Darkness creeps across the water as the glow of the sun fades below the western horizon. It is night. For some, it’s a time of high anxiety when running a boat. Humans are visual. When the lights go out, we get nervous. Rightfully so, for who knows what might go bump in the night?
Yet, nighttime navigators need not bite their nails. With the right equipment and decent weather, a night cruise can be safe, enjoyable, adventurous and even romantic.
Fortunately, there are more tools than ever to enhance or supplant our vision when navigating at night. GPS/chart plotters, detailed electronic cartography, advanced radar, thermal imaging, night-vision scopes and spotlights not only increase the safety factor but also inspire enough confidence to enjoy boating after dark.
Slow and Easy
The first rule of night boating is to slow down, no matter what high-tech navigation equipment you have on board. Even on a moonlit evening, you just can’t see as well as during the day. Objects won’t come into view until they are fairly close. If you’re going too fast, you might not be able to maneuver quickly enough to avoid a collision with an unlit object such as a crab-pot buoy or floating timber.
The best speed on any given night depends on visibility. During a full moon, you might feel comfortable running the boat a bit faster than you would on a night when everything fades to black. Are you in open isolated water, or are you bound by the confines of a narrow channel? The locale plays into how fast is safe as well. The important thing is not to rush. Just like on a romantic date, take it easy, cowboy.