Sometimes danger can be subtle, creeping up on you unexpectedly and not revealing its nature until tragedy strikes.
This is a story of a tragedy that was barely averted.
Once, I almost ran down a sailboat on a beautiful clear night while towing off the New Jersey coast, simply because I couldn’t see the boat. As small boats often do, it showed up very weakly and intermittently on the radar (broad on my starboard bow), and left a lot of doubt as to whether it was a real contact or just clutter.
I kept scanning the area with my binoculars but saw nothing. Then suddenly, at about a quarter of a mile, the contact became more pronounced, to the point where I was pretty sure there must be something out there. Looking through the binoculars again, I saw a faint light but couldn’t make out what color it was. I threw open the door of the pilothouse and then clearly saw, with the naked eye, a red running light crossing my bow from right to left at extremely close range. It looked like we would probably clear each other, but not by much.
With my heart pounding, I quickly turned hard to starboard to “open it up.” It was a close call, certainly not the first I’ve experienced, but it rattled me.
The next morning it became apparent why I couldn’t see the sailboat until it was almost too late. All of the windows on the tug (including the doghouse) that I had just recently been assigned to had auto glass tinting film applied to the inside. I was effectively driving around with sunglasses on at night. It was a chore, but over the following days we peeled off all of it, removing the stubborn adhesive with paint thinner. The difference was dramatic. Now I could see!
I’ll make this as crystal clear as your windows should always be: Anything that permanently reduces the amount of light that passes through the windows is a hazard to safe navigation and should be removed immediately.
During the day, when you need to cut down the light and glare, simply wear your own quality, polarized sunglasses. Roller-style tinted shades are available for anyone who needs more than that.