Tips for Night Boating


Tips for Boating at Night


There are many reasons why you may find yourself out on the water after dark. You may be night fishing, or getting back after a dinner that ran long. Night boating is different from day excursions and adds particular challenges. The good news is that we can help you prepare for most contingencies and after a nighttime outing or two, you’ll be much more comfortable boating at night!


Bretz RV & Marine has come up with 10 tips for boating at night to help you take the right steps to avoid any potential hazards:



  • Slow down!
  • Share lookout duties 
  • Preparation, preparation, preparation 
  • Night vision
  • Don’t use headlights or spotlights
  • Look for red and green
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Trust your navigation instruments
  • Bring along a towel
  • Dock with EXTRA caution
  • Explore Boats Perfect for Overnight Cruising



  1. Slow down

Visibility is reduced at night, distances are harder to judge, obstacles are difficult to see, and moisture and temperature changes create distortion. Boats can come out of nowhere and debris is nearly invisible on inky black water. Unless there is a full moon, open water, and no traffic, don’t drive at high speeds. 


  1. Share the lookout duties

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The driver has a lot to keep track of including keeping an eye on gages, checking the chartplotter, and actually driving. If you have someone along (which we highly recommend), keep that second pair of eyes on the horizon with a periodic 360-degree scan to ensure no one is coming up from behind or at an angle.


  1. Preparation, preparation, preparation

Before setting out in the dark, you should have refreshed the batteries in your flashlights and headlamps, put your binoculars close to the helm, and located all personal floatation devices on board. You may consider wearing PFDs with an attached strobe light or glow stick in case someone goes overboard. We recommend reading our Boat Accessories Saftey Kit List to make sure you have all of the necessary boating accessories to keep you safe. 


  1. Preserve your night vision

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Dim all the onboard lights including the courtesy lights, instrument and chartplotter backlighting, and cabin lights. Your night vision can take 20 minutes to adapt to darkness after a flash of light. Use flashlights with a vision-preserving red filter and check the plotter only when needed. Vision is incredibly important to the safety of you and your companions so make sure no one is using any unnecessary light.


  1. Don’t use headlights or spotlights

Reflective water kills the benefits of bright forward lights. Use docking lights only when arriving at your destination. That’s when spotlights help you see close-up detail like cleats and handholds. If you do have headlights with you, be sure to use a headlamp that has a red beam setting. Red lights help preserve your night vision while still allowing you some extra visibility. 


  1. Look for the red and green

Running and marker lights are red and green. Entering a harbor in North America, follow this rule: Red, Right, Returning which means keep the red lights to starboard to stay in a safe channel. Consider what a boat looks like an underway on the water:  Red and green lights are on either side of the bow and white light is at the stern. If you see both red and green, the boat is coming head on. If you see white, the boat is ahead of you and/or moving away. If in doubt and you see red, stop. That means a boat is crossing your bow and it has the right of way.

Before departing on your voyage, check to make sure your navigation lights are operable so you’re visible to others.


  1. Listen

Turn off the stereo and listen. You may hear fog horns, bells or other boats approaching. Use your hearing, which can seem more acute in the dark when you can’t rely on your eyes.


  1. Trust your navigation instruments

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Your eyes can play tricks on you in the dark so if your chartplotter is trustworthy normally, don’t suddenly decide it must be wrong. If your chartplotter hasn’t been updated, slow down and approach with caution until you figure out whether your eyes and ears or your electronics are right.


  1. Bring along a towel

A nice beach towel has lots of uses at night. You can drape it over yourself to stay warm and dry, you can toss it over parts of your console to cut down on ambient onboard light, and you can use it to wipe a fogged windshield.


  1. Dock with EXTRA caution

Again, distances are distorted at night so only approach a dock as fast as you’re willing to hit it. Ask crew not to jump onto a dock but rather step off calmly when the boat is close enough. Double-check everyone’s knots and hitches before leaving the boat unattended in a slip. For more docking tips, be sure to read How to Dock a Boat: Step-by-Step Guide.


Looking for a new boat or RV? Let the professionals at Bretz RV & Marine help! You can shop our inventory online OR you can reach out to our professionals in person at one of our many locations:


Boise, ID

4180 Broadway

Boise, ID 83705

(208) 388-4678


Nampa, ID

1608 Industrial Road

Nampa, ID 83687

(208) 606-7160


Billings, MT

2999 Old Hardin Rd.

Billings, MT 59101

(406) 248-7481


Missoula, MT

4800 Grant Creek Rd.

Missoula, MT 59808

(406) 541-4800



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