at night can be a very enjoyable experience if you follow a few basic rules. Things look very different, even your home water, and your margin for error is much smaller. Here are a few dos and donts ...

Protect your nightvision at all cost

The human eye night vision is a fickle thing... it takes time to work and can be wrecked in a blink of an eye, pun intended. Whenever you are going to run at night, dim or turnoff all unnecessary lights, including radar arch light, cockpit lights and make sure that you're not going to be exposed to cabin lights if someone opens the door. You must also dim all your electronics (Radar, plotter, etc...) to the lowest setting or you will be blind as a bat once you take your eyes off the displays.

Don't use your spotlight as a headlight

it's illegal and just plain rude to other boaters; and it also affects your night vision especially if it is mounted on a radar arch or in any way that will lit up the foredeck. Yet, way too many boaters do just that and there is nothing worst than running a narrow channel at night when an oncoming boat has it's spot light on. Spotlights should only be used to spot markers and normally once you've found that marker you've been looking for you will be able to see it or at least feel where it is.

Even if your boat has a remote controlled spot light, give a handheld a try. I find them much easier to use since you can move the beam faster than with a joystick. When looking for a marker, start searching from the outside of the channel to avoid blinding oncoming boats.

In many places, you rarely need to use a spotlight. For example, when running on Biscayne Bay back towards city lights, you can see most markers against the light reflecting on the water.

When coming into an anchorage, do lit up every single boat with your spotlight.. It's rude ! usually, if you have preserved your night vision you will not even need a spotlight to find your way around boats and if you're concerned about running over a mooring or anchor marker, lit up the water in front of your boat, not the boats!

Take it slow

take it slow and always question your position. Even familiar waters will look very different at night and it's easy to end up on the wrong side of a marker and in trouble. When in doubt, slow down or stop if you have to and verify your position. Remember the old saying.. There are two kind of boaters, those who have ran aground and those that have yet to.

While boaters often disagree on what constitute a safe speed after sunset, don't run flat out. The slowest cruise speed that your boat can run at while on plane is often as fast as you may want to go but sometimes slow speed will be much safer. Look at the conditions and be responsible. We've all seen small boats with marginal lights or even missing nav lights out there...

Don't wait for a crowded night to try it

If you've never ran your boat at night, practice a few times on full moon nights, preferable during the week or on a late night. Don't try going to watch the July 4th or New Year firework with 2000 boats zipping around...

Check your nav lights before and carry spare bulbs