In the U.S., a merchant mariner license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard is required to operate a commercial vessel, a towboat, or a vessel that carries passengers for hire. Boat dealers and schools that offer on-the-water operator training may require a license for people who teach for them. Insurance companies may require a yacht delivery skipper to have a license, and some marine insurance companies offer a discount to boat owners who have a license. For information about merchant mariner licenses see www.uscg.mil/nmc and p. 240 in the Mariner’s Guide.
Some boaters may worry about being caught out after dark or having to do a trip during the night hours. If you never go out at night or really believe that you will never be caught out after dark, then perhaps you don’t need to worry about navigating at night. However, it’s a relatively easy skill to master with practice, and sometimes navigating at night is actually easier than in the day.
Practice first in an area where there are lighted aids to navigation, but not too many lights on shore behind the aids to obscure them when you look toward the shore from seaward. Your home area may be best if the conditions are right. (1) make a list of the characteristics of the lights in the area; (2) go out before sunset, look at all the familiar buoys and lights in daylight; (3) from a relatively stationary location (anchor or drive around slowly), observe the lights as they come on as it gets dark; (4) compare what you see to the chart, and note where shore lights may interfere with seeing the lights on the aids to navigation. Once you are familiar with the lights in your home area, you are ready to try new areas at dusk and then in the dark. Remember to turn on your boat’s navigation lights at sunset. Check them before you go out.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.