Houseboat travel at night

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A week ago we were parked in the little bay just west/south of Labyrinth. At about 11pm a nearby houseboat pulled up anchors and left. It was a dark night. They had sport boats so it seemed unlikely to be a medical emergency. I checked the weather thinking maybe a severe storm was inbound, but no. Another houseboat had pulled in across from them during the day, so perhaps that was the reason?

I suppose that with a good navigation system and spotlight traveling at night wouldn't be a real safety threat, but I've never even considered it. Any of you do this regularly or have been forced by circumstances?
I certainly wouldn't want to navigate at night. It's so easy to get turned around, even heading out just to the main channel and back at night is confusing and easy to get turned around. There was a mayday call a few weeks back, a MOB in warm creek. I considered going out to assist, but being 10 miles away in Dungeon and not being familiar with warm creek, I figured it would be more likely they would have to rescue me then me being help to anyone.

I sail to Catalina multiple times a year at night, that's a different story as it's a straight shot for 38 miles and it's over a mile deep, not much concern of hitting anything, more of a concern of getting hit by a ship or other.

If needed, with a chartplotter with Navionics or equivalent charts, I guess I could follow my track logs back to the Marina. It certainly would not be fun, having to concentrate on the chart the entire time. Besides, the cruise down the lake in the day time is very relaxing and enjoyable, a favorite part of the trip.

Do able, but not worth the risk IMO.

Other thoughts?
I'd never do it in a houseboat.

I never "plan" to do it in my runabout but sometimes it happens. The bread crumb trail on the chart plotter with the background light turned low and a hand held spotlight help.
My only night adventure was a trip from Dry Rock Creek back to our camp in Dungeon. We ran over to DRC late one afternoon to visit friends in a houseboat. They invited us to stay for dinner and time marched on so it was navigate in the dark or spend the night. I kept my handheld GPS plugged in all the time back then, so I had bread crumbs and a gazillion candle power spotlight. Traveled on plane to mouth of Dungeon (lake level was high then so islands just down river from Dungeon were not a hazard) but decided to run displacement speed into camp. Lo and behold, there is a boat bobbing in front of me, no lights. I flashed my light on it to look for occupants, but no souls on board. Decided to tow it to shore. Fortunately the owners had another boat in their camp so their search at day break ended pretty quickly when they saw their boat on my spare anchor near shore. Successful night cruise and a boat rescue, nice night.
About 15 years ago we came upon an Aramark/NPS operation trying to float a fairly large house boat. They had a 6" and a 4" pump going with divers trying to get a rubber tarp stretched under the hull. She was a 60' to 70' aluminum monohull with a 6" wide, 5' long gash in the hull. This was happening about 300' off the shore on the east side of the lake just south of the entrance to Iceberg and north of the Rincon. At that water level there was a ledge of rock that was about a foot under water. Even during the day it could be deceiving because the angles you approach that section of the lake you can think you are almost centered in the channel. At night (not being able to see the color of the water) it was disastrous for this boat. I don't even like being in most parts of the lake in early morning or late afternoon if I am having to deal with the sun glare on the water that washes out the color.
Worked for both downlake houseboat rental companies as a mechanic and would fairly often get stuck coming home after dark and had a bunch of tense moments especially being in the back of canyons and trying to get to the lit mm buoys in the main channel. The very first time I came back at night, I was in the back of Rock Creek with a seasoned mechanic who knew the lake and still was very spooky. Any light above the gunnel creates a foggy effect that really screws up the visibility so as someone mentioned earlier you turn off all the lights possible and go slow, After getting out of Rock Creek into the main channel my partner put the pedal to the metal and we connected the dots of the marker buoys towards home. At this point I was convinced that this experience was one I did not want to repeat. When we got to Padre Bay I observed an intense lightening storm down by Lee's Ferry and started seeing the beauty that was unfolding to these novice eyes. The air was dead still and I glanced into the water and saw a perfect reflection of the Cosmos on the water with the big dipper taking center stage. From that moment on I held a completely different view of the lake and a calm fell over me. The only time I really got shook up after that was the really bad storms that blew 60 mph sustained into the night. Those were never fun to be in. Recreationally we never ventured out at night except a few occasions with mechanical malfunctions. I can only call choice to boat at night foolhardy.
This was happening about 300' off the shore on the east side of the lake just south of the entrance to Iceberg and north of the Rincon. At that water level there was a ledge of rock that was about a foot under water. Even during the day it could be deceiving because the angles you approach that section of the lake you can think you are almost centered in the channel.

