Recreational Boating Safety – The Fog

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
“The Fog” is a 1980 American supernatural horror film directed by John Carpenter. It tells the story of a strange, glowing fog that sweeps over a small coastal town in Northern California, bringing with it the vengeful ghosts of leprous mariners who were killed in a shipwreck there a century before. This isn’t the only movie with a heavy fog as the main theme. One movie has a group of people trapped in a grocery store with creatures coming out of the fog to tear them apart. Turns out they were aliens. All of the movies are spooky horror movies. I hate to tell you, but it can be that way with plain old natural fog. Substitute large ships coming out of the fog to tear you apart and you will have an idea of what it is like to run in the fog. So, what do you do if you find yourself suddenly immersed in fog? Let’s look at the options.

How Does Fog Form
Fog forms when warm moist air flows over cooler water. Fog is common in the Gulf of Mexico, and can form and move relatively quickly. Fog is common in the early morning hours and usually burns off as the sun heats the water up, but it can last for days if the conditions for formation last.

Check the Weather
Your best option is to not go out when there is a good likelihood that you will run into fog. Another reason to have a marine VHF/FM radio is to have access to the NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) channels. NOAA frequently updates marine forecasts to include fog advisories.

The NWR network continuously broadcasts local and nearshore coastal marine forecasts produced by local Weather Forecast Offices. Coastal stations broadcast predicted tides and real time observations from buoys and coastal meteorological stations operated by the National Data Buoy Center. Based on user demand, where feasible, NWS also broadcasts Offshore and Open Lake forecasts. The National Weather Service transmits an automated 1050 Hz tone that automatically activates compatible NWR receivers when a severe weather situation exists anywhere in the transmitter’s coverage area. Many (but not all) NWR receivers incorporate this feature. Many VHF marine radiotelephones incorporate this feature; however some require an active NWR channel and using a non-scanning mode for the highest level of effectiveness.

The idea here is to check the weather before going out using the NWR channel for your area and then deciding whether or not to go out. If you do decide to go out, then be sure to listen for the weather tone so you can get the latest weather advisory. The Coast Guard will also transmit some weather advisories.

Boating in Fog
National Weather Service has a page titled “Boating in Fog.” It contains a succinct list of recommendations, which I have copied below.

Learning to navigate through fog (or avoiding it) is critical to safe boating. These safety tips will help to keep you safe:

  • Slow down to avoid collisions.
  • Turn on all of your running lights, even in daytime.
  • Listen for sounds of other boats that may be near you or for fog horns and bells from nearby buoys.
  • VHF NOAA Weather Radio should broadcast important information concerning the formation, movement or dissipation of the fog. Pay close attention.
  • If your vessel has radar, use it to help locate dangers that may be around you.
  • Use GPS or a navigation chart to help obtain a fix on your location.
  • If you are unable to get your bearings, stay put until the fog lifts but make sure you are in a safe location.
  • Be familiar with horn and bell sounds you should produce to warn others around you when in dense fog.
  • Have a compass available. Even if you don’t know where you are in the fog, with a compass you can determine the direction you are navigating.
  • Stay out of shipping lanes. Large ships cannot see you!

Rules of the Road: Conduct in Restricted Visibility (Rule 19)
Rule 19 of the Rules of the Road says that, first, “every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility.”
The term “restricted visibility” means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms or any other similar causes.

“Except where it has been determined that a risk of collision does not exist, every vessel which hears apparently forward of her beam the fog signal of another vessel, or which cannot avoid a close-quarters situation with another vessel forward of her beam, shall reduce her speed to the minimum at which she can be kept on her course. She shall if necessary take all her way off and in any event navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over.”

File a Float Plan
Before you head out on the water you should create a float plan and give that plan to at lease one person on shore with instructions to notify the Coast Guard of a late boater situation. The Coast Guard has developed a float plan that you can fill out and save to your computer. Before you go out you should update the plan for the date and persons on board and the way points you intend to hit. The float plan has instructions on what to do if a boater is late according to the plan. Here is the link to the downloadable PDF form: USCG Float Plan ( .

It is important to note that you do not file a float plan with the US Coast Guard. Instead, file it with a friend or family member who will contact the Cost Guard in your behalf should you should be late reporting in.

Before you go out on the water, check the weather, and once you are underway watch for weather changes and listen to your marine VHF/FM radio for weather updates. Follow the “Boating in Fog” recommendations and Rule 19 of the Rules of the Road (Conduct in Restricted Visibility). File a float plan with a friend or family member. Lastly, have a Plan B destination should you be blocked from reaching your intended destination.

[BC: Feb-13-2024]

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