Night Moves
By Dean Travis Clarke

Night Moves

If driving your boat during the day is as easy as Little League, consider navigating at night as tough as hitting against Roger Clemens.

It isn't easy, but what an exhilarating challenge if you know what to watch.

Honestly, do you even know if your nav lights work? When cruising in daylight you rarely, if ever, turn them on. Your bow lights especially take a lot of abuse, and they're likely to be the first ones to malfunction. Carefully check bow, stern and all-around lights before a nighttime cruise.

You need to be able to see the lights of other boats and not allow red/green color blindness to cause confusion about their course. If you see a red light off your starboard bow and it seems to stay in one position rather than pass in front of you, chances are very good that you're headed for a collision. In an anchorage, a vessel is required to display only a single white anchor light. I've seen some with a flashlight tied to an oar. Be very careful around anchorage areas.

Then there are fixed navigation aids in and around the waterway. Travel down Long Island Sound at night or along Lake Michigan near Chicago. You'll see thousands of lights. You'll need to pick one to mark your course or destination. I was navigating in a sailboat race one night from the belowdecks navigator's station. I kept asking the helmsman if he could see the turn mark until he hit the buoy, claiming he couldn't pick it out against the background of so many lights on shore. Learn more about navigation aids at

Would you rather run over a log at 35 mph or at 10 mph? Adjust your speed to match the visibility. If you can make out a lobster buoy at 50 yards, make sure you can stop your boat in less than that distance far less.

A young friend of mine took his girlfriend out on the lake one night. Let's just say he was multi-tasking and failed to notice an anchored boat until he hit it. If you captain a boat at night, concentrate on a safe route for you and your guests. You'll never have a more challenging designated driver job. Also, keep white lighting, which can be distracting, to a minimum. Use red or blue lights at the helm when possible.

Don't Cut Corners
Make sure you use the channels, not the shortcuts. Use your chart or chart plotter, not your memory. In fact, use every helpful tool at your disposal (radar, night-vision glasses, depth sounder or following reliable vessels you know are "going your way") to get from point A to point B safely.

Use common sense when running your boat at night. Apply the cause-and-effect rule, "If I do A, then B or C might happen." Also, make sure your guests realize how serious being out on the water at night can really be. Don't let the party animal take over, whether it's you or someone else.


If you never cruise at night, you probably don't need a flashlight aboard. If you do cruise nocturnally, a flashlight will help you:

Find the right slip.

Get an idea of how far from shore you're anchoring.

Light up a barely visible boat in the anchorage.

Set a buoy's reflective strip on fire so you can see it.

Signal the towboat service when you've run out of gas.

Our advice: Make sure you are equipped with both a portable spotlight, like the rechargeable Vectorlite 3 million Candlepower Aluminum model ($49.99 at, and a smaller flashlight for chart reading/in-cabin use, such as the
Rebel L.E.D. ($29.99 at


Article reprinted courtesy of Boating Life Magazine
2006 World Publications, LLC



Can You Hear Me Now?
By Randy Vance
The most common communication over a VHF radio is simple "radio check."
Antenna/Radio Tester

Many boaters think the radio check is a must every time they fire up the engines. But is it necessary?

"Not at all," says Don Henry, the Director of Marine Products Group for Shakespeare. In fact, he doesn't think the practice is even a good idea.

"Two things happen on radio check. First, somebody has to drop what they're doing to answer what amounts to an unnecessary communication. But more important, whether you get a reply or not, you don't learn how well your radio works."

In truth, the reply could be coming from a boat 10 yards away not a good indication of your range. So when we stumbled onto the Shakespeare Antenna/Radio Tester (ART-3) at the 2005 Miami International Boat Show, we rigged one up and checked it out for ourselves.

We used Shakespeare Centerpin connectors to make a 3-foot jumper cable to hook the tester to the radio. Then we screwed the antenna to the tester.

Then we checked our transmitting power by switching the tester to "WATTS" mode and keyed the mike on channel 72. The top scale said our wattage output was just 20. "Today's radios are expected to put out between 22 and 26 watts," says Henry. "Under 22 means you have a poor connection in your 12-volt power or the antenna."

We went back to the drawing board and found a loose connector on the red hot wire.

Next we checked a gauge called VSWR. By setting it to ... well, the instructions said "SET," and calibrating the needle by the simple instructions, we got a reading of 1 an A-plus per Henry. If we'd scored a 2 or 3, we'd be checking into our antenna cable connections.

Finally, we wanted to know how well our setup received. By adjusting the tester to the appropriate setting, still tuned to channel 72 with minimum squelch, we heard the telltale beep over the radio that said we were AOK.

Some boaters install the ART-3 permanently in their line. Each time they depart, they perform their test in mere seconds without having to connect the unit. While that does work, chances are the additional connections will reduce reception and output power.

So after checking it out, would we buy one? For $44.99 at, you bet.


An optimum installation uses 3 to 6 feet of antenna cable. A shorter cable could cause feedback in transmission. A longer cable weakens the signal.

