Boating After Dark
When was the last time you cruised a twisty mountain road at night or rode your bicycle down a wooded path in the dark? Boating at night is similar to these high-risk experiences, but without the headlights in the former example and the hand brakes in the latter.
Before you decide to go boating after dark, consider the safety precautions that you and your family must take before climbing aboard. Do you know the laws in the area where you will be boating? Are you familiar with the natural lay of the land? It’s never a good idea to go boating at night when you haven’t done so during the day.
Lighting Your Path
Navigating Long Island Sound in the dark will be a far different experience from riding around at night in your neighborhood lake. Busy waterways surrounded by commercial or residential communities will have far more lights, which can actually be more confusing than helpful.
If lots of lights distract you, take the time to figure out what each light is. The one on the corner? That’s the Double Tree Hotel. The softer one to its left? The biggest mansion on the lake. Once you know where the lights are coming from, you’ll be less likely to get disoriented.
If, however, you’re faced with a sea of inky blackness, you’ll need to use your own nav lights and pay attention to how it refracts in the darkness. Most buoys marking sandbars are lined with reflective tape, as are bridges and abutments. You can’t always rely on lights to guide you through murky waters.
Knowing the Law
The laws of boating at night are different depending on where you are and the type of boat you drive. The laws for a sixteen-foot boat in Lake Michigan, for example, will be far different from the laws governing a twenty-three-foot boat in Galveston Bay. In neither area, however, do you want a ticket from the coast guard.
You’ll need to make sure you maintain a “reasonable and prudent” speed for the conditions of the water and surrounding communities. Docks, harbors, bridges and swimmers can approach rapidly if you aren’t paying attention, and you’ll be the one responsible for any damage or injury that occurs.
Furthermore, remember that boats drifting more than two hundred feet from shore are required to display a single white light from sundown to sunrise. If you see such a light, cut your speed in half until you can discern its exact position. Unfortunately, the cliches are true: darkness can play nasty tricks on your eyes.
Choose a Designated Driver
A boatman doesn’t have to be under the influence of anything but good humor to get into an accident in the dark. If you’re going out boating with lots of people, designate a driver who can keep his eyes on the path ahead and navigate everyone safely back home.
It’s also never a good idea to “explore” while boating at night. Save your adventuresome excursions for broad daylight and stick to familiar territory after dark to avoid an unfortunate accident.