Things look different on the water at night. It’s easy for boaters to become lost or disoriented, and the chance of an accident greatly increases after the sun goes down.
Take precautions before heading out. Check the weather forecast, either from local media or your marine VHF-FM radio weather channel. Get statewide weather forecasts and warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at noaa.gov, which also lists local National Weather Service contacts.
Consider the moon’s phase and the amount of cloud cover, which affects how well you can see and how well other boaters see you in the dark.
Know where you want to go, and plot a course before leaving the dock. Study the route for water depth, landmarks, navigation aids and hazards, and chart your progress along the way. Practicing basic navigation rules will lessen your risk of running aground or becoming disoriented and lost.
File a float plan with a relative or friend, who can notify the authorities if you fail to return as scheduled.
If your boat has radar and GPS, use them in addition to your up-to-date charts, but don’t rely on GPS alone to avoid a collision. A GPS can’t tell you what obstructions lurk just under the surface or between you and your destination.
Make sure your navigation lights are “energized and burning brightly,” as specified by the Navigation Rules. Illustrations of appropriate lighting for your vessel can be found in “A Boater’s Guide to Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats and Safety Tips.” Keep extra bulbs and fuses aboard.
Except for navigation lights, eliminate all white lights, which make it difficult for you to see other vessels and obstructions. Consider replacing them with red lights, which won’t affect your night vision. Set your instrument panel dimmer switch to its lowest readable setting.
Do a marine VHF-FM radio check with a marina, another boat or a towing company, and make sure you have a full fuel tank before heading out.
Finally, minimize distractions to stay alert for hazards and approaching vessels. Turn down music and TVs, and ask passengers to keep conversation low while underway.
For more tips on boating safety, visit uscgboating.org. –U.S. Coast Guard