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Old 12-02-2015, 09:27 AM   #1
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Running at night

We just finished crossing the Gulf of Mexico Big Bend from Carrabelle to Clearwater. The trip was 188 miles and about 20 hours. We left Carrabelle at 1500. This is only our second time running at night. The other was a sunset to sunrise run for 8 hours down the Chesapeake. My gut is really questioning the safety of running in pitch dark conditions. After the sunset, and we were 40 miles off shore you could not see anything in front of the boat. The moon was up by 2300 but it didn't help much in front of the boat. It just feels dicey being in a Tupperware boat cruising at 9 mph and not having the ability to see potential objects in the water.
Am I over thinking this?
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Old 12-02-2015, 09:39 AM   #2
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Got RADAR?
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Old 12-02-2015, 09:42 AM   #3
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Thousands of loopers ask that question every year lol. I will be asking myself when we cross next week. The options are very limited. I think as long as you and your boat are prepared, it's an acceptable risk.


Where you headed?
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Old 12-02-2015, 09:43 AM   #4
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Running at night

I did the run from Clearwater to Panama City last year in July. It was about 30 hours. Left around 9am and arrived early afternoon.

I had a buddy go with me. Neither of us had much open water experience (and no overnight experience) so I was pretty nervous. We worked with Chris Parker and I was trying to get a window without waves on my beam, but that didn't work out very well. We dodged thunderstorms the first 8-10 hours then had 3-4' waves on the beam until about 3am. It wasn't terrible but you really had to hold on when walking around the boat.

The waves calmed down after 3am and it was nice the rest of the way. I was going to go in at Apalachacola but it got so flat we just kept going to Panama City.

During the night we used radar and AIS and a hand held spotlight. The only boat we saw was a big shrimper out on the radar, and then we passed by it fairly close (probably too close). It didn't have AIS-- we tried to call the shrimper but they didn't answer.

Turned out to be a great experience even though it was rougher than I wanted. Flying fish all over the place at night. One even jumped in the boat.
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Old 12-02-2015, 09:59 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alormaria View Post
Got RADAR?
Yes, but it wont see that log, dead head, etc.
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Old 12-02-2015, 10:15 AM   #6
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Traveling down to the Eastern Caribbean and traveling between islands requires (for a trawler) a number of night passages. There are risks. We reduce the risks by being very attentive and working at keeping our night vision. Bay Pelican is outfitted for red light running, including the saloon, head and pilot house. Even the engine room. This just increases our chance of seeing something in the water when it is directly ahead of us. The radar is always on, as is the AIS.

Our passages (including the big bend twice) have all been in open water. Don't know if I would be happy even thinking of running the ICW at night.
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Old 12-02-2015, 10:26 AM   #7
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........... Am I over thinking this?
You are not overthinking this. Operating a boat when you can't see what is in front of you has its risks. It's up to you to weigh the risks.

I seldom run at night but when I do, I don't run any faster than I can stop without hitting something I can see in front of the boat. That's usually pretty slow, maybe four knots. And I'll have my wife on the flybridge with me as a spotter.

I don't think I would chance it running from inside. Visibility is just not that good from inside.
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Old 12-02-2015, 12:56 PM   #8
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I often run at night in both the ICW and near coastal Atlantic. I run on radar and go no more than 7.5kts. It is pretty rare to see an obstacle in daylight that could both cause damage and be invisible on radar, so I consider it an acceptable risk. But a risk it is, indeed. Most semi submerged obstacles show white water that is pretty noticeable unless there is total darkness. Moon very helpful there.
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Old 12-02-2015, 12:59 PM   #9
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We all assess the risks (or maybe not) and then do what we do.


I have done about a dozen overnights on the open water in small boats. I always have radar on. AIS may be a help, but 99% of the fishing boats out there, recreational or commercial, don't have AIS transponders, so all it is good for is to avoid big freighters. And if you can't avoid one with radar, you don't belong on the water.


I am especially vigilant when passing major inlets that can have significant fishing or commercial traffic in and out. That is the biggest risk area, particularly just after dusk or before dawn.


There is some minimal probability of hitting a submerged object- a submerged shipping container is probably the most dangerous. You probably aren't going to see one before you hit it anyway.


And FWIW I once did about ten miles on the ICW one night. The marines kicked me out of Mile Hammock bay late one afternoon and I got stopped for a military exercise near Camp Lejune so it was dark 30 by the time I could continue on to Swansboro. But I cranked the resolution up on the chart plotter and with radar to tell me about moving objects as well as the GPS chart display, I felt comfortable doing it. But if one of those DEA dark boats came at me head on, I would have shit myself. Why is it our government is always the biggest risk ;-).


