As waterways become more crowded this season boaters will be seeking out more secluded areas, cruising farther and all around putting more effort into finding ways to avoid the crowding and noise that often accompanies visiting some of the more popular hotspots on the water. Whether it's trying to nail down a good fishing location or just setting up for some relaxation at a nice anchorage, boaters are finding that locating that perfect spot is becoming more of a challenge as more and more boats hit the water. One of the increasingly popular ways to avoid the bustle of the crowds is to begin your trip as the sun is just beginning to set rather than rise. Setting out at night offers many advantages; the heat of the sun is gone, the water is calmer and of course, there is a lot less boat traffic to interfere with a quiet night out with some friends. Although night boating offers many rewards, it also brings with it some new considerations that have to be met if your trip is to be as enjoyable and safe as possible. Without the light of day buoys become almost invisible, shorelines disappear, channels become difficult to follow and boaters must rely more heavily on their equipment to safely reach their destination.
Although to the novice it would seem a simple matter of turning on some bright spotlights and cruising on your way much as you would in your car, in marine conditions this is the entirely wrong way to do things. In truth the reverse is true and it is better to allow your eyes to become accustomed to the darkness and rely on your radar more so than your eyes. Out on the water at night, the movement of the ocean waves and the lack of objects with which to judge distances creates problems when using a light. A bright spotlight coupled with the movement of the water can produce the illusion of objects or debris where there is none. Worse, the human eye naturally adjusts itself to low light conditions, increasing its sensitivity and improving its ability to gather light. This can be a serious problem as once the eye has adjusted itself to darkness, turning on a bright spotlight can literally blind you for several minutes until your eye has a chance to readjust itself if the light hits your eyes too intensely. That's several minutes where you could miss seeing a marker, or worse, a nearby watercraft. As a result of this most experienced boaters run with only the faintest illumination to guide them aside from their legally mandated navigation lights in operation. In fact, Coast Guard rules actually prohibit boats that are underway from running with spotlights on. Although this may seem surprising at first, the truth is that once the eye has adjusted itself to darkness it is actually quite readily able to discern objects at a fair distance as long as there is some available light, whether it's moonlight or ambient light from far off sources.
Considering all of this then, it would seem somewhat counterproductive to load your boat up with high powered spotlights and brilliant deck lighting equipment and yet that this is exactly what most boater see when they scan the marina and observe their fellow enthusiast's boats. So why would this be the case? It would certainly seem like a great deal of money and effort to be spent when you're better off not using such equipment to navigate at night in the first place. Well, as with just about anything else in life, the issue is far from simple black and white. While bright lights may be a bad idea for navigation while underway, there is still a great deal of reason to use them regardless. From fishing, to making repairs, to assisting other boaters, there is plenty of opportunity to give marine lighting a good workout.
Of all the above decks lighting equipment, spotlights are probably the most important although those used the least as well. Better considered as part of your safety equipment, a good marine spotlight may not be used very often, but it will prove its value if and when the need does arise. Spotlights serve several different purposes, with some of the most important being using them to locate and identify buoys and markers in the dark, illuminate obstacles and other watercraft when moving through tight channels and heading towards dock and perhaps least desirable but most important, as an emergency source of illumination in man overboard and boater in distress situations. Given these applications, it makes sense to equip your boat with the best marine grade spotlights possible. A good spotlight should be powerful, durable, easily operated and able to withstand the demanding conditions of a marine environment. The Stryker series of HID spotlights have been popular with boaters for some time and provide a good example of what constitutes an acceptable marine spotlight. Compact, powerful, energy efficient and even able to be remotely controlled, Golights are very good choices for anyone operating a boat whether it's a 15 foot fisher or a 25 foot cruiser.
Good marine spotlights will generally make use of corrosion resistant materials like plastics, polycarbonate lenses, stainless steels and coated aluminum in their construction. The better lamps tend to be HID's or "High Intensity Discharge" lamps because precisely as their name implies, they produce very powerful and far reaching light beams. Connections should be watertight and corrosion resistant as well. Mounting is best done by keeping two things in mind; you do not want to blind yourself and almost everything from the foredeck to the water will reflect light. Considering this, a spotlight should be mounted as high and far back as possible to avoid directly shining it towards yourself while giving you plenty of working angle to illuminate other boats and objects, or as far forward on the bow as possible to avoid any glare or reflection from illuminating your own decks or metal work.
Although their usage in marine environments is limited, this does not make a good marine grade spotlight any less important. Not just for convenience, spotlights are a major part of a well thought out safety equipment checklist and should not be compromised on if at all possible. If you're going to be on the water at night this coming boating season, play it smart and safe by installing the best spotlight you can find and making certain it is properly mounted and up to the job should the need arise. Although chances may say you'll never run into a man overboard situation or locate a boat in distress, should the need to do so arise, you'll be glad you thought ahead.