Safe Boating in Poor Visibility

Safe Boating in Poor Visibility

How to Navigate and Stay Safe on the Water when Visibility is Restricted

Boating requires all your senses to ensure you stay safe. If you have restricted visibility due to poor light or bad weather conditions, knowing what steps to take to keep you, your boat and other boaters safe is very important.

The weather off the coast of Vancouver Island can change quickly, and on the west coast in particular, sudden fog is not unusual. 

Would you know what to do if you found yourself in thick fog? Or if you needed to sail in the dark?

Reduced Visibility and Why it’s a ProblemReduced Visibility when Boating

Restricted, or reduced, visibility is something that prevents you from seeing other boats and being seen by other boaters and is usually caused by:

  • Reduced light – i.e. sailing at night
  • Bad weather – i.e. mist, fog, rain, snow

Boating in reduced visibility brings an increased risk of collision – with another vessel or a fixed object or the shoreline.

Visibility levels are classified as follows:

  • Very poor visibility – Less than 0.45 nautical miles
  • Poor visibility – Between 0.5 and 2 nautical miles
  • Moderate visibility – Between 2 and 5 nautical miles
  • Good visibility –  Over 5 nautical miles

What Should You Do When Operating a Boat in Reduced Visibility?

If you find yourself in conditions of poor visibility when boating, there are some important steps you should take right away to ensure you can remain safe and in control:

  1. Slow Down – Go slow enough to be able to stop in half the distance you can clearly see. It’s better to keep moving than to stop; however, if you feel unsure, anchor up until the bad weather has passed.
  2. Turn on all your running lights – The lights you must display differ according to the craft you are operating. Make sure you know what applies for your boat.
  3. Locate your equipment – Know where your noise-making and other emergency equipment (such as flares and lifejackets) are kept.
  4. Allocate a look-out –Ask someone to look and listen out for other vessels around you.Chart and track your current location
  5. Chart and track your current location – It’s easy to drift off your path in poor visibility, so keeping track of your position is important. GPS navigation can be used for this, but boaters should also know how to chart with a map and compass and ideally use both methods when in poor visibility.

Understanding the basics of marine navigation, and what the tools in your yacht can do, are important when you are in poor visibility conditions.

Using Navigation Lights at Night

Turn on running lights in reduced visibility

Using, understanding and interpreting navigation lights are vital when you are sailing in the dark.

Recreational vehicles must display red and green sidelights,a stern light, and a masthead light. 

Using the sidelights to determine which direction a nearby boat is moving, use the same right-of-way rules as you would in daylight.

Navigating in Foggy Conditions – What You Need to Know 

Foggy conditions in particular mean that the usual visual clues to what is around you are gone. You may not see the lights of another boat until you are very close to them. It is important you know how to make others aware of your vessel and you know how to work out what is around you.

Navigating in Foggy Conditions

Let other boaters know you are there. Use your horn and bell to make the internationally recognized marine sound signals to let others know that you are moving, stationary or grounded. In return you should listen for sounds coming from other boats.

Radar is very helpful in limited visibility as it locates both moving and static objects in the water around you such as other vessels, buoys and rocks. To maximize the benefit of your radar in poor visibility do the following:

  • Set your electronic bearing line on a vessel that is heading towards you. If it continues to travel along the line they are on a collision course with you and you need to take action.
  • Set your guard zone out 1-2 miles and at 360 degrees to provide maximum warning of possible dangers.

Prepare For Poor Visibility Before You Sail

Complete a pre-sail check

Educate yourself – Everyone who operates a recreational boat in Canada must hold a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, which is obtained after completing an accredited safe boaters course. It’s a good idea to regularly review the content of this course to ensure you remain familiar with the rules and regulations.

Get to know your boat – Learn stopping distances at different speeds, know where your sound signals and light controls are located and how to operate them. Know how to tune your radio to the emergency channel. 

Complete a pre-sail check – Inspect your safety equipment every time you go out. Check the lights and horn and make sure you have everything you need on board. 

Check the weather forecast – Weather can change very fast on the ocean. Transport Canada publishes up-to-date marine weather reports for the whole of Canada.

Carry an emergency kit – make sure you have emergency equipment such as whistles, flares, flashlights, life jackets and a first aid kit on board.

Navigate With Confidence on a Yacht from Van Isle Marina.

Does your boat have the up to date navigation equipment that can help you deal with poor visibility? Van Isle Marina, in Sidney BC, is the exclusive dealer for Pursuit boats, which contain the latest state-of-the-art equipment.

The Pursuit OS 385 Offshore provides optional navigational tools including:

  • Garmin GPSMAP – A 9-inch touchscreen advanced navigation solution
  • Garmin Radar Open Array – A high definition radar perfect for limited visibility conditions
  • Garmin rear-facing camera – Useful if you are sailing alone
  • FLIR night vision with image stabilization
  • SiriusFM weather receiver (with subscription)

To find out more about this meticulously designed luxury yacht and the other boats we currently have available, contact the Van Isle Marina sales team and arrange a viewing today.

Canada & United States Border Opens

August 9th, 2021

Welcome back neighbors, friends, family, & boaters! We are excited to announce the border will reopen to U.S. citizens & U.S. residents on August 9th.

Starting August 9th  — fully vaccinated U.S. citizens & permanent residents living in the U.S. will be able to visit Canada without having to quarantine for two weeks.

Canadian officials also announced today that as of Aug. 9,  children under 12 will be exempt from the quarantine requirement after entering Canada if they follow public health measures.

