Boating Basics: Overnight Cruising

Post by - Published on 09/20/22 17:08 PM

Done correctly, spending the night on a boat can be an easygoing and gratifying experience, yet boaters are often timid when taking out their vessels at night. But when you've invested thousands of dollars into your boat, why would you bar yourself from sunset to sunrise cruising? With the right amount of planning and execution, you’ll find that overnight cruising is safe, efficient, and, more importantly, fun!

If you’re not sure where to begin, per usual, Dockwa has you covered! Below you’ll find an easy guide for overnight cruising.

shutterstock_120522421Preparation Checklist

Be sure to prepare your boat and its crew for your nighttime operations. While underway, you should check for the following:

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    The engine should be in good working order, and all navigation and communication electronics should be functional.

  • Test the running lights and get the latest weather and tide report.

  • Refresh the batteries in all your flashlights and headlamps.

  • Put binoculars close to the helm and keep your lifejackets and other personal floatation devices (PFDs) in plain sight.

  • Stock up on coffee, sodas, snacks, etc., and don't forget to pack some games or movies so your nighttime passages go faster and keep your guest aboard entertained. 

  • You'll also want to set your crew's night orders (rules). For example, you should designate one or two people to stand watch. Then, decide whether they'll stay up together or work in shifts. But, again, remember that sleep deprivation will affect decision-making and your safety.

  • Keep screens on your hatches to keep the mosquitos away, or bring insect repellent. 

  • Make sure to bring extra blankets or a sleeping bag for if and when it gets cold at night. 

Our Guide to Overnight Cruising

A huge reason why boaters tend to avoid overnight cruising is limited visibility. Distances are typically harder to judge, obstacles are difficult to see, and moisture and temperature changes, like fog, create distortion. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep your speed to a minimum. You may also consider doing a complete 360° scan of the horizon every 10 to 20 minutes. 

Put a red filter over your flashlights and headlamps to preserve your night vision. It can take your eyes up to 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness after a bright flash of light.

If and when you decide to stop for the night, you should anchor your boat. Once you find an anchorage, check that your boat’s anchor is secure and that there’s room to swing if there is a sudden change in the wind’s direction. If you’re not sure the anchor will hold or you know that the weather will change, someone should remain away to monitor the anchor dragging and your surroundings.

If you decide to beach your boat, ensure that the beach is clear of rocks that can damage your hull. Beaching on sand, mud, or grass is best. Also, be mindful of tides; your boat can be left high and dry in the morning.

You may also want to consider traveling in a flotilla. As the saying goes, there is safety in numbers, so relying on another member of your flotilla party might take some of the stress away if you’re new to overnight cruising.

shutterstock_1443810290As an added precaution, you should also file a float plan, as it’s the first and best preparation measure you can make when planning your travels. A float plan is an overview of a boat excursion that can give authorities a head start in looking for a boater if they fail to reach their destination. They should include a description of your boat, who’s on board, a description of the safety equipment you’re carrying, where you’re traveling, and when you’ll arrive. 

There is no particular or official form, though you can find pre-printed ones in boating supply stores or catalogs. We prefer to use this float plan template from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The rewards of cruising after dark can far outweigh the risks. If you keep all the above in mind, you and your guests will have a pleasant and safe experience.


Cruising is the ultimate vacation on-demand, making reservations at your favorite destination or new exotic locales and hidden gems more manageable than ever! Remember, the most convenient and efficient way to book a marina dock slip or mooring is through, so let’s plan a trip together now!

Be sure to check out our other blog posts to get an inside look at our favorite destinations, marinas, and tips for first-time boaters. Join the conversation on Flipboard, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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