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