U.S. travelers entering Canada will require a pre-entry negative Covid-19 test result and will need to present proof of one of the vaccines authorized for use in Canada. That means two doses of either the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca products, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, at least 14 days before arriving.

All U.S. travelers must use the government’s ArriveCAN portal to submit their information. If they meet the government’s criteria, they will not have to quarantine upon arrival in Canada.

We look forward to welcoming you and accommodating your late-summer boating adventures. Please contact our marina office if you have any questions or wish to request marina reservations.

On behalf of all the Crew at Van Isle Marina, welcome back and we look forward to seeing you on the docks.



boating with whales feature

Boating with Whales and Other Marine Mammals

Know the Rules and Regulations for Orcas and other Aquatic Mammals

You’re spending the day out in the sunshine on your yacht, fishing, barbecuing and generally having a great time. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot an orca breaching. That’s one of the many perks of boat ownership — the chance to see these majestic marine mammals up close.

It’s awe-inspiring and you can’t help but want to get closer to the action.

Here on the west coast, a wildlife sighting is a natural part of life, and there’s a real temptation to get as close as possible to breaching whales and curious seal pups, but how close is too close?

Rules for Approaching Wildlife on the Water

For a positive, memorable experience it’s so important to  know the safety regulations for boating near whales and other wildlife. Chances are you’ll have noticed these posters at your local marina or wharf.

Produced by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, this message is meant to educate commercial and recreational boaters on the importance of keeping your distance from any signs of a whale. Unsure about the rules or regulations, or what to do when you see a whale warning flag? In this post, we cover the key points of what to do when you see whales or other marine mammals.


Species you can expect to see are grey, humpback, minke, fin and orca. Grey whales are by far the most often sighted throughout BC’s waters, while humpbacks are the largest around, at an average of nearly 80,000 boating around whales -whale warning flag

Native and transient whales can be spotted all over the coast from Sooke to Prince Rupert, with sightings from as early as March all the way through late September, depending on the migration season. For complete details on migration seasons and regions, look at our past post on whale watching on Vancouver Island.

How Close Can You Get to a Whale?boating with whales - rules and regulations

  • Boats must stay 400 metres from orcas in all southern BC waters between Campbell River and north of Ucluelet
  • Boats must stay 200 metres from all orcas in other Canadian Pacific waters and from all whales, dolphins or porpoises if they are resting or with a calf.
  • Boats must stay 100 metres from all species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canadian Pacific waters.
  • Boats must stay out of Interim Sanctuary Zones – Saturna Island, Swiftsure Bank and Pender Island.

Resident whale species in BC waters need to be given minimum approach distances of at least 400 metres of space. According to Whale Wise, “the Southern Resident orcas are listed as endangered in both Canada and the United States. Only 75 orcas remain as of February 2021.”

What are the Noise Requirements for Whale Watching?

Under Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations, it’s required for all vessel operators to turn off echo sounders and fish finders and turn engines to neutral idle (when safe) when within 400 metres of a whale. Slow down to less than 7 knots when within 1000 metres of a whale.

Dolphins and Porpoisesboating with marine mammals - dolphins

Dolphins and porpoises are playful animals and love to ride in the bow wave of boats. If you notice these mammals riding your bow wave, stay on course and do not change your path. If you do need to change course, reduce your speed gradually until they lose interest and then adjust your path. When possible, also give these animals a wide berth, turn off your echo sounder and gradually decrease speed.

Seals, Sea Lions and Ottersboating with aquatic mammals - sea lion

Sea lions and seals gather on rocky islets, so it’s important to reduce speed as you pass to minimize wake, wash and noise levels. Many seals are curious and may come up to your boat, but shouldn’t be touched or fed. It’s important to note that if an animal seems agitated or ready to dive into the water, you’re probably too close.

Be aware of kelp beds as well. These beds form huge underwater forests and this is where otters spend much of their time. To prevent otter pups from floating away, pups are often kept bundled up in layers of seaweed while the mother forages for food on the sea floor. Giant kelp beds are also feeding grounds for grey whales. For these reasons, boats should always be carefully maneuvered around these kelp forests.

There are plenty of stories about seals and otters relaxing on wharfs or even exploring the decks of boats. These animals have gotten very used to people but should still be treated as wild animals. If you encounter an extra passenger on your boat, just give it some distance and wait calmly until it decides to dive back into the water.

When Around Wild Marine Mammals, Do Not:

  • Feed or touch them
  • Dive, interact or swim with them
  • Fish within 1,000 metres
  • Encircle them or try to get them to move
  • Change directions quickly or block their path
  • Approach a resting whale, which is floating at or just below the surface.
  • Separate a whale, calf or dolphin from its pod
  • Trap a whale or a pod between your boat and the shore, or between other boats.
  • Approach when there are several boats already around
  • Approach head-on or from behind. They will be unable to continue along their path
  • Mark them or tag them in any way
  • Allow your dog to enter the water or bark at the animal. If your pet is anxious, it’s best to crate him/her in an area where they can no longer see the animal.

Ready to become your own whale-watching guide? Whether you dream of a 25’ centre console model for day-tripping or a cruiser designed for longer getaways, we’ve got the right fit for you. At Van Isle Marina, our expert team can match you up with the perfect Pursuit boat for whatever adventures you envision. Be sure to ask us about the OS 355 Offshore and OS 325 Offshore models. Brand new to our sales dock, these feature-packed luxury cruisers are ready for anything. Come down and visit us in sunny Sidney, BC, or contact us by phone or email to get started on the search for your shiny new boat.