You’re out having a fun day in your boat when a thick fog rolls in. Suddenly you’ve lost all visibility, and returning safely to land has become much more complicated.
Beyond the navigational difficulties it causes, fog presents some other challenges when you pilot a boat, says Charles Fort, associate editor of BoatUS Magazine. For example, if a passenger falls overboard, it could be hard to spot them in the water. There’s also an increased risk of running aground or hitting something you can’t see—as well as of another boat hitting you. Plus, the stress of the situation could lead to some hasty decisions. “I’ve known too many people who say, ‘I know where I am. I can get through this fog’—and they hit a marker or run aground,” says Fort. “You just have to be patient.”
Fortunately, a few simple safety protocols can help ensure that everyone makes it home safely. Here’s what Fort recommends.
Be Prepared, Stay Aware
- Check the weather before you head out. Take fog forecasts seriously to help avoid getting stuck in a low-visibility situation.
- If you frequently take your boat out on the same lake or river, practice navigating back home (or to your marina) using your chart plotter or GPS, as if there were low visibility.
- If you boat in an often-foggy location, attach whistles to all life jackets for the season. Lost passengers will be much easier to find if they’re making noise.
- If you’re in a powerboat and see fog or a rainstorm approaching, you may be able to outrun it. Just don’t take any risks, and don’t keep speeding ahead if you’re losing visibility.
Get Your Bearings
- As soon as low visibility sets in, you should stop the boat, drop anchor if necessary, and take stock of the situation. Make sure you’re out of the way of traffic and away from any shipping lanes. Avoid anchoring by a buoy or other marker; other boats are likely to stop there, so it raises the risk of collision.
- Have everyone put on life jackets. They could be lifesavers.
- On federal waterways and in most states, the law requires turning on your navigation lights (or your anchor light, if you’ve anchored), which may help alert other vessels to your position. LED lights do the best job of cutting through fog.
- If you have a GPS or chart plotter, figure out where you are and where you need to go.
Once You’re Moving
- Take it slow. Moving at walking speed (around 2 or 3 mph) gives you more time to react when you see obstacles and reduces the impact if you run into something.
- Reduce unnecessary noise so you can listen for boats ahead. Turn off the stereo, ask passengers to speak softly, and occasionally cut the engine.
- Alerting other boats to your presence by using a handheld foghorn or loud whistle every couple of minutes is required by law in most places. Have a whistle available, in case your foghorn dies before you get to shore.
- Ask a trusted passenger to make their way (carefully) to the bow to act as a lookout. They’ll be able to see obstacles ahead and alert the driver.
- Use radar reflectors if you have them. If you own a taller boat, like a sailboat, and live in a foggy place, permanently affix the reflectors to your rigging, so boats with radar can see you.
- If you come across a radar-equipped boat (like a fishing or tourist boat), radio and ask to follow them in slowly.
- Turn on your depth sounder and set a depth alarm, so you’ll know if you’re getting close to an area that might be too shallow for your boat.
- If you’re stuck in an unsafe location, call a towboat for help.
Read More: How To Choose The Right Life Jacket
By Nicole Price Fasig