It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road and radar with all of the splendor of the NYC skyline at night, but use caution. It’s a busy place to cruise.
General traffic is the most obvious issue here. There are the rapid ferry services, tour boats, other yachts and giant barges that have little ability to quickly maneuver in the swift 3+ knots of current. Losing track of vessels in the background light is text book here in the harbor and compounding the matter are the many tour and ferry boats that almost never use any sound signals when coming off the dock or maneuvering. A big tip is to steer clear of the ferry terminals. They come blasting out of their slips with no signals and the captain’s eyes are not adjusted to the light change as they hit the gas towards New Jersey.
There are three main security zones that are notable to a yacht’s night cruise in NYC harbor. One and two are clearly marked on your navigation chart, which are the zones around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. You can get fairly close here and it’s not really a concern. The other zone is around the aircraft carrier and submarine museum on the Hudson around mid-town. This 1,000 yard zone is monitored by a security guard who can activate a very loud, and not to mention embarrassing siren, announcement for half of the city to hear.
Night cruising in New York Harbor is a perfect example where AIS is your biggest savior. Most of all the commercial traffic is transmitting and are easily visible on your scope and the same goes for your vessel if you are transmitting. I can’t say this enough that all boats should have an AIS transceiver! Buy it, install it and learn how to use it. It’s easy, trust me! The same goes for the dinosaurs that are running yachts. You know these guys, the captains that sit around the yacht club bar, but don’t know how to respond to a text message from their twelve year old daughter. These are the same captains that have no problem telling you that “I’ve been a captain for twenty-five years, I don’t need that gadget” all the while their nuclear powered pacemaker is keeping them alive.
Surprisingly, there is little or no official security presence here in the NYC harbor and there are no special regulations for cruising the harbor for US flagged vessels. Since the rules are always changing for larger yachts and foreign flagged yachts, always check with official and current sources for any changes, not just a google search or by asking the dockamster.