Boating at night is a difficult situation, especially if you’ve never done it before. But in every captain’s career, night boating will come up either by choice or necessity. Mechanical trouble can slow you down, the desire for a predawn run or you just spent a little too much time getting back to the dock. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself in the unfamiliar conditions of boating at nighttime, here are some tips to keep you, your boat, and passengers safe.
Take it Slowly
The darkness robs you of one of your best navigational tools: visual identification. In the dark, you can’t see the potential dangers lurking in front of you. To keep everyone safe, you’ll need to slow things down and rely more heavily on the technology you have available. By moving slowly, you’ll be better able to see hazards, such as unlit boats or buoys, in time to avoid them. Steer clear of other boats, especially those moving faster than they should. In the dark, visual distance is extremely short, so take your time. Use any available crew to act as lookouts. If possible, have a companion in the bridge. The company will keep you more alert and focused when you’re tired. The more vigilant everyone is, the safer everyone will be.
Dim Unnecessary Lights
Dimming unnecessary lights will help everyone to see better in the darkness. By constantly looking at lights, your pupils won’t fully dilate and adjust to the dark conditions. When they do, your eyes are much more sensitive to any available light, making it easier for you to see in dim conditions. If having a light is a must, red light is easier on the eyes and is less disruptive to night vision.
Use Technology to Guide You
Rely on the chart plotter to guide you around fixed objects in your path. This can help keep you aware of your course and prevent you from being disoriented. The chart plotter will also help you avoid reefs or shoals. Radar gives you another layer of information to help you confidently navigate in the dark.
Night vision technology has come a long way. It is no longer beyond the means of ordinary boaters to access this type of specialized equipment. Now, they are available as scopes for a couple hundred dollars. Having night vision available can make a big difference when you are in dark, uncertain conditions. Larger boats or those who frequently head out in the dark or dim conditions should consider a larger, fixed scope. Thermal imaging scopes is another level of technology that serious boaters are beginning to use. It adds an additional layer of information in the dark.
Occasionally, you’ll need a spotlight directed on something but use it sparingly. Having lights, especially spotlights, on will destroy your night vision. The reflective nature of water amplifies light bounced off it so be judicious with spotlights. Use them seldom so that you don’t’ blind yourself or other boaters.
Boating at Night Basics
Common sense will keep you safe on the water at night. The most important thing is to remember to slow it down and take your time. By running at full throttle, you won’t have time to see or react to any hazards in the water. Next, rely on the tools that you have available. Your crew can also serve as lookouts. Additionally, the electronic tools available to you bolster what limited visual information you have by being able to see where you can’t. They’re important during the daylight hours but crucial at night. Following this up with night vision or thermal imaging technology can really help when you’re in tight situations. All of these things add up to making the best of what can be a difficult situation: boating at night. For new boaters or even seasoned captains, taking some time and being careful is part of being smart while on the water.