Boating at Night? Take a Spotlight! - 01/28/2009

While it’s always sad when a tragic accident occurs, sometimes it tends to make the weekend warriors ask if what happened was really necessary. In the case of this accident, the question becomes -- is boating at night really safe after all?

Boating at Night
The #3 day mark, where the Charleston Harbor meets the intracoastal, was the scene of the accident.

The Accident

It happened the Saturday after Christmas. A 16-foot boat, with four on board, collided with a day mark while operating at night. The operator, 23 year-old Andrew Evans of Summerville, sadly died of head injuries as a result of the collision.

Capt. Steve Says…

Is boating at night really dangerous? Well that depends. The Coast Guard requires boaters to maintain a “safe speed” at all times. But they cleverly stop short of telling us what that safe speed is, and with good reason. Too many factors have to be taken into account when making that determination. Factors such as the capabilities of the boat, competency of its operator, visibility, wind, etc. It all comes into play so we have to determine what is “safe” on a case by case basis.

What about Night?

Some, however, will say that we should flat out not boat at night. If that were the case, then the Coast Guard could save a lot of money on lights for the nav aids. Others, and thankfully this is the majority, feel that boating at night has rewards that far outweigh what should be the minimal risk of boating in the dark. All that’s required is a little extra vigilance... that, and a slower version of “safe speed”.

But, Should We Light ALL Nav Aids?

This question came up after the accident. The answer depends on who you ask. When interviewed by the local press, Cmdr. Dick Howells of the S.C. Sail and Power Squadron had a unique perspective. “The water [is] a weapon, if boaters aren't prepared. When the sun goes down, it gets even worse. Everything looks dark. The [#3] marker was equipped with a reflector, but not a light as some are.”

The squadron commander went on to say, “They are supposed to pick up the reflectors on buoys like this one, but the reflection can be hard to see unless the boat is moving at idle speed…the water would be safer if more markers were lit.”

Lt. Julie Miller of the USCG responded, "It would be very confusing if we lit all of them," she said. “The better choice is boater safety.”

What do you think?