November 1, 2015

Use common sense in fog

IT’S NOVEMBER. The last of the spiders are drifting off on their silken threads, the air is cooling rapidly, and fog is creeping into the coves and straits overnight. Fog is dangerous for boaters who lack radar, as most of us do. Fog is especially frightening when you are caught out on a passage. What advice do I have?

Well, frankly, there isn’t much advice to give about getting caught in fog that isn’t covered by common sense. I mean, 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. Otherwise, you’re stuck with it.

Fog is treacherous. Go slowly and listen very carefully. If fog catches you out, try to get into shallow water and anchor there. Oftentimes that’s easier said than done, of course.

You should raise a radar reflector as high as you can, so 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 AIS and clearance from Seattle Traffic Control, which can’t possibly tell the ferry if a small craft, invisible to radar, is in its path. There’s no warning for a small craft in the path of the ferry, either.

If you’re sailing, the correct signal is one long blast and two short blasts. That’s also the signal 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) 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 you got that second computer.”

“Good. What’s wrong?”

“The big computer’s shoving all the work on to the little computer.”

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