Boating In The Shipping Lanes

A true story of near tragedy and the lessons learned.

Boating In The Shipping Lanes
Why you should never boat after dark without nav lights ... or paying attention.Tim Bower

As teenagers growing up in a small village on Long Island Sound, 30 miles east of the busy Port of New York, my friends and I spent most of our summers swimming, fishing and boating during the daylight hours. We completed all of the boating safety courses and had hands-on boat-handling training by our elders. All of that.

One hot, humid evening, three of us decided to take my friend’s family’s 15-foot Glastron with a 55 hp Johnson outboard out trolling for striped bass. None of us were experienced boaters after dark, but we knew enough to turn the navigation lights on en route to the fishing grounds.

Chugging along at trolling speed, we soon grew frustrated because we hadn’t had a strike yet. One of my buddies raised the possibility that maybe the striped bass were spooked by our navigation lights.

“Yeah, yeah. Good idea. Hell, there are no other boats in sight. Kill the lights and turn up the radio. That’s Barry McGuire playing,” I said.

Well, with the nav lights extinguished, we trolled happily along for about an hour. Still, we had no strikes.

My friend Robbie lit a joint. My other friend, Wayne, went ballistic, because he had strict parents who kept him on a tight leash in this countercultural decade.

“Put that crap out. If my father smells it in the seats tomorrow, he won’t let me take the boat out again,” Wayne said.

“I’ll hold it over the port side. Come on, take a hit,” Robbie answered.

I knew better than to partake of that stuff since I was piloting our craft through the night without lights on. “Hey, guys. Did you hear that? Turn down the damn radio will yah?” I shouted over the music.

The boat started rocking and rolling, port to starboard, on a calm-water night. A bright searchlight beam blinded me as I glanced to port to see what was going on.

“Check it out, man,” Robbie said, pointing to this huge freighter less than 10 yards off our port beam, churning up a huge wake. “Whoa, I’ve never seen one of those up close before. Cool.”

My adolescent adrenalin kicked in, and I turned hard to starboard, slamming the throttle forward and flipping on the navigation lights. “Reel in the lines boys,” I commanded the crew. “That’s enough fishing for tonight. We’re getting out of the shipping lanes real quick!”

A couple of lessons we learned from this near-disastrous nocturnal fishing adventure: Keep your navigation lights on after dark. Use your ears at night to listen for approaching watercraft. And yeah, best to leave the weed — whether legal in some states or not — on the dock.

P.B. McMorris
Woodstock, New York

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