By Dean Travis Clarke
If driving your boat during the day is as easy as Little League, consider navigating at night as tough as hitting against Roger Clemens.
It isn't easy, but what an exhilarating challenge — if you know what to watch.
Honestly, do you even know if your nav lights work? When cruising in daylight you rarely, if ever, turn them on. Your bow lights especially take a lot of abuse, and they're likely to be the first ones to malfunction. Carefully check bow, stern and all-around lights before a nighttime cruise.
You need to be able to see the lights of other boats and not allow red/green color blindness to cause confusion about their course. If you see a red light off your starboard bow and it seems to stay in one position rather than pass in front of you, chances are very good that you're headed for a collision. In an anchorage, a vessel is required to display only a single white anchor light. I've seen some with a flashlight tied to an oar. Be very careful around anchorage areas.
Then there are fixed navigation aids in and around the waterway. Travel down Long Island Sound at night or along Lake Michigan near Chicago. You'll see thousands of lights. You'll need to pick one to mark your course or destination. I was navigating in a sailboat race one night from the belowdecks navigator's station. I kept asking the helmsman if he could see the turn mark — until he hit the buoy, claiming he couldn't pick it out against the background of so many lights on shore. Learn more about navigation aids at navcen.uscg.gov.
Would you rather run over a log at 35 mph or at 10 mph? Adjust your speed to match the visibility. If you can make out a lobster buoy at 50 yards, make sure you can stop your boat in less than that distance — far less.
A young friend of mine took his girlfriend out on the lake one night. Let's just say he was multi-tasking and failed to notice an anchored boat until he hit it. If you captain a boat at night, concentrate on a safe route for you and your guests. You'll never have a more challenging designated driver job. Also, keep white lighting, which can be distracting, to a minimum. Use red or blue lights at the helm when possible.
Make sure you use the channels, not the shortcuts. Use your chart or chart plotter, not your memory. In fact, use every helpful tool at your disposal (radar, night-vision glasses, depth sounder or following reliable vessels you know are "going your way") to get from point A to point B safely.
Use common sense when running your boat at night. Apply the cause-and-effect rule, "If I do A, then B or C might happen." Also, make sure your guests realize how serious being out on the water at night can really be. Don't let the party animal take over, whether it's you or someone else.
DO YOU NEED A FLASHLIGHT?
If you never cruise at night, you probably don't need a flashlight aboard. If you do cruise nocturnally, a flashlight will help you:
• Find the right slip.
• Get an idea of how far from shore you're anchoring.
• Light up a barely visible boat in the anchorage.
• Set a buoy's reflective strip on fire so you can see it.
• Signal the towboat service when you've run out of gas.
Our advice: Make sure you are equipped with both a portable spotlight,
rechargeable Vectorlite 3 million Candlepower Aluminum
model ($49.99 at
BoatersWorld.com), and a smaller flashlight for chart reading/in-cabin use, such as the Rebel L.E.D. ($29.99 at BoatersWorld.com).
Article reprinted courtesy of Boating Life Magazine
© 2006 World Publications, LLC
Many boaters think the radio check is a must every time they fire up the engines. But is it necessary?
"Not at all," says Don Henry, the Director of Marine Products Group for Shakespeare. In fact, he doesn't think the practice is even a good idea.
"Two things happen on radio check. First, somebody has to drop what they're doing to answer what amounts to an unnecessary communication. But more important, whether you get a reply or not, you don't learn how well your radio works."
In truth, the reply could be coming from a boat 10 yards away — not a good indication of your range. So when we stumbled onto the Shakespeare Antenna/Radio Tester (ART-3) at the 2005 Miami International Boat Show, we rigged one up and checked it out for ourselves.
• We used Shakespeare Centerpin connectors to make a 3-foot jumper cable to hook the tester to the radio. Then we screwed the antenna to the tester.
• Then we checked our transmitting power by switching the tester to "WATTS" mode and keyed the mike on channel 72. The top scale said our wattage output was just 20. "Today's radios are expected to put out between 22 and 26 watts," says Henry. "Under 22 means you have a poor connection in your 12-volt power or the antenna."
• We went back to the drawing board and found a loose connector on the red hot wire.
• Next we checked a gauge called VSWR. By setting it to ... well, the instructions said "SET," and calibrating the needle by the simple instructions, we got a reading of 1 — an A-plus per Henry. If we'd scored a 2 or 3, we'd be checking into our antenna cable connections.
• Finally, we wanted to know how well our setup received. By adjusting the tester to the appropriate setting, still tuned to channel 72 with minimum squelch, we heard the telltale beep over the radio that said we were AOK.
Some boaters install the ART-3 permanently in their line. Each time they depart, they perform their test in mere seconds without having to connect the unit. While that does work, chances are the additional connections will reduce reception and output power.
So after checking it out, would we buy one? For $44.99 at BoatersWorld.com, you bet.
VHF INSTALLATION TIPS
• An optimum installation uses 3 to 6 feet of antenna cable. A shorter cable could cause feedback in transmission. A longer cable weakens the signal.
• Position the antenna as high as feasible for the boat. Altitude affects communication range as much as wattage.
• Minimize connectors in the antenna line — they usually reduce power.
• If you aren't comfortable with a soldering gun, Shakespeare's Centerpin connectors are solderless and nearly foolproof — at least they were for us. Cost: $9.99 at BoatersWorld.com.
Reprinted courtesy of Boating Life Magazine
2006 World Publications, LLC