Boating In Fog

I dunno what your lake is like, but here in the East, we tend to get lots of fog. Thick fog, the fog they call pea soup. In fact, it sometimes has peas in it…well not really but it is thick.

That can make boating a challenge, especially on a lake that is some 10 or 12 miles long, full of coves and rocks and almost a mile wide in one place. It is a recipe for disaster if not pea soup.

The thing is, sometimes operating a small boat in the fog is unavoidable. You might have set off in the morning for a trip up the lake only to have the weather turn and fog to blow in before noon. Before long you find yourself boating in fog.

Or if you fish, I’m always up early in the morning in June and July and heading out fishing, a lot of time in the fog. It can be tricky finding your fishing spot in conditions where you cannot see far beyond the bow of your boat.

Especially nowadays with lots of yahoos tearing around in big powerboats and jet skis oblivious to the fog or anyone in it. I was almost run over this year coming back across the lake when a big speedboat appeared out of nowhere and almost ran me and my little aluminum boat over.

So how do you operate in foggy weather? Well, for one thing, you need a few things in your boat at all times. First of all, running lights are good, even if they are only the battery power type. Secondly, a good whistle or even better, one of these Rechargeable Boat Air Horns

Air Horns make a great signaling device. Remember three of anything is recognized as a universal signal for help. SOS is signified by three long blasts, three short and three long…then stop for a few minutes and repeat.

You should have a compass and know how to use it. It’s no good knowing how to find north on the compass if you don’t know where north is on your lake….and you’d be surprised how many people don’t.

It’s also a good idea, especially if you are heading out in fog, to have a full tank of gas, lots of gas, if you get lost you may drive a long way before you get your bearings. I also think one of those cheap bright orange folding raincoats is a good thing to have in the boat. Put it on and you will be more visible to other boaters, or you can wave it as a signalling flag.

So…assuming you know how to read a compass, and know where North, South, East and West are on your lake, you have some of it beat. You know that if you run your boat towards the north leaving the cottage, you have to run it toward the south to get back.

It’s that simple….but is it? Of course not, most lakes have coves, and twists, and some even have channels that lead into other lakes that may not be laid out the same.

It’s a rule of thumb that most lakes in my area run approximately north and south. Not all, but most generally run that way because of the ice age I guess. Knowing that is always helpful.

But what is really helpful is a map or chart of the lake, which shows the compass headings and directions. If you have a good chart, and a compass you can get yourself most places even in the fog. These days a hand-held GPS is invaluable. One of these in the boat can really assist you in your navigation.

Boating In Fog

If you wear glasses to see, wearing a pair of flip up bright amber/yellow sunglasses helps because as they become covered in moisture you can flip them up or off and see for a little while with clear eye-glasses. This trick gets me across my lake a many times. I start out with the Clip-On Flip-Up Sunglassesand when they get covered with mist, I flip them up and presto, I can see again usually long enough to get to the other side. I like the amber colored sun glasses, commonly used on shooting or driving glasses. In this case, the lighter the shade the better.

2)Pay close attention to the wind and wave action on the water. For example, when I leave my cottage to head across the lake fishing, I watch the wind. If it is blowing to toward the right side of my boat, I know that I can stay fairly straight if I keep the waves always hitting the right side of my boat. To come back, I make sure the waves are always hitting the opposite side. Be careful of this one though, because the wind can change, so always check it when you have your bearings.

3)Learn the outline of the shoreline. It’s amazing how different things look in the fog, but knowing the outline of the tops of the trees, or landmarks, and even the shape of cottages etc. It will come in handy when you are lost. If you get somewhere that the shoreline is visible, it’s helpful if you can tell where you are by the trees and rocks etc.

4)Carry a good Waterproof Flashlight all the time, even on sunny days. Period.

5) Cell phones or two way radios are always nice, but not a necessity, and not much good for finding your way, except to call someone and tell them you are lost. Half the time my cell won’t work at the cottage. A two way radio is nice, provided you have someone on shore who is listening should you call.

6)Carry a map or chart of the lake that shows the distances, coves, inlets, shoals etc and a Compass…most importantly a compass you know how to use. If you don’t get someone to show you and then practice practice practice….when it isn’t foggy. I like a compass that permanently mounts to the boat, that makes it hard to forget to take it with you.

7) Maintain a slow but steady speed so the wind doesn’t blow you off course but you aren’t overdriving your limited vision. Wear a watch. Nowadays you can get a watch with a compass built in, like this Timex Men’s Expedition You should try to maintain your speed as much as possible, if you vary your speed your timing will be off, and you won’t know when you should be somewhere. For example, I know that with my 15 hp Evinrude outboard, it usually takes me about 7 minutes to cross the lake, give or take…if I am still not seeing the other shore after 10 minutes, I know that I am probably going up the lake instead of across it.

If you go too slow it is very difficult to maintain a straight course, you will eventually veer off unless you are paying a lot of attention to your compass.

8) Turn your Battery Operated Light
or other navigation lights on, even in the daytime if it is foggy, they will help you to show up to other boaters.

9) Maintain a steady, constant vigil for rocks, shoreline or other boaters, especially canoes and rowboats which may not be able to get out of your way.

10)Finally, no matter what…do not panic. You have to remain cool even if you decide you are lost. Remember if you are on a lake, you will eventually come to shore. If you can keep your boat going relatively straight you will eventually come to a shoreline where, if nothing else you can pull up and wait out the fog. Unless you are on the Great Lakes…that might be a different story.

Of course I am a little late getting around to posting this, seeing how your boat is probably in storage and you are looking at your snowmobile instead, but memorize this and be ready for next year on the lake, in the fog….

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