By Vincent Pica

Commodore, First District, Southern Region (D1SR)

United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

We’ve had some foggy mornings and as we make the “clubhouse turn” towards cool air and warm water, we will have more.  For those of a more scientific-bent, fog that forms when water is warmer than the air is called “steam” fog (fall). Think of that pot of spaghetti water you are boiling. Fog that forms when the water is colder than the air is called “advection” fog (spring). There is a third kind of fog called “radiation” fog. That is the fog that you see float in across the backyard or linger in a dip in a country road. But fog is fog. You can’t see the land or the buoys or, worse, the bow! What to do?

Well, with the dropping price of radar, boats in the mid-20-foot range can now be found to have radar aboard. If you do have radar aboard, read the manual and get familiar with gain controls. I won’t waste space in this magazine lending advice to a skipper that already has a state-of-the-art system aboard on how to use it. Not surprisingly however, the advice below holds for the 65-footer with radar and chart overlay capabilities as well as the skipper in the 17-foot open boat with a 90-hp Merc on the stern. When the fog rolls in…

  1. Slow down to “a slow bell,” that is, with forward propulsion necessary to maintain steerage, but no greater. Put on life jackets.
  2. While underway and making way, that is, engine in gear, give one “prolonged” blast on your whistle (4-6 seconds). This is specified in the Navigation Rules, Rule 35(a). In fact, the Rules say “not more than 2 minutes apart.” Let me make it plainer. No LESS than every 2 minutes.
  3. While underway but not making way, that is, dead stop on the engine but not at anchor, give two “prolonged” blasts, separated by a couple of seconds apart, no less than every 2 minutes. This is Rule 35(b).
  4. If necessary to anchor due to visibility (none!), “boats less than 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters) in length may make an efficient sound signal at intervals of not more than two minutes.” In short, it is not specified for boats under 12 meters. Boats larger than 12 meters at anchor must clang their bell five times quickly followed by one prolonged and one short (~1 second) blast in the whistle.
  5. Listen. Sound travels more efficiently through fog than clear air. Listen.  Bring your engine to dead stop from time to time and listen. Listen for the sound of surf (move away from that!), buoy whistles/horns/bells (move towards that, carefully) or other engines (sound danger whistle right away and take all way off – but don’t turn off the engine!)

So, now you are properly communicating with other boats but you do want to get in out of the fog if you can. How?  Don’t, as some old chestnuts might advise, hug the shore. As the fog intensifies and you draw closer and closer to shore, you know what will happen. Of far more danger, don’t “hug the shore” when you are outside an inlet. If you get caught in the surf line (see 5 above), you will be capsized and now there is imminent threat to life.

If you can’t see, you must stop, drop the hook, sound your warning horn as specified and wait out the fog. If due to electronics (GPS, Loran) you realize that you are in a heavy traffic lane, get out – at a slow speed and just enough to be out of the traffic. But if you can’t see past the bow and you are underway and making way, you are in extreme danger of having a collision at sea.

If you have some visibility, see #s 1 and 2 above. The slower speed will help in another way as well – you can hear better. Lastly, if you have those canisters of compressed gas as your boat’s horn/whistle, you will likely run out of compressed air before you run out of fog. Think about getting a simple whistle.  Get the “pea-less” kind in case you have to worry about your spittle freezing one cold and foggy day…and blow, baby, blow!

Here is also one last idea and it is not in the Rules and in fact may call into question Rule 19-d-ii in the COLREGs, but it goes back to time immemorial.  If you hear a boat ahead of you, before you take all way off, do this.

Turn into her. Your bow presents a smaller target than your beam and the bow is your least vulnerable point. It is nearly impossible for her bow to plow into your boat through your bow. They will “glance off” each other.

You won’t find that in any Rule book but it may go back as far as the Phoenicians…

How would history have been different if, on July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria’s captain has done so? After losing 46 souls when the M/V Stockholm collided in the fog with the beam of the T/N Andrea Doria, her captain was heard to mutter, “When I was a boy, and all my life, I loved the sea; now I hate it.”

If you are interested in being part of the USCG Forces, email me at or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at and we will help you “get in this thing.”

Captain Ed Cubanski is the Captain of the Port and Sector Commander for US Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. Captain Cubanski is responsible for all active-duty, reservist and auxiliary Coast Guard personnel within the Sector. As Commodore of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary First District, Southern Region, Vin Pica works closely with Captain Cubanski and his staff to promote boating safety in the waters between Connecticut, Long Island and 200 nautical miles offshore. Sector Long Island Sound Command Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 203-468-4401.

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