But all was good. I anchored in Swansboro with the aid of radar to place myself in pitch black conditions.


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Old 12-02-2015, 01:53 PM   #10
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When we started cruising, we were very adverse to night. Meanwhile we heard others talk about it being their favorite time to run. Well, the reality is that there are times and places we've found it makes sense. Definitely radar and we highly recommend FLIR night vision plus strong remote controlled spotlights. I just checked and was amazed that we're run 12 nights in 2015, not counting anniversary celebration night under the stars and moon.

We never enter ports that we aren't intimately familiar with at night, meaning basically none other than Port Everglades. We don't leave a port at night unless it's an easy shot out into the open water.

Our night runs for the year:

Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas - 2 nights
La Paz to Mazatlan - 1
Puerto Vallarta to Acapulco - 1
Golfito to Panama City - 1
Isla Bastimentos to Grand Cayman - 1
Grand Cayman to Jamaica - 1
Jamaica to Isla Bastimentos - 1
Isla Bastimentos to Belize City - 2
Georgetown to Fort Lauderdale - 1
Clearwater to Tortugas - 1

Of those 10 were pretty much requirements and 2 were completely optional.

So, I'd guess without further looking that in the last three years we've run perhaps 2 dozen nights. It can be beautiful out and with the right equipment and watch can be safe. I think you really have to get use to running on radar and recommend doing a lot of that during the day where you run on radar with someone else keeping watch in case you do make a mistake. For me, that's the most difficult part, learning to trust the equipment.

As to those things Radar won't pick up and you're not likely to see in time using FLIR, yes, they're there. But crossing a direct route from Carabelle to Clearwater at night to me has fewer potential issues that taking a coastal route between the two during the day.

We don't run the ICW at night as we've just never had a compelling reason to do so. However, I think Ski's comments are right on target for doing so. Keep it slow enough and also keep watch. Make sure at all times you're very much aware of the shores, the channels, the markers. If you have a moment of uncertaintly, stop and get your bearings.

With experience, we've changed our views on running at night. Still we try to run as much in the day as possible. Last year it was on the high side for us and still our night running was less than 5% of our days of boating.
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Old 12-02-2015, 02:53 PM   #11
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Running at night

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I have done about a dozen overnights on the open water in small boats. I always have radar on. AIS may be a help, but 99% of the fishing boats out there, recreational or commercial, don't have AIS transponders, so all it is good for is to avoid big freighters.

I agree that AIS was pretty worthless on my Gulf crossing. None of the the shrimpers or other small boats we encountered during the day had AIS, and the one really big shrimper we saw at night didn't have AIS either.

Where AIS was very helpful was on the ICW from LA to Texas. The huge amount of barge traffic would have been much harder to negotiate without AIS IMO. It's been my experience that when you hail the tows by name they answer quickly-- when they see you have AIS they almost expect to hear from you. I have had much less success getting them to answer when I don't know hail them by name. I've never had a big ship answer me even when I call them by name however. I'm probably doing it wrong or maybe they didn't speak English.
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Old 12-02-2015, 03:04 PM   #12
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We ran two nights, no moon up the west coast from SF to the Columbia River stopping only for fuel. Yes it is a little scary, but with radar and AIS you should be ok. Having a lookout is advisable. As stated we slowed down at night for safety.
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Old 12-02-2015, 03:37 PM   #13
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We just finished crossing the Gulf of Mexico Big Bend from Carrabelle to Clearwater.

Geez, didn't you just head north from Solomons on the loop a short time ago?

We used to run at night quite a lot, although I wouldn't call those "passages" of any sort... not even long cruises, I guess...

Very pleasant, but that was in very familiar areas. Even then, it's not without hazard; an unlit sailboat crossed our bow about about 30 ft ahead once (didn't have radar on that boat)... that got our adrenalin going.

Which brings me to radar: a good thing. Not all-knowing, so worthy of allowances... but in general, a seriously useful tool in poor visibility (night, fog, etc.).

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Old 12-03-2015, 01:30 AM   #14
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I'll second the use of FLIR technology for overnight passages. It is almost like seeing during daylight. I can see seagulls flying, waves, anything in the water ahead. It is a game changer and if you travel at night, you should look into FLIR. It will make night transits much easier and less stressful.
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Old 12-03-2015, 05:15 AM   #15
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I still remember the first night-time run I made into the open ocean, passing Cape Flattery and almost hitting an incoming submarine. We had radar on but my not-so-sharp cousin on watch was slow to grab me from below.

