28. Fogged In! A Few Tips That May Help

By Tom Neale, 5/5/2005

Fogged In! A Few Tips That May Help
By Tom Neale

1. Fog can occur even where it “never does.” We’ve even experienced it in the Bahamas.

2. You want other boats to know where you are. One method is to use the fog horn, but you can’t rely on that exclusively. Others might not hear if their engines are loud or if they’re within enclosed steering stations. Also many boats may be signaling by horn resulting in confusion compounded by the fact that sounds are difficult to trace as to point of origin in fog.

3. The Rules call for specific sound signals when in fog, depending on the type of vessel and circumstances. It’s important to know them and keep a copy handy. We’re all supposed to have a copy of the Rules aboard. Often, in the situation I’ve described above, signals aren’t very helpful because of the number of boats (although that’s not a reason to ignore the rules). When we’ve been in heavy fog in areas such as New England where there’s not much commercial traffic but sail boats and power yachts ghosting around, the sound signals have been much more helpful.

4. Calling Securitee on VHF 16 and 13 may be in order, especially if you think another vessel is heading in your direction. When you do this, just giving lat and long without more information often isn’t sufficient, except when you’re out at sea in open water. Many skippers, even commercial ones, are so busy trying to figure out where they are and who’s coming their way that, by the time they extrapolate a lat/long position to who’s where, it may be too late if you’re close. If you know that you are near an aid to navigation or other “landmark” it will help to also give that and your position relative to it—as, “a half mile from Lighted Green 57 at the entrance to XYZ River.” Commercial vessels with sophisticated equipment can tell quickly what your lat/long means to them and will probably know where you are, your speed and bearing. But you won’t know if the other vessel is so equipped.

5. Stand by on VHF channels 16 and 13. The latter is normally the bridge to bridge working channel for commercial vessels. You can hear them communicating to each other and they may be quicker to pick up your call on 13. One radio that scans both channels is not as good as two sets, one standing watch on each channel. Scans sometimes clip off important parts of transmission and if you’re close to another boat you may have little time to lose. If you are in an area where most people have gotten into the habit of standing by on VHF channel 09, you may want to send out a call there, but say also that you’re standing by on 16 and 13 and switch back unless you have three radio sets.

6. VHF 13 normally transmits (because of regulation) at one watt only, thus its range is limited and people can’t hear you as far away as they would with the set broadcasting full power. However some sets allow you a momentary over ride of the one watt limitation. (Handhelds also have a shorter range because of power and lower antennas.)

7. Many, when in dense fog, like to hang out very close to an aid to navigation. It lets them know where they are (and aren’t) and it gives them specific information to tell other vessels. Also, if you’re on the shallow water side, this may preclude a larger boat with deeper draft from coming your way. However, if you do this, beware that other vessels may be heading to that particular aid, their radar may not distinguish you from the aid (or if it does they may think they’re seeing an echo of the aid and not realize it’s a boat) and beware that some aids mark precipitous shoals or other obstructions. Check out the aid carefully on the chart before you take its wrong side. Some like to anchor on the shallow side and this has its benefits, but if something comes your way it will be difficult to move quickly.

8. These tips are only to start you thinking about and planning what to do if you’re enveloped in fog. Some of the ideas here may not be best in your circumstances. Fog can happen in areas where you little suspect it. Read all you can on the subject and get whatever training may be available. When you’re in the soup, it’s in the hands of skipper and crew to make the decisions and do the things that work best in the particular circumstances.

Go to www.tomneale.com for other tips and information

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale