In the Clear About Fog

Posted: November 1, 2013  |  Tag: Navigation and Seamanship

By: John Temple

My wife and I have a fear of navigating in fog. We always travel with other boats when it is foggy. However, there are times we just want to cruise on our own. How can we get over the fog fear?
My wife and I have a 39-foot Carver. We have been to Alaska and back and have traveled on our boat since it was new in 1995, including many years going north of Queen Charlotte Sound into northern B.C. We avoid fog when we can by waiting for it to lift. But, we have headed out into it when it was calm and we wanted to get somewhere, because we knew that eventually it would lift. Fear? Perhaps a little on Candy’s part. Me, I was extra careful.

First, go on a short run in fog to test things, perhaps using some ideas here. The most important equipment to have is radar — boats cruising in the Northwest need radar. Always use radar when you’re running in clear weather, so you get used to looking at it and spotting other boats. We use radar when going by freighters or ferries. It actually works better than the naked eye. (AIS can be very helpful, as it can display ships on your chartplotter). On your VHF, there are channels that broadcast large vessels’ travel paths. You can hail them and tell them your heading and speed, and they will tell you what heading and speed to take to avoid traffic. They will hail you back to let you know of any risks.

I must admit that I am not very good at steering to a compass in fog. I use the chartplotter and put the steering on auto helm to let the boat steer itself. I then concentrate on our position indicated on both the chartplotter and the radar, making sure everything matches up. And we always have paper charts out and always know where we are on them.

Go slow, and stay out of the shipping lanes where possible, but understand that tugs with tows often run just outside the shipping lanes. Here’s another chance to practice reading your radar on a clear day: Notice how a visual of a tug and tow compares to what you see on radar. Don’t be shy about calling a tug or ship on your radio. They usually answer Channel 10 or sometimes 16 and will be happy to advise you on a course.

If you get a “scare” from a really fast moving blip, listen closely — you’ll hear the seaplane fly close overhead.

A narrow channel may be your greatest concern. Navigating through one using radar is the easiest, because it is easy to keep in the center. Get know how to use the different ranges and tuning, so you can always see land and other ships and boats within a reasonable distance. If all else fails and you are dead reckoning without radar, have someone on the bow, and use your horn signals while listening to other boats’ signals.

Finally, if you get caught out in fog, you can look for a marina or other place to anchor to get out of it all.

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