Night sailing for small boats

Night sailing for small boats

Charming navigation

There are two reasons why you may want to embark on a sailing adventure in the night. The first is that you are in a hurry and you cannot postpone sailing out until the morning. The other is much more romantic – you wish to sail in a completely different, usually enchanting ambient. “Small vessels” are mentioned in the title of this text, referring to boats with no professional crew, leaving you in command.

All seafarers sailing in the night must abide by the same rules, which we will cover in greater detail. We will therefore begin this text with a general overview of night-time navigation.

Ivan Čorić

The system of night-time signalization (mostly lighthouses) was established at the Croatian seaside during Austro-Hungarian rule at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, and it is in no way simple considering the number of islands and islets.

Luka Esenko

We would recommend that at night you sail only through the areas you have previously sailed through during the day and that you are acquainted with. This is not always possible, but if you can choose a route, choose the one you know better.

Despite numerous modern navigation equipment, such as GPS devices, we advise that you review your knowledge of nautical charts on paper, as well as lighthouse recognition. Although GPS helps with sailing, especially when visibility is reduced, you should be well acquainted with “traditional” sailing and it is especially important to note that electronic maps can’t see other small vessels. If we consider that seafarers used to cross oceans simply by looking at the stars, we should be interested in mastering at least the basics of sailing at night using nautical charts. If you know your way around the starry skies, or more precisely celestial navigation, you will enjoy spending time with a sextant and the universe, but this is a topic for a small group of enthusiasts, who have turned celestial navigation into a fun hobby.


Spending time at sea can also be more prosaic, and what is most important is that you have visibility at night, which is usually afforded by moonlight and greatly reduced by waves. At night it is not only important to pay attention to your route and distance from the shore, but also to watch out for other marine vessels, and waves can be a limiting factor, especially when you are alone on a small vessel. If you have a radar on your vessel, it will be very useful, but a screen can hardly substitute looking outside.


Carefully examining your route before sailing and noting any problematic parts will make sailing easier. We advise having a lamp nearby with which you can always shine a light on your vessel or another one – and never forget to look back. If you are near land, you may mistake another vessel for land, due to the lights. You should therefore be especially cautious. Also, if you know you are passing through an area where small vessels fish, often without proper signalization, we advise that you reduce speed, giving you more time to avoid other vessels. Generally, when in doubt (e.g. when you are unsure how close you are to the shore) reducing your speed is the smartest thing to do.


Boaters who sail at night for romantic reasons, will discover a whole new world. Boaters on sail boats will have a chance to discover new joys and develop a feeling for their boat and sails, and it is also a new way to experience the sea for everyone. As you glide on the surface of the sea, and the countless stars in the sky reflect the light of the plankton underneath your bow, you will begin to realise the vastness of the universe, especially if you are attracted by the silence of the open sea, or the sounds and smells of the dancing sea, or your sails lead you on a favourable course in the direction suiting your boat. At the same time, you can build up your perception by taking in the sensations of sailing by night, when your other senses are sharpened by the lack of visibility. The concept of speed will have a whole new meaning and it will take a long time to develop an accurate sense of movement at night.

Davor Rostuhar

Night navigation in fair weather is almost unimaginably charming. If in the summer you add swimming at night in a beautiful cove as a reward for your night-time adventure, you will discover a completely new world of pleasure you can actually experience in Croatia.