Position the antenna as high as feasible for the boat. Altitude affects communication range as much as wattage.

Minimize connectors in the antenna line they usually reduce power.

If you aren't comfortable with a soldering gun, Shakespeare's Centerpin connectors are solderless and nearly foolproof at least they were for us. Cost: $9.99 at

Reprinted courtesy of Boating Life Magazine
2006 World Publications, LLC

How To Mount Electronics

By Capt. David Bacon

Ever notice the power and telephone wires where people fish from bridges? They're loaded with so much line, so many bobbers, weights and plugs, that whoever cleans them off could start a new tackle shop. Common sense suggests that the cable stringers should have placed the wires out of anglers' reach, right? If you follow that logic, boat owners should employ the same common sense when mounting onboard electronics.
Ray Marine

A robust suite of modern marine electronics requires installation of an impressive array of overhead antennas, radomes, receivers, lights and even cameras. Every one of these devices seems deviously designed to interfere with casts or hook-sets, unless you plan your installation to facilitate fishing.

On occasion, I hire out to guide anglers on their own boats. When I step aboard a boat I haven't skippered before, I carefully consider certain items. Of course, I want to know about the safety equipment, electrical system, electronics and fishing systems. But the very first thing I look at when walking down the dock is the layout of any overhead obstructions. This tells me whether a non-fishing marine electrician or one who understands and serves the needs of fisherfolk designed the T-top or hardtop layout. Every time an angler whacks a rod against an overhead obstruction, the boat (not the angler) gets a demerit in my book. A fishing boat exists to serve those who fish her, and nothing should get in the way.

Boatbuilders typically prefer the swept-back look because it lends a sleek appearance. Radar arches and antenna-mount platforms usually overhang the cockpit. Functionality means more to me than appearance, though, so I prefer to see overhead structures swept forward.

Many marine electricians consider functionality only with regard to the performance of the electronics package. Again, I see things differently. While some performance issues must be considered, I still believe the primary goal should be unobstructed fishing. Overhead gadgets are fishing obstructions, and, without sacrificing safety, I want them out of the way so my anglers can cast freely in any direction and set the hook powerfully on iron-jawed fish.

Our mission is to fish. A carefully planned suite of electronics supports that mission. Plan the installation or relocation of the associated antennas, emitters and receivers to remain out of the way of fishing activities. On a small, open center-console boat not much can be done other than to make certain that all antennas and spare rod holders stand straight up or lean slightly forward. With a T-top or cuddy cabin comes additional options for mounting a more complete suite of electronics.

Electronic components have functional needs that should not be overlooked. Radar requires a clear view to the horizon; target detection at greater distances depends on the height of the radome or array. Raising that radome above casting height aids efficient jig slinging and bait lobbing. Buddy Morgan, national sales manager for JRC (, 206-654-5644), offers a valuable suggestion: "Open arrays turn when in use, inviting line tangles. Enclosed domes are less obtrusive and, therefore, better for small to midsize fishing boats." Good planning serves both the functional needs of the equipment and the working room of anglers. That requires some compromise in equipment positioning.

Mounting brackets provide an organized and efficient home for your necessary array of antennas, emitters and receivers, and they solve space problems, providing you position them far enough forward to keep the cockpit area clear. Choose the appropriate mounting system by considering the functional requirements of each electronics device. "For GPS to work properly, it is recommended to be [positioned] 12 inches above the radar dome or open array and have an unimpeded look skyward at the satellites," according to Brian Gallagher, Scanstrut product manager for PYI Inc. (, 800-523-7558), a manufacturer of mounting brackets. "It is also important that the VHF and cellular antennas are mounted 12 inches or more away from the radar and the GPS so as not to have three or four bands of [electronic] waves interfering with one another," he adds.

Rod holders (affectionately called "rocket launchers") across the back of a T-top or hardtop that angle toward the stern can cause problems for casters. I am painfully aware of this common problem because my own charter boat has this shortcoming. The custom-arch manufacturer ignored my admonishment to point the upper-tier rocket launchers straight up. Whenever my passengers store spare rods in them, I know I will hear that dreaded whack sound during a day of fishing. Consequently I rarely allow the rocket launchers to be used. It's a waste of otherwise good rod storage, and I sometimes consider planting daisies in them.

Be sure not to install rocket launchers angled forward; when the boat comes off a steep wave and pounds into the next, the rods may launch into the wave ahead, and your reputation as a boat outfitter will go with them to Davy Jones' locker. A straight-up rod-holder installation works most effectively.

Keep repeating the term "facilitate fishing" when planning an initial electronics installation or rearranging overhead structures. Organize to reduce the number of whacks from rods. Anglers must be able to cast and swing it's what we do! Accommodate folks who are more forceful than others at rod handling. A large open cockpit with no overhead obstructions feels perfect to a serious angler. Plan for it.

Originally Published: June 2004
2006 World Publications, LLC