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Don't Get Lost in the Fog

Boating in fog can be a dicey undertaking - NOAA has tips to help you safely navigate cloudy condensation.

Chances are when you are on the water you will occasionally encounter fog, making navigation a challenge. Fog can form quickly and catch boaters off guard. Visibility can be reduced to a few feet, which can disorient even the most experienced boaters. 

While you can take several steps to safely boat in sudden fog, preparing your vessel and passengers in advance is the best way to navigate compromised visibility.

In this episode, captains Bob May and Doug Beck join Deborah Wolfe to discuss ways you can stay weather aware before you get on the water and while you are afloat.

Know the international standards for describing reduced visibility in marine forecasts:

  • Very Poor: Less than 0.5 nautical miles

  • Poor: 0.5 to less than 2 nautical miles

  • Moderate: 2 to 5 nautical miles

  • Good: Greater than 5 nautical miles

Stay Alert for Advisories

The National Weather Service issues Dense Fog Advisories when fog over water reduces visibility to one mile or less. When this happens, visibilities frequently drop as low as one-quarter of a mile or less.

Freezing Fog Advisory is issued by your local National Weather Service office when fog develops and surface temperatures are at or below freezing. The tiny liquid droplets in the fog can freeze instantly to any surface, including vehicles and road surfaces. Freezing fog makes driving, boating, flying and other forms of transportation particularly hazardous.

Foggy Navigation Tips

Avoiding fog and learning to navigate through it, is critical to safe boating. Follow these tips from NOAA to safely navigate in foggy conditions:

  • Slow down to avoid collisions.

  • Turn on all of your running lights, even in daytime.

  • Listen for sounds of other boats that may be near you or for fog horns and bells from nearby buoys.

  • VHF NOAA Weather Radio should broadcast important information concerning the formation, movement or dissipation of the fog. Pay close attention.

  • If your vessel has radar, use it to help locate dangers that may be around you.

  • Use GPS or a navigation chart to help obtain a fix on your location.

  • If you are unable to get your bearings, stay put until the fog lifts but make sure you are in a safe location.

  • Be familiar with horn and bell sounds you should produce to warn others around you when in dense fog.

  • Have a compass available. Even if you don't know where you are in the fog, with a compass you can determine the direction you are navigating.

  • Stay out of shipping lanes. Large ships cannot see you!

Tech Tools for Foggy Travel

Even if there is no fog in the forecast, stocking your boat with the following items will ensure you are prepared for low visibility conditions:

Map and compass: A boat with built-in GPS navigation is very useful, but don't rely on technology alone. Keep an old-school paper map and a compass on board so you can guide yourself back on course if you get lost during unexpected fog — especially if you’re boating in unfamiliar waters.

Flares and a flashlight: Both flares and a heavy-duty flashlight can help you signal your location to other oncoming vessels in dense fog.

Marine radar: A marine radar can help you avoid a collision, but remember, they may not detect every vessel, including small boats or kayaks. For additional protection, use a marine radar and a depth reader to watch for other route obstructions.

Marine radio: You can use your radio to listen to weather and fog alerts, communicate with your destination point or make noise while alerting other vessels of your location.

High-visibility life vests: Every boat should be stocked with enough lifejackets for every member on board. Look for vests that offer additional protection, such as lights or reflective strips, to promote visibility if someone falls into the water during heavy fog. Keep all life vests stored in a safe, easily accessible place when not in use.

Sound signaling device: Sound signaling devices are one of the most important tools to have on board, especially during periods of heavy fog and reduced visibility. The three main types of sound signaling devices are air horns, whistles, and ship bells. Air horns are ideal for portability and emitting loud, easily recognizable sounds. Always have more than one air horn on board, just in case the fog lasts longer than anticipated, and you need to continue signaling your location for other boaters. Whistles are great for wearing around your neck and can be very useful for finding someone in a man overboard situation. Finally, larger vessels often have a built-in ship bell that can be used to signal your location, as well as communicate with other vessels on the water.


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