Boating After Dark

Recreational boaters generally operate from sunrise to sunset. However, there are many who enjoy heading out for a twilight cruise and fishing at night. Other boaters may be returning from dinner at a waterfront restaurant. Still more may be cruising overnight to reach a special vacation destination by the crack of dawn. You can even be on a boat that has broken down while returning to port. Regardless of the reason, go slow and be cautious when boating after dark.

Adapting to Darkness … We’ve all had the experience of walking from a well-lit room into a room with nearly no lighting at all. For a moment we don’t see anything; but, as our eyes adjust our vision improves. This process is called dark adaptation. While underway on the water you won’t be walking into a dark room, but the daylight will fade and you will find yourself in the dark nonetheless. This is especially true on moonless nights. Bright Lights … Using bright lights on the water at night absolutely reduces your night vision. This is because bright lights cause our pupils to contract. So, while boating at night do not switch on the cabin lights, flood lights, spotlights, or white overhead lights under the hardtop. Colored Lights, and Dim Lighting … During WW II, red lighting on the bridge was found to be an effective way to enhance night vision. Today, many recreational boats have red light options at the helm. However, low level white light, and green or blue lighting are being used more frequently. Old School Night Vision … When all else fails, the one-eye Pirate patch is a workable solution.

Night Watch … It is very important to keep a sharp lookout when boating at night! Scanning After Dark … The techniques used at night are largely the same as daylight scanning with the added challenge of dealing with restricted visibility. Just as white lights on the boat impairs night vision, so too do lights on shore, spotlights on waterfront homes, automobile traffic on waterside roads, and cockpit lights on other nearby vessels. Fog at Night … Fog reflects light. These reflections come from any source of light including your own navigation lights. Light reflections impede your night vision. Spotlights at Night …Frequent use of white spotlights at night is not recommended, however they can be used as a distress signal in an emergency. Also, if you are a good Samaritan towing a disabled boat, it is good practice to shine a light on the towline in the direction of the towed vessel. This will warn other nearby boats to keep clear. Night Vision Devices … More and more night vision devices (NVD) are being offered that target recreational sports activities that include boating and navigation. When shopping; features to consider are comfortable fit, ease of use, image quality, range, and brightness (gain). We addressed daylight scanning in our issue “Managing Safety At Sea”.

Night Lights … While bright white lights at night are navigational hazards, running lights, vessel identification lights, and lighted navigation aids are boating safety devices. Running Lights … On recreational boats running lights (sidelights, a stern light, and masthead lights) communicate information about your type of boat to other boaters at night. For instance, If at night you see a boat displaying sidelights, a stern light, and one masthead light; that indicates a vessel that is underway and less than 50 meters in length. If another vessel displayed sidelights, a stern light, and two masthead lights; this would indicate it was underway and greater than 50 meters in length. If these same vessels only displayed masthead lights; this would indicate both were at anchor. Vessel Identification Lights … Other night lights indicate the function of nearby commercial vessels. For instance, if you see a vessel showing sidelights, one stern light above a second, two masthead lights forward and one masthead light aft; that vessel is towing. Behind it you will see one or more barges showing only sidelights and a stern light. Commercial Vessels ... These boats show distinctive light patterns. If you see unfamiliar patterns of red, green, or yellow lights steer clear. Aids to Navigation … Many aids to navigation have red, green, or white lights. These help boaters apply red right return practices when the color of the buoys cannot be seen. In some cases the lights flash at varying intervals and in sequences that are indicated on charts. This information helps boaters find their position, and verify they are on course.

Alcohol, Drugs, and Caffeine … Alcohol, drug use, and excessive caffeine do not mix with safe boating protocols. Alcohol Spirits are well-recognized as powerful depressants that seriously impair a person’s judgment, reflexes, muscular control, stability, and reaction times. They also causes irritability, drowsiness, and sea sickness. Prescription drugs, while necessary, have a latent ability to suddenly affect a passenger’s performance as well. If you are using Prescription or Recreational Drugs it is a good practice to let the skipper know that you may have an adverse reaction and identify mitigating actions that can be taken if the unexpected occurs. Caffeine In large quantities, caffeine causes nervousness, headaches, dizziness, and a compromised ability to concentrate. Be Smart … stay alert!

The Bottom Line … Visibility is reduced at night; be prepared, go slow, keep a sharp lookout, use caution, get home safe!

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