Anyway, personally I love running at night. Peaceful and especially with a full moon and clear skies.

Here in the Middle East with my little boat we cruise most of the time at night. It is cooler (although more humid) and security forces harass us less. This is in familiar waters.

However, when entering unfamiliar harbors and rivers at night previously, I would reduce to slow ahead and run at maybe 3 or 4 knots.

Anyway, my comment to Fryedaze is that running at night can be a great joy especially in the right conditions and low traffic area.

A FLIR scope sounds like a great idea. I've seen the small monocles for sale at WalMart for a couple hundred dollars or so.
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Old 12-03-2015, 11:53 AM   #16
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As to those things Radar won't pick up and you're not likely to see in time using FLIR, yes, they're there.
Most of my voyages are multi-day running 24/7, in the eastern Pacific, usually at least 30nm offshore. We are very comfortable that our risk of collision is no greater at night than during the day, in part because there is less traffic (and what traffic there is usually has class A AIS, as do we), in part because other vessels are easier to see (if they have their lights on, not always the case in foreign waters), and in part because we use FLIR at night. We spot lots of stuff (usually kelp paddies, but sometimes seals and resting birds) more easily, and from a greater distance, with FLIR than without it. Even a partially submerged shipping container (which I have never seen day or night) should be easy to spot with FLIR because it will likely have a good temperature differential, just as other floating stuff does.
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Old 12-03-2015, 06:29 PM   #17
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Thanks folks, I am enjoying the perspective of all.


FLIR would integrate nicely into our Raymarine systems. The 5 boat bucks price tag is in the high range for boat toys.
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Old 12-03-2015, 09:26 PM   #18
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I have made that crossing 5 times at night, usually leaving mid afternoon and arriving the other side mid morning. Once it gets dark I usually slow to about 7 statute miles per hour even then looking over the side it seems mighty fast, but, so far no problems. We usually stage at Apalachicola or Tarpon Springs, or other spot we enjoy so a wait for good weather is no problem. I can see the FLIR would be very nice.
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Old 12-03-2015, 10:42 PM   #19
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As a recently retired professional mariner I'd like to voice my thoughts on night running with pleasure craft. Coming from the world of heavily built steel hulls to fiberglass I'm very cognizant of the relative frailty of fiberglass. My first thought is that as a pleasure boater I don't “need” to go. I can wait for favorable conditions. I've done a few deliveries of FG boats and avoid night running as much as possible. If the customer is not willing to pay the extra days for daylight running I'm not willing to take the delivery.

Hard semi submerged objects are a real risk. Not just to the hull but your running gear as well. Less hard gear is also a risk. In the near shore PNW waters we have to deal with crab pots. In strong tidal currents they can “disappear” under the surface, but still close enough to the surface to wrap the line around your prop. In daylight there are good clues the pot buoys are there. At night you don't stand a chance of seeing them.

On inland waters on warm nights any number of drunken idiots are out in unlit boats. I once came far to close to running over a canoe. Dark night, dark hull, dark clothes, no lights.

That said, I have to agree with some of the posters. Running at night can be peaceful and beautiful. I've been fortunate enough to have made some trips through the Gulf Islands / San Juan Islands on crystal clear winter nights with a full moon. Fresh snow on the mountains. Breath taking.

I've run in strong bioluminescence with the fish swimming near the surface and making bright streaks as they dart away.

I've also made too many night runs that contributed to my premature aging.

Like all aspects of running boats be prepared. Make sure you have the requisite skills. And as a pleasure boater wait for the right conditions, especially for your first handful of night cruises.

If you choose to accept the risks of hull and running gear damager here are some of the things I think should be considered.

Make sure you running lights are on and bright.

Know your electronics and how to best use them. Radar, chart plotter and AIS. All are important, none alone tell you the whole truth. I can't speak to FLIR having no experience. I can speculate that your view while good is limited. Practice in daylight.

Protect your night vision. No lights near the helm. Dim your screens as much as possible. I used to purchase red plexiglass and tape it over the screens. Do realize that any red objects displayed on the screen disappear. Little bits of black tape over the numerous LED indicators. Screens that do not need to be seen at all times for example VHF displays can be covered with heavy paper and tape. You can peel it off instantly if needed.

