April 21, 2015

What to do about fog

WHEN THE CLOUD COMES DOWN to water level we call it fog. Fog is very scary stuff and it can happen at any time of the year in our coastal areas. In fact, on the West Coast of the United States, fog occurs frequently from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Seattle, to Santa Barbara, down south in California.

On the East Coast they experience fog from the Canadian Maritimes right down to Long Island Sound, New York. On average, these coastal areas experience areas of fog about 10 percent of the year, and some particular areas are blanketed in fog for twice as long. 

As I said, fog is scary. What can you do about it?

Actually, there isn’t much advice to give about getting caught in fog that isn’t covered by common sense. If you see a fog bank forming ahead, and you have a chance to turn back to a safe anchorage, do so. It’s the seamanlike action to take. Unfortunately, you don’t always have that choice.  You can run into a thick bank of fog at night without even seeing it. Been there, done that, didn’t like it.

Fog is treacherous. Go slowly and listen very carefully. Your ears are your eyes in fog. If fog catches you out, try to get into shallow water and anchor there. Once again, oftentimes that’s easier said than done.

If you have radar, use it, and practice often. Use AIS if you have it, also, but don’t expect everybody else to have it, especially that 40-foot ferro-concrete ketch with the long metal bowsprit that’s bowling along under power toward you.

You should raise a radar reflector as high as you can, so that other vessels with radar sets will see you. And you should be meticulous about making the right sound signal every two minutes or less. I have noticed that too many skippers are very lax about this. I have even traveled on a Washington State ferry that made no sound signals in thick fog, presumably relying on radar and clearance from Seattle Traffic Control, which can’t possibly tell the ferry if a small craft, invisible to radar, is in its path.

If you’re sailing, the correct signal is one long blast and two short blasts. That’s also the signal made by a vessel not under command, or restricted by her ability to maneuver. The same signal comes from a vessel engaged in fishing, or towing or pushing another vessel.

If you’re under power, the fog signal (and the signal in any kind of restricted visibility, by the way, including rain or snow in daylight) is one long blast every two minutes or less.

And one last tip – take along a horn that you can blow into. The fog horns that work off cans of compressed air don’t always work. I can vouch for that. I can also tell you that blowing the damn horn as loud as you can every two minutes is a pain in the you-know-what. You can’t go anywhere or do anything that lasts more than one minute, fifty-nine seconds. It puffs your cheeks out and raises your blood pressure. It makes you dizzy and produces black spots before your eyes. But it’s better than being run down at sea. So do it.

Today’s Thought
He that bringeth himself into needless dangers dieth the devil’s martyr.
— Thomas Fuller, Holy War

“I’ve found out why production has slowed down since we got that second computer.”
“Good. What’s wrong?”
“The big computer’s shoving all the work on to the little computer.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

alpine luddite said...

some VHF radios have preprogrammed fog signals. you will need to instal a hailing speaker to be heard.