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post #11 of 69 Old 12-19-2007
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While is is not required that you have radar while sailing/motoring in fog (unless you are a tonnage vessel like a ferry, tug or larger) it is required that you operate your radar in reduced visibility if it is available to you. That means that if it is foggy you must run it as a navigation aid if it is onboard/working.

If you choose to travel in fog with or without radar and/or a chartplotter; you need to be aware of your surroundings and be able to avoid collision by use of your visual and sound signals (both broadcast and listening for). If it means slowing your speed to 1-2 kts to be sure you don't run hard aground or into a bouy or another vessel that's what you need to do. By all means try and stay out of the shipping channels for any distance other than maneuvering around another vessel or crossing at a right angle. Port-to-Port for oncoming vessels is the rule for any last minute course changes (turn to starboard).

The old-timers complain about people being "in distress" when their electronics fail; and to some degree I believe that is true. We have become too attached to having GPS position fixes, radar targets, AIS, etc. It is essential for you to be aware of your surroundings in addition to any high-tech nav aids you may or may not have. What would you do if the radar went down and/or the GPS could not obtain a fix? Basically you would need to find your way as it has been done for centuries prior; use of eyes, ears, and judgement on what to do when you find yourself in a situation where you can't enter a port safely or need to avoid another oncoming boat.

I don't call into question so much the use of a chartplotter to navigate through fog; it is a tool that should be put to use in such a situation. But don't use it as the "Playstation" version of boating in low visibility; and don't rely 100% on it to tell you exactly where you are. Often times there is descrepancy between GPS position and the chart it is plotted on. Use it to tell you approximately where you are and use visual/sound signals to verify and correct for any error.

Electronics are the primary nav aids for the guys who could smash a pleasure boat to bits (like tugs and ships). Many times they travel faster than the conditions would normally allow because they have these navigation aids available and it allows them to "see" further than the distance they can visibly stop in. Unfortunately when it comes to pleasure boats if you are not on their "screen" or in thier AIS tracking system you are essentially invisible to them and it could have disastrous consequences. So put a radar reflector and an AIS transmitter on your Christmas wish list because it's not as much who you see; but who can see you when it comes to being caught out in the pea soup.

Recently a cargo ship ran into the SF Bay Bridge while traveling in dense fog. The ship was doing 10 knots at the time; which from what I gather is somewhat normal for these guys even in fog. The ship spilled ~60k gallons of fuel in the Bay and caused an environmental disaster all the way out to the Farallon Islands because of an error in reading the chartplotter (somehow the position relative to the tower was incorrectly given from the Chinese crew to the American Bar Pilot). So be aware that errors are easy to make when reading the electronics and big boats like tugs and ships move much faster than you do so give them a wide berth and don't cross their port bow (port-to-port unless they are in the channel and you are well clear of them and outside of it).

Last edited by KeelHaulin; 12-19-2007 at 05:07 AM.
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post #12 of 69 Old 12-19-2007
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One trick to use, when all else fails in fog, is to head (compass) to shallow water (depth sounder, 2 m or less under your keel) and drop the anchor. Most of the big fellas avoid shallow water. But its little protection from the unguided stinkpots. The tide tables come in handy too.

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post #13 of 69 Old 12-19-2007
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A few years back we were heading from Watch Hill Road Island to Westbrook CT. Wind died and a heavy fog rolled in. All I had at the time was a small hand held GPS. As we were approching a bouy I had set as a waypoint, the fog was so thick I could hardly see my son who I had sent to the bow to look for the marker (at the time we had a 33' sloop) we could hear the bouy bell but couldn't see it. that is until it was 10' off the bow. Fortunatly we were in idle slow but my son screamed like a little girl ( still bust him about that).
Doing an offset is a very smart thing to do.

That same day we pulled into Duck Island Roads, Fog was still very heavy and we tossed the hook to wait out the fog. Powerboats we charging out of Pilots point marina at high speed. Their wakes would toss us around and we never saw the boats. Truthfully we were scared to death. About two hours latter the fog liffted and over two dozen boats were anchored within 500 yards of us and other than an occasonal voice or sound we had no idea that many boats were nearby waiting on the fog to lift.

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post #14 of 69 Old 12-19-2007
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Don't Go!

Ten hours into a 12 hour crossing of Lake Michigan we hit pea soup fog, visibility about 6 feet. I was standing at the mast ringing a bell every 30 seconds, and could not see my daughter on the bow (listening) or the helm on a 38 center cockpit sailboat! This was long enough ago, chart plotters and GPS had not been invented, and we did not have radar. We did have a radar reflector, and we navigated with compass, depth sounder, knot meter and charts. We slowed to 1-1.5 knots, motored in to where the depth gauge said we were about 1/2 mile offshore, ran parralell to shore until we heard the fog horn of our destination. We were scared silly, not of lake freighters, but of fishermen. They had been stocking salmon in the lake for 2-3 years, and we all know how much education/experience you need to get a tin boat and a 25 hp outboard. We were lucky, we heard two of them, but did not see them. We later saw a 30 foot Swan who felt lucky he only had a couple thousand dollars damage when he got sideswiped by a green hit & run. If you can possibly avoid being out in fog, don't go!
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post #15 of 69 Old 12-19-2007
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Fog is not fun, ever... It's always an anxiety producer for sure.

A couple of winters back we were going to a nearby town for the weekend and ran into a fog bank off Bowen Island. (Fog is relatively rare in these parts) We still had a light breeze, so were able to sail which greatly enhances your ability to hear other traffic out there. Once the wind died we motored, and then couldn't hear nearly so well of course.

We were sailing (no radar) in close to shore to avoid a ferry traffic lane, deep water, and closing the beach till we could see it and then taking an offshore tack, monitoring our position on a GPS plotter. After a while we could hear a diesel running at a steady, heavy load, no water noises and a really constant bearing, or so it seemed. We sailed within hearing of this sound for some time, and I began to convince myself that it was a generator running ashore.

The wind died and we fired up and slowly progressed towards our destination when my (nervous) wife pointed out a "beach" to port. As heading and position meant that there was 20+ miles of open water to port, this was disconcerting... turned out to be a log boom moving at about 1 knot, the steady engine we heard was the tug, of course. (I know - I know, if you hear hooves think horses not zebras)

We were very fortunate to have come upon the tow rather than the towline, as visibilty was so poor that we'd likely have struck the tow line without having seen the tug or the boom. At that point we turned around, and popped out of the fog less than a mile back on our track, and chose another destination for the night. I should mention that we had hoisted the radar reflector, and the tug SHOULD have been aware of our presence... if so they made no attempts to indicate that, no signals were made, no radio contact attempted either.

We have since added radar, and have had a couple of heavy fog experiences since, and must say the addition of radar, in combination with the plotter, makes this a lot more comfortable.

One more point: We have mounted the radar screen at the helm, seems to make much more sense than to have to pop below for a look. Radar cable length therefore dictated a stern post mount rather than mast mount.

Last edited by Faster; 12-19-2007 at 02:34 PM.
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post #16 of 69 Old 12-20-2007
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Fog and the QE2

Some time ago I was on a buddy's boat as we were sailing back to Middle River from Annapolis on a cool fall day. The fog was really thick as we came upon the entrance mark to the Severne River. We circled the mark several times as we lined up navigation and discussed our plans / options. The fog was so thick that we could barely see the stem of the boat from the cockpit, much less anything else! We decided to go slowly forward, up the bay. This was some time ago and before gps. My friend, however, had Loran aboard. We knoew where we were but it took a long time to figure it out. I was stationed up front to maintain lookout (very important). It also was my job to sound the airhorn for a long minute blast every 2 minutes to alert boats around us. After blowing this horn I would hear a cackophony of noises from all around; pots being banged, bells ringing, anything that made noise. I hardly ever saw the boats making these sounds but it was evident that they were all around! We slowly approached the Bay Bridge and heard the traffic well before we saw the bridge. The traffic sounds moved almost verticle before we saw the bridge pilons and saw that it was a place where we could fit through the bridge.

