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Lost in the Fog

A while back, the KQED podcast Bay Curious did a fun investigation of the Bay Area’s foghorns. They asked several questions, including: Why use fog horns in our modern GPS-and-radar era, who or what activates the horns, etc?

There are some 11 foghorns in the Bay operated by the Coast Guard, and about 20 more operated by other non-federal entities, according to the podcast.

In the summer, the clouds and fog often roll through the Bay and sock things in. If you’re above it all — as we were here in the East Bay a while back — it can be quite a sight. If you’re on the water, it can be a different story.
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Well, the podcast (which we highly recommend) got us a little curious, too.

Have foghorns ever gotten you out of a jam? Have you been radar-less — either by design or the loss of your electronics — and used a horn to ‘feel’ your way across the water? Do you have less high-tech indicators near where you sail, such as a bell on a buoy?

And as long as we’re asking, do you know the proper sound-signals protocol in restricted visibility?

And, best of all, do you have a good (or even harrowing) story about being unexpectedly socked in? We’d like to know — you can comment on the story below, or email us here. Please be sure to include your boat name, make and port of call, or just tell us where you’re from.


  1. Shelly 4 years ago

    As a former owner of an 1896 gaff headed yawl, out of Watch Horn Basin, with no electronics I’ve always depended upon dead reckoning, seat of the pants navigation. I hated it when they reduced the intensity of the lights and I was not longer to use my RDF. I’d frequently return from the island, aimed at the largest area of light pollution.
    Thank God they can’t remove or reduce the intensity of the stars and sun so my celestial navigation skills are still good.

  2. Niels Kisling 4 years ago

    A few years back the USCG wanted to remove/eliminate our Santa Cruz Mile Buoy. Dan Haifley, Director of the O’Neill Sea Odyssea (I never can spell that!) Program, Al Carlson and I protested loudly. Dan sent letters to the right people. I used the argument that it’s a boundary that I set for my kids, just like my parents did for me. Our mile buoy is easy to find in the fog and if you just steer due north after ‘finding it,’ you will come upon SC Harbor in 1.5 miles (15 minutes at 6 knots). I’ve done this hundreds of times in my youth and when sailing small boats without GPS. The US Coast Guard gave in and let us keep our buoy….for now.

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