Lessons for Boating in Fog

This boater kept his pride, but at the cost of a harrowing night.

Safely boating in fog
Boating in dense fog can be tricky. Tim Bower

While exploring the waters near Charleston, South Carolina, the sudden sensation of being lifted while decelerating was the moment I knew I had run onto a barely submerged sandbar in a tidal creek. Watching the creek empty with the outgoing tide, I knew I was stuck for a while. But I did not get hurt, there was no damage to my boat or motor, and I had extra clothes, and even some food and water aboard my 19-foot center-console. My problems would begin later, when the water returned and I started for home.

The boat began to float again about 8 p.m. just as a dense fog advisory with visibilities of less than a quarter-mile crackled from the marine radio. I started back along my plotted course, the fog thick and dense. I soon became disoriented. I was going so slow in the damp gloom that the boat was drifting, which meant the GPS heading was ever-changing. With no compass on board, I crept slowly onward and came across an anchored sailboat displaying its white masthead light. Then, finally, I reached the Intracoastal Waterway. I kept my speed to a slow, steady 3 knots, which allowed me to follow the GPS, keeping a watch for markers, docks and other boats. The visibility at times was down to 100 feet. Finally, my home dock resolved from the mist. A 30-minute trip took four hours!

What would I do differently? I’ll make sure my equipment is in good working order. In this case, the -transducer of a brand-new sonar and that of an older fish finder interfered with each other, providing false alarms and unreliable readings. I’ll also go slower in uncharted and -unfamiliar waters. I should not have left the creek area after encountering the fog and darkness. It would have been wiser to tie up at someone’s dock and ask for forgiveness until the visibility returned the next morning. 

David Wallis
Pensacola, Florida

[A compass is inexpensive and utterly reliable.  Also, follow Mr. Wallis’ example and always stow extra clothes, food and water aboard. —Ed.]

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