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Thread: Boating At Night, Safely...

  1. #1
    PBN User kidturbo's Avatar
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    Boating At Night, Safely...

    Since boating season is in full swing again across the nation, and I’m jonesing without a boat to run this summer, I wanted to touch on a part of boating that often get’s overlooked. Boating at night, something I personally enjoy, most of the time. Safely boating at night requires a whole different level of skill, concentration, and understanding of the surroundings than daytime running. Something I feel is worth expanding on by our members and the well skilled forum leader / professional boating instructor. Reading his “10 Basic Safety Tips” got me thinking, does anyone offer specific training or a useful tips for nighttime operation? Nothing jumped out at me, so maybe we should write course guide? I know Brad is full throttle every weekend from now till fall, so lets start a list of proposed tips he can condense on an airplane ride to CA one day...

    We have all seen the pictures of the two boats beach side by side at lake Cumberland from several years back. Laughed about how someone could mess up so bad as to run 100 feet up on shore. Well I will only say this, run Cumberland end to end in the dark and get back me on that. Besides a few obstruction and no wake markers near marinas, there isn’t a single navigation aid on that 32 mile stretch of water. No matter how well seasoned you are, that hollow is one dark hole on a moonless night. To an experienced river boater like myself, accustomed to navigating by red and green flashing mile markers, Cumberland was damn scary place after dark.

    Another thing lakes like Cumberland lack is commercial boat traffic. Living on the mighty Ohio I watch barge traffic go by 24x7. These guys run all day, at night, in the rain, fog, high water, not much stops them. Except maybe this bend in front of my house. With it’s 230deg decreasing radius, it’s well known for bringing the most experienced riverboat captains down a notch. A cool topic for another day, but it is a great place to watch the old timers show off and rookies really screw up. Which got me thinking about the skills required for the normal power boater to operate safely in the dark without aids like radar, AIS or hundreds of hours of experience. So for starters I snapped a couple pictures tonight of a normal towboat with 15 empty barges heading north to help get my point across.

    The first picture below the head or bow of his made tow, shot from about 200 yards away at 2x zoom. Notice the red port side marker, and the two yellow spots above it? The yellow lights mark the centerline of the barges, and on this particular setup, one is actually elevated and flashes blue. That’s all you can see in the dark from the side. Behind that single red light is over 1000 feet of cold black steel that sets anywhere from 4 to 12 feet above of the waterline depending on the load. Moving or moored, unless your radar equipped you will never spot these in dark at speed unless you know what to look for. For quite a few boaters, missing that head marker light has been the last mistake they ever made.

    Port1.JPG

    The next picture is the tug or the tow depending on how you wanna call it. This guy has all his deck lights on, so from the side it’s pretty hard to miss. But not always are these lights on. Leaving only his small “Elevated” port and starboard makers, along with the two stacked yellow stern lights required. Yes they are also yellow, not white anchor lights like most boats would have. That little fact almost got a friend of mine a couple years back. I watched him run up on the back of tug thinking it was a dusk to dawn light on shore a mile away. Luckily the wake slowed him down and caught his attention. About 100 yards more and he would have landed in the engine room, or worse. Point is, don’t take any lights for granted in the dark. What looks like a Coleman lantern on shore might two guys fishing off a half mile string of moored barges. Where another hundred feet of them is sticking out in the dark, and no lights are required.

    tow1.JPG

    Besides barges, there is a multitude of other things that can mess up great boating weekend if you misjudge one in the dark. Even if you seldom run at night, just attending the yearly 4th of July fireworks display will be much more enjoyable. Especially if you're comfortable making the few miles back to the dock knowing how to successfully dodge all the idiots who have no idea docking lights are for docking only. So here is my start on a list of tips, and please add to them until Brad has enough to cover a 5hr flight...

    ---

    • Know your lights!! Nav markers often flash in set patterns that identify their location. Bridges all have specific channel markers. Small boats to large ships, know which direction are they moving and what they are based off the lights.
    • Get some sort of minimal / backup navigation software for your phone. I like Navionics because it does not require a data connection, and for under $10 it’s unbeatable. If old school, charts and a compass for the area your boating is just fine.
    • Everyone wears a PFD at night. No explanation needed there. Unless you're a fish, you wear one at night on the boat.
    • Slow down, way down in the dark. You might actually see that log rather than hear it take off the drive.
    • Watch behind you, and be prepared to signal approaching vessels who may mistake you stern light for a shore light. This one has saved me more times than I care to count.
    • AIS equipped radio is a plus. If buying a new UHF, consider one with AIS option. Most all the commercial boats run them now. You will see them listed, and they will see you if GPS enabled..
    • Double up lookouts and assign them an area to watch. More eyes the better at night. Don’t ever trust them, but always put your crew to work.
    • Wear clear glasses or goggles. Taking bugs in the eye sucks while trying to drive, navigate, and find your way home in the dark.
    • Carry a small handheld spotlight. Most nav markers are reflective at long range, and it doubles to signal other craft who may not see you. Also handy for docking or finding the trailer..
    • Don't get caught in the fog. Fog is just as deadly on the water as in a horror movie. If it starts rising off the water, get to shore and don’t chance it. Once you're caught in it, it’s too late to look for shore. I learned this one at a young age and have never needed a refresher course.


    That’s all I have for the moment, plenty more come to mind but let’s hear what others consider important tips.

    hook'em and 1stoutlaw like this.

  2. #2
    PBN User blue oval's Avatar
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    We run back from Charlevoix in the dark a few times a year. I always take beach towels and cover my instruments up. Blacking out the dash gives you a much better view of what is in front of you. I can not shut off my dash lights, they are hooked to NAV lighting.

  3. #3
    PBN Charter Member hook'em's Avatar
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    Thanks for the heads up Kid. Good stuff.
    ...ridin dirty aboard...
    Can Ya Hear Me Now

    Badges?.......We Don't Need No Stinkin Badges........

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    PBN User emilsr's Avatar
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    Great laydown. Cumberland IS scary at night. I'd add one thing:

    Watch the moon phases as well as when it rises and sets. You get a full moon directly overhead and the lighting is surprisingly good. No moon and a cloudy night and your eyes become pretty useless. Pick your times carefully for night boating; conditions make a big difference.

    I've bounced off a buoy in the fog. At idle speed. Not just once. "Don't get caught in the fog" is right on point.
    kidturbo likes this.

  5. #5
    PBN User kidturbo's Avatar
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    Dimming all onboard lighting is definitely a worthy addition to this list. Tossing a towel over them is a great fix.

    Many might not know that choice of gauge lighting colors makes a big difference on night vision. When I purchased my boat the analog gauge lights had green bulb caps to match the digital LCD displays. While it's a personal preference, red is typically easier on the eyes. Most gauge bulbs can be changed or color capped very easily. Luckily I found all my red caps in a baggie behind the dash. Swapped them out, the LCD's can be dimmed or shut off, and the depth gauge gets the rain cover snapped on. Lighted switches can be taped over, or in my case, just cut the ground wire to the running light switch.
    A rheostat on all the dash lighting could also be a big plus, and easy mod if you run at night much.

    dash1.jpg

    The light that always bothered me the most was the pole mounted running / anchor light. If you look closely at this photo, you can see the piece of electrical tape I wrapped around the middle to shield it. I threatened to paint it black on the front side, but for anchoring that's another issue.

    nav-light1.jpg

  6. #6
    PBN User kidturbo's Avatar
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    Officials say at least two people are dead after a boat on the Ohio River capsized and was found near bridge construction in downtown Louisville.

    2 confirmed dead, 3 still missing in Ohio River search - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

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    that was a good read. thanks for the information

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