The problem with coming in to a strange harbor at night is determining which lights are which. Which are the ATONs, marking a jetty, a shoal, a side of the channel? And which are merely background lights – a house, a car, a bridge? I once cruised down the Florida Keys in a fast boat after dark and thought I was looking at lights marking one of the resort marinas I was aiming for, until I realized the lights were from a night game at a Little League baseball diamond. Time to throttle back.
For navigating at night, you can rely on your chartplotter. But it helps if you know what all the light symbols mean, there or on a paper chart. This isn’t easy, since lights come with an array of symbols, letters, abbreviations and descriptions. It’s much better to know what all these mean before you go rather than to try to decipher them when you’re bobbing around in the dark.
Here’s a great refresher from Skipper Tips that will help you remember how to identify the lights you’ll probably see on your next cruise; it’s concise, clear – and important. Take a look: