EAGLE EYES – Keeping a Proper Lookout from the Crow’s Nest

A day out on the water can be fun, relaxing or exhilarating, but no matter what you’re looking for, it pays to have keen eyes, and ears, on what is going on around you.

Waterways have a myriad of hidden dangers, from dolphin pods and sandbanks to dive flags and submerged pylons. As the skipper of your boat, it is your responsibility to keep your eyes moving, to understand how to read the water, how to manoeuvre in heavy boat traffic and when to just take things easy.

Traffic Management

The rules of engagement in the water are the same for every skipper, and if everyone follows them, the water can be a safer place.

Always look out for other vessels on the water including kayaks, SUPs, yachts, and everything in between. Remember that large vessels often travel faster than they appear to, and smaller vessels may not be able to turn quickly at all.

Always stay to starboard in channels and rivers, and stay to posted speed limits in mooring and launching areas.

Remember to look all around you. Boats passing you can be just as dangerous as boats coming toward you if you don’t see them.

Submarine Hunting

There are a million dangers lurking beneath the surface of even the most placid water, including sandbanks, sunken vessels, oyster leases, old jetties, and even flotsam in the water.

Make sure you have charts on board for the water you are navigating, and you understand what the tide is doing for the whole time you’ll be on the water. A dropping tide, or descending light, can both increase the chances of a collision with a hidden danger below the surface.

In the Dark

At night, make sure any displays on your boat, navigational or radar, are dimmed so you retain your night vision.

Practice using your peripheral vision in low light. Our photoreceptors that react best to dim light are located in our retina’s periphery. These monochromatic rods are more than a thousand times more sensitive to light than our colour cone receptors.

If possible, get someone to help look out in the dark. We’ve all been there, coming back in to port too late, so take it easy, keep your eyes open and get back safely.

Life in the water

Always scan for people in the water: swimmers, snorkellers and divers, and keep a safe distance. Keep a good look out for the blue and white ‘alpha’ flag designating divers in the water nearby. Keep an extra wide berth around these flags, as divers can drift a fair distance from flag placement.

Be especially careful of your propellers on powered vessels. Propeller strikes can cause serious injuries or death.

All native mammals, birds and reptiles are protected, and it is your responsibility to avoid harming them. Striking something like a dolphin or turtle would likely result in a very bad day for you and any passengers as well.


If you are towing a person, for example on skis or in a tube, there must be an observer on the boat along with the skipper, and both must keep an active lookout.

It is always worth checking the area for any hazards before you start towing a person, especially for submerged hazards.

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