We knew that on the north side of the bridge we would approach the Sandy Point lighthouse and then need to cross the big shipping channel. Were ther any "big guys" out there? We decided to make a securite announcement on the vhf, using channel 16 and then 13. We gave our position and heading, stating that it was our belief that we would soon be crossing the shipping channel. We got an answer! In a clipped British accent, the person informed us that this was the QE2 and she was expecting to be in our position in about 10 minutes! Well, we thought we knew where we were, never saw the lighthouse but DID see that the depths were getting deeper. We started hearing the QE2's fog horn. It sounded like it was coming from the 5 o'clock position, then the 4, and then the 3.... My heart was beating fast and I envisioned looking off to the right and seeing a huge black hull with white superstructure looming up above us like right there. We pushed the throttle up, over revving the diesel, I'm sure, to get out of the channel (the depth sounder was reading 45' or more). Well, we never saw the QE2, thankfully. The fog horn gradually receeded back towards the 4 o'clock then 5 o'clock and finally 6'oclock position. I was finally able to breathe! We did everything right, we were traveling slowly, sounding a signal, maintaining a watch, announcing ourselves on vhf when crossing a channel, and still it was a scarey situation that I will always remember.

It IS important to do your navigation homework early so you know your route and can figure out your location. You want to do this "homework" early so you are not distracted when you are underway. GPS and a chartplotter make it easy to figure out where you are but you don't know where the other person is. If we hadn't made a sound we would not have known about the others since they only sounded their noisemakers when we sounded ours. We could have waited but we all needed to get back to work on Monday. If it was real miserable, we would have gone that route.

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post #17 of 69 Old 12-20-2007
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Sailing in Fog

As a pacific northwest sailor, I have spent a lot of time sailing in fog both in my professional life and in recreational sailing. Fog certainly emphasizes good seamanship practices. My own rules (in my 33 foot sloop with no radar) for being on the water include some short checklists just in case I get fogged in. Here are a few of the pertinent ones:
-Navigation lights checked,
-Radios checked,
-Sounder checked and calibrated,
-Always a fix on the chart,
-Spare GPS and batteries, and
-Sound signalling device checked.
When I get fogged in I head for shallow water, if it is safe to do so, and either follow the 10 meter bottom contour or anchor. I switch on my Nav lights and get my sound signally apparatus ready. I don't always make the sound signals at two minute intervals but I make them. I get my laptop going with the GPS chart feed or start plotting GPS fixes on the paper chart. I fix frequently, every 6 minutes or so, depending on where the nearest danger is. If I am near a traffic lane I get out of it (at right angles to the flow of traffic) and I monitor the VHF channel used to control the traffic in the lanes. I sometimes tell traffic where I am and that I don't have radar so they can inform ships checking in of my location and intentions. Sometimes I wish I had a radar but not often. Simplicity is my watchword. I have found in my professional life that using the radar effectively is a full time job for someone and requires a great deal of skill. Most of the information that pleasure boaters derive from radar is probably sketchy at best. How many of them can resolve closest points of approach (CPA) or true course and speed from a radar screen? How many have actually practiced in a simulator?
In general I try and avoid being out in fog. It just elevates the risk and takes the pleasure out of pleasure boating.
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post #18 of 69 Old 12-20-2007
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Just remember, if you're doing an offset on a buoy in the GPS... make it large enough that error won't leave you hitting the buoy or any rocks that may be near it...


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post #19 of 69 Old 12-20-2007
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Originally Posted by Idiens View Post
One trick to use, when all else fails in fog, is to head (compass) to shallow water (depth sounder, 2 m or less under your keel) and drop the anchor. Most of the big fellas avoid shallow water. But its little protection from the unguided stinkpots. The tide tables come in handy too.

A variant on this that I've used is to pick a safe depth contour and to follow that using bearings. You can then get out of traffic but still avoid getting uncomfortably close to shore. It's not always possible or practical to do this, but a 10 foot or 3 metre depth contour is frequently deep enough to take you past most hazards.

The depth sounder is a sometimes discounted nav tool these days, but many is the time I've used it to find a estuary, harbour or river entrance in fog, either side of which I could not clearly see. (Newcastle and Cobourg on Lake Ontario in the fall come to mind).
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post #20 of 69 Old 12-20-2007
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Take your spinnaker pole and paint it white with a red tip at the end.
Then using one of your strong deck hands, have him hold it far out in front of the boat. And when it touches anything you know when to turn on to another course.

But all of the others here have pretty much said what I would have said. Take all of the precautions mentioned and if possible anchor or push mud until the fog lifts. Here in the southland of the USA they have a lot of bayous and when become fog bound you nose into the bank and hold there.
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