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Boating in Limited Visibility

Fogged in? Fishing before Dawn? Here’s How to Stay Safe.
Boating Safety

In addition to having current charts onboard, use your radar and GPS, if so equipped.  But don’t rely on GPS alone.  Operating in or near areas of restricted visibility raises the risk of an allision, which is when a moving vessel strikes a fixed object, or a collision when vessels underway strike each other.  A GPS can’t tell you what obstructions are just under the surface of the water or between you and your destination.

Make sure that your navigation lights are “energized and burning brightly,” as specified by the Navigation Rules, prior to leaving the dock.  Illustrations of appropriate lighting for your vessel can be found in A Boater’s Guide to Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats and Safety Tips, online at Make sure you have extra light bulbs and fuses aboard.

Other than your navigation lights, eliminate all white lights on board as they can affect your night vision and reduce your ability to see other vessels and objects in or on the water.  Consider replacing them with red lights, which will not affect your night vision.  Set your instrument panel dimmer switch to the lowest readable setting.

Do a marine VHF-FM radio check with a marina, another boat, or the towing companies to make sure it’s working properly and, as with every excursion, make sure you have a full fuel tank before heading out.  You never want to run out of fuel, but especially not in the dark.

Finally, keep the distractions down. Turning down music and TVs and asking your passengers to keep conversation at a reduced level while underway in restricted visibility will improve your abilities as a lookout. 

Boating in Fog

Fog can develop very quickly and brings an increased risk of collision.  In fog, if other boats can’t see you they need to hear you.  If you see fog moving in, do the following before your visibility becomes seriously reduced:

•    Fix your position on a chart or mark it on an electronic plotter.
•    Reduce your speed to the point where you can stop your vessel in half the distance you can actually see.
•    Turn on your navigation lights.
•    Instruct any passengers to help you keep watch – by sight, sound, and smell – preferably in the bow.
•    Begin sounding one prolonged blast on your horn (4–6 seconds) every two minutes while underway and making way and two prolonged blasts every two minutes when underway and stopped.  Continue until the fog lifts and visibility significantly improves.
•    If you decide to anchor your vessel and shut off the engine, the sound signals change.  While you are at anchor you must rapidly ring your bell for 5 seconds at intervals of not more than 1 minute.  This lets other vessels know where you are and what your status is.


The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons®, or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit

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