Operating in fog demands boat smarts
by Tom Rau
Often, I chat with
boaters regarding a
wide range of boat-smart
topics, fog being one. That
topic came to the forefront
after a fog bank shrouded
the waters off Manistee
during the Salmon Splash
333 fishing Tournament.
The captains I spoke with
emphasized safety and situational
operating in fog: in other
words, boat smart.
Salmon Splash 333 Best of
the Best boasted a $10,000
first-place price. Needless
to say, fog was not going
to deter anglers from pursuing
the grand prize, even
it meant running in fog,
which they did on the second
day of the tournament. In all, there
were 58 boats in the tournament.
With that many boats picking their
way through the fog in close proximity,
the chance for collisions seemed imminent,
yet none occurred, or at least none
that were reported. Several captains I
spoke with told me they lost fishing
lines, severed when boats crossed their
stern. “But that comes with the territory,”
said one captain, referring to the
fog, especially when fishing lines
extend well off the stern.
What impressed me about the
anglers I spoke with and the tournament
guidelines is that safety ruled.
Matthew Salerno and his brother Tony,
who won the $10,000 prize aboard their
boat Living a Dream, told me they troll
at about 2.5 knots with a forward lookout
at all times. Safety equipment is
readily at hand and the crew is familiar
with its use.
Communicating with other tournament
boats is prohibited, whether it be
a cell phone or marine radio, unless in
the event of an emergency. These
anglers were literally on their own and
alone in the fog. “We kept our eyes on
the radar at all times,” said Matt
Salerno. Not all the boats, however,
carried radar but still kept safe by following
a basic navigation rule.
Rule 6 of the Navigation Rules
states: “Every vessel shall at all times
proceed at a safe speed so that she can
take proper and effective action to
avoid collision and be stopped within a
distance appropriate to the prevailing
circumstances and conditions.”
One of the conditions addressed in
the rules is state of visibility.
Apparently, these anglers, some of
whom were Coast Guard licensed captains,
understood the rules and so complied.
However, not all the boaters on
the lake that day.
were part of the tournament, nor
exercising boat smarts: one such boater
nearly slammed into one of the tournament
“We were fishing a mile off Big
Point Sable in a hundred and thirty feet
of water, when out of the fog emerged
this 35-foot powerboat
heading right at us, pulling
a dingy off its stern,” said
the captain of the tournament
boat Katch-Me. “We
waved our arms and
hollered as he bore down
on us.” The captain figures
the boat was traveling
about 15 knots.
One of the crewman
aboard believes the boat
operator was not expecting
to encounter in fog a
fleet of boats on Lake
Michigan on a Thursday
morning. Thursday morning
or Saturday afternoon
has little to do with maintaining
a proper lookout
and using all available
means to avoid a collision
in fog. Also, towing a
dinghy behind a boat in fog is not too
bright. Another boat could run over the
tow line and foul its prop(s) , or the
boater pulling it might snag the towing
line while backing down to avoid a collision.
What I find disturbing about this
incident is that the tournament boaters
were using all means available to
assure not only their own safety, but
that of their fellow anglers. Then, along
comes a boater who seems oblivious to
the safety of others. or worse yet, was
just boat stupid.
I suspect it is the latter; until
boaters are required to boat smart, those
that do must keep a very sharp lookout
fog or not.
Tom Rau is a retired 27-year Coast
Guard veteran, boating safety columnist,
and author of Boat Smart Chronicles,
Lake Michigan Devours Its Wounded.
His book is a 20-year journal of recreational
boating mishaps with valuable
lessons learned. It, along with recent
rescue stories, can be viewed at: