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Does anyone remember the 1970s television show The Land Of The Lost? Teenagers Will and Holly are rafting with their father, Marshall, and go over a waterfall that transports them to a prehistoric world of dinosaurs and half-human, half-lizard sleestaks.

Well, for many of us boaters, cruising in fog is like being transported to the land of the lost. Navigation markers disappear. Landmarks, mountains and structures disappear. Other boats become passing ghosts. When fog arrives, our navigation skills can become disjointed and discombobulated. Our confidence, even in familiar waters, may wane.

Years ago, I was out on my trawler with a good college friend, Dave. It was late July, and the weather was hot and clear as we cruised to Echo Bay off Sucia Island in the San Juan archipelago off Washington state. The next morning, we awoke to warmer than usual air devoid of wind. The air seemed a bit thicker. Beyond our mooring buoy, the presence of fog in open waters was obvious.

We were scheduled to cruise from there to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island to meet some friends. Although I am not a meteorologist, I do know that sea fog tends to move with the wind, and usually dissipates as a summer day goes on. I was not entirely confident in my ability to navigate in fog, but nevertheless, we decided to head out. Our intended course was away from the numerous large ferries that ply the waters.

This was July 2001, and the navigation equipment on my trawler consisted of a Ritchie compass, paper charts and a radar that I was none too confident in my ability to understand. I also had an early-model handheld GPS unit whose coordinates needed to be marked on the paper chart to fix the vessel’s location.

For the next several hours, Dave and I settled into what would become a routine repeated every 10 minutes or so. I captained the trawler and cruised at a speed of about 3 or 4 knots. Dave operated the GPS and marked our position on the chart, providing course adjustments that I would follow via the compass. We shared the task of blowing the single orange whistle I had on board, to signal our presence to other vessels. (When it was all over, I bought an air horn.)

The fog rested on the water’s surface. Visibility was maybe 100 to 200 yards, which sure isn’t very far in open waters. Other vessels passed us. We could hear the engines. For the next three to four hours, we cruised like this, never seeing any of the islands that we knew were close by.

We avoided Parker Reef due south of Sucia Island and then cruised southwest down President Channel. We were mindful not to veer too far west as we passed Waldron Island and Danger Rocks. Then, our course shifted southeast down San Juan Channel. And sure enough, hours later and close to our destination of Friday Harbor, the fog lifted.

In the years since, I have found myself in fog on numerous occasions, and consequently, have developed a few tips for navigating with success.

First, decide whether to stay or go. If you’re uncertain of your abilities to navigate in fog, then the answer is to stay. Waiting even an hour or two may result in the fog lifting.

Second, reduce your speed. Of course, if common sense were so common, it would just be called sense. Many a time I have passed vessels in the fog that seem to be cruising at an alarming rate of speed.

Third, know your navigation equipment. Understand its capabilities and limitations. The time to familiarize yourself with your electronics and learn how to fine-tune them for fog is when there is no fog present.

Fourth, carry paper charts. Paper does not require power or batteries. Pressing buttons and turning knobs on electronic navigation systems may accidentally screw up your location--finding ability at a less than opportune time.

Fifth, use your GPS. Routinely fix your location on the paper chart. If your GPS or other navigational equipment should fail, then knowing the course you’ve been following and your last fixed location will be vital information.

Sixth, trust your compass. Assuming that it is properly calibrated, your compass will provide an accurate heading. Cross-check the heading on your compass with that provided by the electronics. If they don’t match, then defer to the compass.

Seventh, avoid disorientation. You are not going to be able to see through the fog, and trying to do so is one reason people drive in circles. It’s better to find the intersection of the farthest point you can see where water and fog meet.

Eighth, avoid high-traffic areas. Close proximity to other boats while in the fog is never a good idea. Be particularly aware of areas known for commercial marine traffic. Large vessels have restricted maneuverability.

Ninth, use a sound signal. Tell other vessels you are there, and listen for echoes from land that can indicate close proximity. Also use and monitor your VHF radio. Hail passing vessels to inquire about the weather conditions, and listen for local fog advisories and weather reports.

Tenth, use all your senses. Vision is of limited use, but listening is valuable. Your sense of smell is equally valuable. Land at low tide has a different smell than at high tide. Surface kelp attached to a submerged hazard has a unique smell. Weather changes can be noticed by smell.

Eleventh, post a lookout. I prefer a forward lookout and one at the stern. Be sure to give them some guidance; to the inexperienced eye, a patch of kelp in the distance may be pretty, but to the captain, it may signal a potential hazard.

If staying put and waiting out the fog is not an option, then hopefully these tips will make navigation safer and bit less stressful. And for what it’s worth, there is a strange satisfaction in undertaking precise navigation in tough conditions, and doing so with success.

Douglas Wartelle is a Pacific Northwest native with 40 years of boating experience in the waters of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands. An attorney in Everett, Washington, by day, when he’s not in the office he can often be found on the water or, in the off-season, planning his next boating adventure.

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