Boating at night is an entirely different experience compared to boating during the day. Without question, you need to remain vigilant at the helm because of your reduced ability to see. As a captain, I traveled for days on end at sea through the day and night nonstop. To maximize safety, it is imperative to prepare the vessel in advance, even if you’re your going out for a recreational cruise. Here is how to prepare you vessel if you plan to boat after the sun has set. 

The Importance Of Preparing A Boat Before Heading Out At Night

Without question as a boat owner it is better to be over prepared compared to under prepared. During the night the last thing you want to do is scramble as a result of being unprepared. 

After the sun has set, your primary focus should be on keeping the vessel on course and ensuring that you and your passengers remain safe. 

Unfortunately, distractions are a primary cause of boating accidents. Furthermore, if you’re not prepared, you’re less likely to leave something back at the dock or run into a mechanical issue. 

Tips For Preparing A Vessel When Boating At Night

Again, I have gone boating after sunset countless times as a captain and on my personally owned vessels. Here are tips to help you prepare in advance for a cruise or fishing trip after darkness has set in. 

Test Your Lights

The last thing you want is to depart the dock only to realize that your navigation or anchor lights are not functioning. 

With that being said, I suggest turning on the navigation and anchor light before pulling away from the ramp or marina. In the event that your boat has a faulty light, it can be swapped dockside instead of underway. The lights are imperative for safe navigation to reduce the risk of collisions. 

Secure Lightweight Objects

No matter if it is day or night, objects are prone to flying out of vessels either as a result of speed or high winds. 

Remember, you’ll be dealing with minimal light therefore if an object goes overboard you’re unlikely to find it after sunset. 

For this reason, you should secure all lightweight items including empty coolers, hats, bags, and more. You’ll likely be coming out of pocket for a replacement because they probably won’t be found. 

Adjust Your Marine Electronics

I can tell you firsthand that your eyes should remain adjusted to the darkness to maximize visibility. As captains, we dimmed our electronics and used only red overhead lighting when reading navigation charts. 

Always dim down the electronics before leaving the dock so that you’re not gazing at a glaringly bright screen. A bright screen will not allow your eyes to adjust when panning out in front of the bow and back down to the screen. Essentially you will be blinding yourself while driving. 

Have A Flashlight On Hand

There is no question that a high-powered flashlight is a necessity when boating at night. The flashlight comes in handy in a multitude of situations. 

Importantly, the light should only be turned on when necessary in order to keep your eyes tuned into the darkness. 

However, if a person falls overboard, the flashlight is critical for rescue. An additional passenger should continue to shine the light on the victim until the operator can return to their location. 

Furthermore, a flashlight is important when making unexpected repairs. Yes, boats do encounter mechanical issues, so you’re going to want the light in order to see what you are doing. 

Test Your Onboard Equipment

As mentioned above, boats break, and one of the more unfortunate times that this can occur is after sunset. 

One of the best preventative measures is first to perform routine maintenance and then test equipment before departing. 

I suggest turning on the engine or engines to ensure that they start smoothly. Also, turn on all electronics, including the VHF radio, chart plotter, depth finder, and radar, if your boat is equipped with one. 

Lastly, ensure that your anchor and windless are free of issues that would cause them to fail when anchoring. 

Arrive Early And Prepare In Advance

I suggest arriving to the boat atleast 30 minutes prior to when you’re planning on departing the dock. Ensure that you are ready to go to minimize risk. Running through these steps will take only a minimal amount of time. Lastly, when you’re out on the water avoid excessive speeds. High speeds with limited visibility is never a good combination.