Have you ever heard the saying that whatever you do on Jan 1st, you will do in abundance for the whole year? I have and I like it. This past New Year’s Day, I decided that I wanted to be on the water. As I arrived at the lake, I could see a dense fog over the water. In certain areas, the visibility was less than a few hundred feet, so I couldn’t see anything at all. I could hear what sounded like boats moving on the water. Based on the pitch, I could tell they were running at pretty high speeds, and I realized there were a lot of boaters that were not deterred by the fog. I started wondering how many people take precautions while boating under foggy conditions.
This time of year, fog can be quite common on Lake Lanier. Sometimes, you may leave the dock or boat ramp in clear conditions and fog sets in unexpectedly while you are out on the water. I will identify some of the measures you can take if you are on the water while fog has set in:
Slow Down – The denser the fog the shorter the distance is that you will be able to see obstacles in your way. If you are moving at 30 mph in a dense fog, you have only a couple of seconds to react to a buoy or other object in the water in front of you. If that other object is a boat moving toward you at around the same speed, then you will have even less time to react because higher speeds decrease the required reaction time.
Use Your Chart Plotter (GPS) – If your vessel is equipped with a chart plotter, use it! If you do not know how to use it, learn how. A chart plotter lets you know where you are and where you are headed. Plotters are the perfect tools to prevent you from getting lost.
Use Your Radar – If your vessel is equipped with radar, use it! If you do not know how to use it, learn how. (Notice a pattern here?) A chart plotter can tell you where fixed obstacles such as islands and shallow water are, but it does not tell you where moving boats are. Radar can do that.
Use Your Depth Finder – It is always prudent to know how much water is below your keel. You do not want to run aground because you strayed into shallow water. Additionally, you could use the depth info from your charts along with the readout of your depth gauge to confirm your position.
Use Navigation Lights – Even if it is daytime, turn on your navigation lights. They may not be as visible as they are at night, but they can make just enough of a difference to avoid a collision. Also, keep a good strong flashlight aboard as it can be used to create some visibility in the fog if there is a vessel in your vicinity.
Make Some Noise – If you are navigating in a dense fog, periodic audible fog signals are recommended. These audible signals should be done at 1-to-2-minute intervals and should last for 5 seconds. The signal can be done with your vessel’s horn or bell. Keep in mind that you should be listening out for similar signals from other vessels. Also note that if you are running at a high speed, it will be quite difficult to hear signals from another vessel.
Keep Your Head on a Swivel – With all these precautions, you still should constantly look in all directions for vessel activity or signs of danger. Since you have much less time to react, the earlier you spot a potential danger increases the likelihood of avoiding any accidents.
Happy New Year and have a safe boating year.