How to sail safely at night

Spring has officially spring in Australia, which means lazy afternoons drifting into balmy evenings casting a line, or just kicking back and enjoying the night air.

Night is one of the most magical times to experience the water, so long as you are prepared. But don’t worry, if you’re already adept at sailing or boating during the day, night won’t be too much of an adjustment.

Here are our top 5 tips to help you on your way!

  1. ‘Just in case’ gear

Night gear is essential, even if you’re not planning to be on the water after dark. This is purely a safety precaution, which will help keep you and your crew safe if you do happen find yourself on the water longer than you planned.

Every boat should have an emergency flashlight stored somewhere on board. Plus a bag of glow sticks, which can be cracked and placed on a lanyard. If someone does accidentally fall overboard, you will then be able to easily see them.

Night vision equipment is also something to consider. It may sound high-tech, but infrared night vision scopes go for between $460 and $1,000 AUD. Check out some options here.

  1. Lower ambient light

Bright lights at night lower your ability to see beyond the distance of the bow. Eyes are automatically geared to adjust to the light that is available, so if bright lights are in your face, you’ll adjust to them more.

This ‘mesopic’ vision means neither your rods or your cones are working to efficient levels. In other words, your night vision is being killed. Conclusion? Dim every light you can – from courtesy lights to the chart plotter.

  1. Have a look out

Designate someone who isn’t driving to stare at the horizon. That’s it. Just stare. During the day, your Captain can afford to look down to monitor gauges or check out the chart plotter while holding the fort.

At night, it’s a different story. Having eyes on the horizon at all times will significantly minimise any possible collision, and allows the Captain to stay focused on all of his or her tasks. It’s a seemingly easy role, with big implications for your safety.

  1. Slow your boat

It may sound obvious, but slowing down makes an enormous difference to your safety. For one thing, it’s much harder to see at night (see point 3!), so your reaction time is likely to be slower. Going slower accommodates for this lag in response time.

This is even more important when you’re in congested waters, as you never can tell what other boaters on the water are up to. Yes, we’ve all seen that person smashing through the water at high speeds. Don’t be that guy! Better yet, avoid that guy altogether by keeping your boat slow.

  1. Use a compass

If you can, use a compass to determine which direction you should be traveling. This comes back to night vision, which we mentioned earlier. Even at low levels a chart plotter’s light will impact your night vision, and make it harder to see.

This is why a compass will make it safer for you to stay on course at night. If you’re not confident using just a compass, it’s perfectly okay to use your chart plotter. Just make sure there’s a look out backing you up.

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