We have fished around this same spot multiple times now and I cringe at how many boats flew by that spot probably completely unaware of how close they came to hitting this spot.
With a current track clear of buoys and a rising lake with calm weather and with good moonlight with a Powell capable deck hand and a good flood light with sound vessel and equipment I would do it. But there is no way I would consider it without a recent track that I laid safely clear of each buoy or in weather or wind or on a moonless night or on a dropping lake or with my family or alone. And come to think of it, unless it was an emergency or very critical I would still wait for daylight passage. So would I do it, 1% yes, under the right conditions, and to save time is not a valid condition. Almost forgot, it would have to be a fully insured rental but that conflicts with the well maintained equipment requirement.
I recall one dark, but not stormy, night when I was about 10 having to navigate from Dangling Rope back up to Halls Bay (getting close to 30-years ago, prior to GPS and lighted buoys). We had run down to Rainbow Bridge in two boats, my dad's 16-ft Baja and an 18-ft Baretta. No issues getting there, but when we went to leave the Baretta wouldn't start. We towed it down to Dangling Rope and then determined the starter was bad, but didn't have one there. They had one run up from Wahweap while we killed a few hours eating ice cream and such. After they replaced the starter they asked, "How long has that alternator been squalling like that?"

Sure enough, a bolt had fallen off the armature and was loose in the alternator. They didn't have parts for it, but they let my dad and my uncle use their tools and shop to disassemble it and patch it back together enough to get the boat running again. By this point it was late in the day and it was clearly going to be dark before we made it back up to the houseboat, but not seeing many other options we set out. On the bright side, my aunt noted that it would be a full moon that night, so we should have good ambient light to be able to hopefully pick out the channel marker buoys.

We made hay while the sun shined, but only got back to around Rainbow before darkness set in and we had to slow down. From there on, we had my cousin-in-law (who was red-green color blind) in the bow of the Baretta searching for (red and green) buoys with a Million Candle Power Spotlight; when he spotted one, we'd kick it up and race to a little past that buoy before dropping off of plane and searching for the next buoy. So went our arduous crawl back up the main channel, all the while we kept wondering when the clouds would get out from in front of the moon. We eventually got back to the houseboat at about 2AM; my aunt consulted her farmer's almanac that she carried in her purse and discovered that it wasn't clouds, but had been a full eclipse of the moon that night.

I've never done it in a houseboat and would only do it in extremis. Even with a chartplotter and loads of experience navigating restricted waters at night (Inside Passage to Alaska), I don't trust GPS as my sole means of navigation; if I had a good radar to compliment my chartplotter, that would be another, I still wouldn't do it unless I had to.
Years ago, one could navigate quite comfortably through the main channel after dark following the mile marker buoys, especially if one was familiar with the general area and obstacles. I had heard, but don't know if this is true, that you are always supposed to be able to see a red or green buoy line of sight from another red or green buoy. This was true in the old days even if it wasn't on purpose, but is not the case any longer - I've actually tried doing this in daylight on the south end and there are numerous times that the next buoy is not line of sight from the previous buoy.

As others have stated, if I had a GPS track laid down on the same trip (ie same water level), I would be comfortable cruising at 7-8 mph at night, but otherwise, unless in an emergency, I'd pass. -Doug
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