Realize and understand that in a very short time you can be in zero visibilty as conditions change. What would be annoying in daylight can leave you with zero visibility at night. If you run at night in cold climates avoid potential snow fall. Heavy snow is the worst possible condition. Even radar has a hard time penetrating heavy snow.

Situational awareness is important any time you are underway. It is especially important at night. Have a mental picture of what is around you. Land, buoys, traffic. We all, professionals and recreational boaters alike are guilty of putting too much faith in the electronics, navigating in the moment. Just keeping the monkey on the string. Instead be old skool. Think ahead to what is coming and where you will be in a few minutes, the next hour, later that night. Night running can be disorienting and confusing. Thinking ahead of the boat reduces that.

If you are in an area frequented by sports fishers understand they like to get going well before daylight and run full throttle in straight lines to their favorite grounds. As far as I can tell they are blind.

Working boats are, well, they're working. Often with bright deck lights on that limit their night vision.

If possible don't stand a night watch alone. An extra set of eyes. A voice in the darkness when you get drowsy.

Be aware of 3:30. It is not, except for partying teenagers, a natural time for humans to be awake. It is neither late nor early. It is just wrong. Your brain will be slow and mushy, your vision not at it's peak. To help deal with that get some good rest, preferably some solid sleep before a night run. Studies of transportation accidents show that the middle of the night is the highest risk.

Embrace the darkness. Look for every sign you might see. Are you near shore? Don't stare at the lights but notice them. Is there a dark patch that seems out of place? You might be staring at the side of a barge or freighter too close to see the running lights. Please don't ask me how I learned that one.... Are you on inland or urban waters? Watch the reflections. Is part of a reflection pattern 'missing'? It might be that unlit canoe. Where is the moon? Is it low and behind you? Then your vision is outstanding, almost as good as daylight. However the vessel coming at you may not be able to see you. Know that your best night vision is not straight ahead. It's a bit off to the side of center. Keep your head on a swivel. Are you feeling drowsy? Stand up, steer by hand, talk to your watch mate.

Neve forget to look behind you. Ever.

Learn to read other vessel's running lights. They tell you a lot once you get the hang of it.

Changing course to avoid a 'big boy'? Show him your bow. Turn enough and hold that course long enough to make your intentions clear. Still not sure he saw you? Turn 90 degrees to his course, preferably to starboard unless that is the long way across his bow. Turn on all of your deck lights, anchor light, search light. Is he still bearing down on you? Shine your search light in his windows, then straight ahead of your bow. Repeat it. You're saying “Wake UP!!!!” and “I'm headed 'that way' “

Night running brings extra challenges, builds skills and can be enjoyable. Break yourself in easy under good conditions on short runs. Make it enjoyable and rewarding.

Thank you for indulging me and letting me ramble on.
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Old 12-04-2015, 12:28 AM   #20
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Portage Bay

Some excellent comments. Our night runs are all well off the coast. Far enough to avoid crab pots and not inland. They are really where the distances just don't leave good alternatives. Always at least two at the helm and on watch. Only briefly will there be one when the other goes to check on the ER or to the restroom.

Actually the area the OP was talking about if you run near coast you have a lot of potential pots, but when you cut straight across as you do in a night run, you eliminate most of that.

And we yield right of way to anyone and everyone who needs it or thinks they do, although the areas we've run at night have rarely had many other boats. When you try to contact another boat and get no response, then you already know they're not fully paying attention to what they're doing, at the very least not to the radio. Until we get a response either on the radio or through a very clear action, we assume the other boat will do the worst possible thing. We've found large commercial vessels almost always to be responsive.

As to steel hulls vs fiberglass, I wouldn't go so far as the frailty word. I'd certain agree steel is stronger but there are a lot of cases where steel boats have suffered the same consequences and sometimes where glass boats surprise you.

We found the fishermen in the PNW incredible to talk to and deal with, but do agree with your comments on them heading out early. I think specifically of Greys Harbor. In peak season that's not an inlet one wants to be passing or entering. It's almost like the start of a bass tournament in the South.

As to Flir's view being limited, you're correct. Today's equipment is better than it once was and the more expensive equipment has better range than the less expensive. However, much like radar in torrential downpours, you don't want to outrun what you can comfortably see. For instance if you have a system that can see a human in the water 600 yards ahead, then you should allow enough time that you can react in that 600 yard range. 10 knots gives you 2 minutes. If the range in which you're comfortable with what you can see is greater then you can safely go a bit faster.

We never run at night just to be doing it. Just sometimes no way. Can't get between Panama, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica without night runs.
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