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Maybe you stayed too long at your favorite raft-up spot and it’s now getting dark, or maybe a fast-moving cool weather system has caused a fog to kick up unexpectedly. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, sooner or later you’re going to get caught out on the water in low visibility. Don’t panic. Here are some simple things you can do to stay safe when your view is restricted.

First of all, take it slow. Don’t try to rush home in an attempt to beat the sunset or outrun the fog. Chances are your anxiety will only make matters worse. Maintain a consistent speed and bearing. This will help you to stop your boat sooner, if necessary, and will allow other boaters to more easily spot you. Less confusion and more reaction time is critical when visibility is low.

Do your best to track where you are on the water by monitoring your GPS and Chartplotter. Keep a close eye on that depth finder, too. Operating at night or in fog can be confusing, and it’s easy to wander off course if you’re not careful. See tip number one: take it slow.

Next, it’s critically important that you see and can be seen by other boaters. Make sure your running lights are on. If you have passengers with you, post them as lookouts (and listen-outs). Have them tell you immediately if they see or hear a craft or hazard nearby. If you hear an unidentifiable sound, power down and listen before going on. It could be another boat, or land.

Turn down your stereo and turn up your VHF radio. Monitor the chatter in your area and react accordingly to any warnings or reliable information. If you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, call the Coast Guard on Channel 16.

Lastly, if you are in fog, use a sound signal of some sort, which is required safety equipment, to signal your position every two minutes. You can use a bell, a loud hailer, a foghorn or some other approved means for producing sound.

The best course of action for operating in low visibility is to be prepared ahead of time. Be sure you have the proper equipment and know-how, so you can enter the situation with patience and a clear head. It’s your responsibility as captain.

United Marine Underwriters is more than just boat insurance. Browse our Used Boats For Sale at Boat Browser or our new Lakes and Waterways’ Guide at Lake Browser. Check out our True Fish Tales – the ones that did not get away – and share your fishing stories.

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4 Responses to See Me, Hear Me…

  1. Jim Lundie says:

    Point your spotlight low and swing it port-starboard keeping a sharp ear out in areas that may find other boaters hanging on the hook awaiting the fog to lift (which I agree with Guy, is probably what you should be doing as well if a safe anchorage can be found).

  2. Guy says:

    If you can’t see the bow of your boat and you don’t have GPS or Radar you may want to throw an anchor out and spend the night.

  3. Brian Briggs says:

    Thank you for your nice write up about operating in low visibility. You didn’t mention radar; using radar makes it a lot easier to detect boats and aids to navigation.

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