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Low Visibility Boating Tips

Four tips for boating in low visibility.

January 11, 2013
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Low visibility afloat comes primarily in the form of fog, rain and snow. Of course there’s night, but my opinion is that night isn’t low visibility. It’s just dark. You can see at night; if it’s not otherwise “weathering” out, it’s just different. But you can’t see a thing in pea-soup fog, torrential rain or squalling snow. So, here are four tips for running when nature draws the drapes.

1. Slow Down
Make enough speed to maintain steerage, but definitely stay off plane. If the current or wind is setting you off course, compensate with the wheel, not the throttle, steering a tad upwind. Engage the autopilot if you have it. You need to be able to avoid what appears in front of you, and you won’t be able to do that if you are zooming around.

2. But I Have Radar
I do too. And I use it in fair weather and in foul. And if I listed the number of times I came upon a boat idling beside the buoy I clearly noted on my screen, I’d need way more than just this page. Many boaters find security in hanging near a buoy in the fog. Your radar may not resolve the two as separate targets. Additionally, radar may not see logs and other debris. Use the technology…but not as a crutch to go fast.

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3. Post a Lookout
A crew member on the bow has the advantage of not looking through clear curtains or a windshield. Plus, he or she is closer to any boat, marker or flotsam you might encounter so will see it first. Naturally, with a loved one forward, you’ll be keeping your speed moderate.

4. Listen
Boats, buoys and lighthouses all make noise, and you’ll hear them before you see them. Slamming screen doors, crashing surf or the music of an ice cream truck can help you zone in on land, at least. Some boaters don’t know the fog signals, so here’s a quick update: If you hear a prolonged blast of a horn every two minutes, know that it’s a powerboat under way; two prolonged blasts every two minutes means a powerboat under way but not making way; a ringing bell means a powerboat at anchor. Of course, you can’t hear any of this with the motor roaring, so slow down.

Learn More Seamanship Tips:
When Electronics Lie

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