Whether you’re a hunter or a fisher, chances are you run your boat in the dark at one time or another. This can be an awesome experience—or a very dangerous one. Consider these five tips every time you start up when the sun is down, and make sure your night moves are good ones.
1. Hand out cyalume glow-sticks to everyone onboard, activate them, and attach them to a belt loop with a thick rubber-band. If anyone ends up overboard, they’ll be able to grab it, pull it free, and wave it to signal for help.
2. Don’t cruise with a non-stop spotlight. Sure, you’ll want to use that spot to keep tabs on markers, find jetties, and look around here and there. But the spot’s reflection off the surface of the water ruins your night vision. Unless it’s pitch-black, most of the time you’re better served by cruising with the spotlight turned off, except for when you specifically need it.
3. Go hands-free, with your other lights. Flashlights are obviously important to have around, but don’t get the hand-held variety. You’ll need your hands free for running the boat, tying knots and baiting hooks, or setting decoys, so lights that clips to your hat brim (like Pelican Lights) or headlamps that you wear like a hat (such as those made by Petzel or Survival Systems) are the way to go.
4. Consider night-vision. Yes, I know this sounds like a stretch, but there are some new night-vision monoculars on the market which are actually affordable. FLIR’s lowest cost infra-red night scope, the First Mate MS 24, MSRP’s for under two grand and gives you amazing night-vision abilities. It has 2x magnification, is waterproof and floats, runs on a regular set of AA’s, and it’ll let you see a person 350 yards away in complete darkness. Light collectors (the monoculars with that eerie green look) like those made by Owl and ATN don’t provide imagery or range that matches up to infra-red, but they can be bought for even less—bottom-line units go for just a few hundred dollars.
5. Slow down. Yes, this is basic and you’ve heard it 100 times before. But reducing your rate of speed is the single most effective way to avoid trouble when boating in the dark. Even 20-mph, which seems dog-slow by today’s boating standards, is usually too fast to run at night. What speed is appropriate? That’s a judgment call you’ll have to make according to the conditions each and every time you shove off the dock, but remember: it’s impossible to go too slow, and it’s very easy to go too fast.