Boating at Night is Awesome
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  • Post last modified:April 16, 2021

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Safely Navigating Your Boat at Night

Boating at Night? You could do some late night fishing. You could take your sweetheart on a romantic cruise at sunset.

Or maybe you had had too much fun on the water to remember how late it had gotten, and you were out of time to make your way back home in daylight.

There are many explanations why you may find yourself at night out on the open water.

I realize navigating at night is not ideal, and finding your way back in the dark can be very uncomfortable. Despite these valid concerns, it is not that difficult to safely navigate at night if you’re prepared. Read on to learn some simple tips and discover essential equipment for night boating.

Safety Considerations for Night Boating

1. Limit Your Speed

On the throttle, cut back! Don’t run home, because it’s getting late. Give it a slower pace.

There could be logs or debris in front of you that could damage your boat or even your engine. Not to mention, it is easy to confuse the shore lights reflected on the water’s surface with the lights shining from other vessels.

In reality, you might want to check the laws of the local county or state. During night hours, lower speed limits are frequently enforced, even at idle speeds.

2. Use a Spotter

Bring a friend along to be an extra pair of eyes for when you return home if you intend to hang out beyond daylight hours.

Even if you have excellent vision, from continuous scanning, your eyes will become strained and tired. Tap your buddy and, if necessary, rotate positions at the helm.

3. Listening is Key

The next sensation that you use when you have restricted vision is hearing. Switch any stereos off, and don’t even consider using headphones! To understand your surroundings better. You need to hear bells on markers and other approaching boats’ horns and engines.

Lighting Essentials for Night Boating

Chart Lights

You know what it is like to walk into an unlit space and lose your sense of sight momentarily. The rods and pupils in our eyes require some time to adapt completely to the dark without going into scientific specifics. And if, after being acclimatized, you ever turn on a light switch, you know it’s much worse.

Overhead lighting and cockpit lighting are good to have but should be dimmed to improve your night vision as much as possible, especially for reading maps. If there isn’t one yet, I suggest adding an extra dimmer switch.

Many marine electronics have a night mode feature that allows you to have back-lit lighting on your eyes and reduce harsh lighting.

Running Lights

It doesn’t matter what sort of vessel you own, but it does matter that the standard signals set in place by the U.S. are understood. Your safety must focus on how well lit your boat is.

And, because you do not find yourself using the running lights very much, always make sure they’re working properly!

It is really important to bear in mind: the green starboard light is on your right; the red port light is on your left!

If it’s dark, at all times, the running lights should be on. On the bow of the port, the red and green navigation lights are placed and are intended to signal to other vessels if they are heading towards you.

If only green and white navigation lights are available, it means that you are the stand-on boat and you have the right of way. They can move to your left, but if the other captain maneuvers quickly or does not know their navigation rules, be careful.

If you see navigation lights that are red and white, they’re coming up on your right and you’re going to give way to the other vessel.

If you see both red and green, it means that you are being approached head-on by the vessel.

If you just see a red or a green one, it’s a sailboat and it still gives way! Red means you move to the right behind it. Green means that on the left, you slip behind it.

This means that a stand-on vessel is in front of you or moving away from you when you see the white light located on the stern of the ships. It can be on or anchored, but because you can’t tell what’s too fine in the dark, be cautious not to reach the vessel too quickly and overtake it. Go around it on either side instead.

For all times, powerboats are required to have a 360-degree white light on as well.

Three stacked white lights suggest a much larger vessel in which you don’t want to play a chicken game, maybe a massive barge. Enable plenty of space for them and get out of their way!

While boating at night, you can see how necessary illumination would be.

By keeping the under-deck lighting on, don’t confuse other boaters. It’s critical that other boaters can discern between your red and green running lights.

If you are at a standstill watching Fourth of July fireworks and need a little extra visibility in a crowded cove, the only exception maybe.

Use a Spotlight

If you see a boat going your way, it might be a good time to crack your spotlight. But don’t just flash it yet!

There’s an explanation why boats, including cars, lack headlights. Don’t directly shine lights on other boaters or you’re going to blind them and disorient them, which just makes matters worse! Shining a spotlight makes you have to first squint off the glare until your eyes have adjusted to the dark.

Spotlights that are both handheld and fixed can be found.

For larger vessels, a fixed amount is fine.

For smaller crafts, I think that a rechargeable handheld is more useful.

Docking Lights

Docking lights may look like the headlights of your boat, but they’re not quite good enough to be proper headlights when casting long-distance beams.

For close-quarter maneuvering around marinas and tight turns into slides, they are correctly used.

Strategies for Safely Navigating at Dusk

Radar and GPS

A GPS can help you see your route at night, send you directions, and will give you a scan of the area’s coves.

A Chartplotter shows where fixed points are located, but not so many other boaters, such as buoys and markers.

You’ll also find the GPS systems are integrated with boaters’ map plotters. The Garmin GPSMAP 78sc, for example, which is shown on the right, is a reasonably easy choice with both included.

The radar is known as a very accurate instrument and can display the distance of anything in the sea. But even advanced models have a key bang effect of the transmitter where the pulse of other goods gets too near to assess proximity accurately, meaning you’re already on top of it and it’s too late.

These are all great tools to help with night navigation, but you don’t want to rely entirely on them. You will also have to keep your eyes peeled!

I recommend buying a night vision scope for yourself. And, of course, should one of your navigation instruments unexpectedly stop working, a good old-fashioned compass might come in handy.

How to Responsibly Relax During Night Boating

As the adage goes, when you are having fun, time flies!

And part of the fun also comes with a few drinks to enjoy while you’re on the water (or whatever wets your whistle).

But you can also do so responsibly, as you relax and beat the heat with a few drinks. And for the captain, that goes double!

Your vision is still compromised by going back into the dark, imagining doing so under the influence. At any time, day or night, it’s dangerous for all, you, your passengers, and other boaters! If you’re going to join in the festivities, make sure you have a designated driver to carry you all home.

Final Takeaway

And always ensure that if you go out on the water, you have the necessary protection equipment. To get a general idea, you can check out our previous article about safety devices for boating as well as important things to be prepared while boating.

It can be a relaxing experience to drive at night, and often you get so caught up in the peaceful, quiet loneliness that you seem to forget your troubles, but you still need to be prepared and alert to your surroundings.

If not, your great day on the water could be a poor end to it!

John Allen

With more than a decade of experience cruising the lakes in my Crestliner Grand Cayman pontoon boat and my Boston Whaler, I now want to share everything I've learned with my community here at Boating Hub.

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