FADs offshore

In some places in the world, voyagers need to look out for FADs in the water. The official term for a FAD is a “fish aggregating device,” although on our boat we tend to call it a “fish attracting device.”

Fish like shade, so the locals build something and anchor it to the bottom — even in 5,000 feet of water! Sometimes they’re bamboo structures, but often they’re steel drums, perhaps 10 feet across and 15 feet long. They’re unlit and uncharted, so they are huge hazards to navigation, especially for us catamarans.

They’re common enough that we try really hard not to sail at night in any part of Southeast Asia, but of course sometimes that’s just not possible. Recently in Davao Gulf (southeastern Philippines), we ran right over one at about 8 p.m. Luckily, it appeared to be only Styrofoam covered in scooter tires. After catching on our anchoring bridle, it broke the bridle and went between our hulls, forced down by our bridge deck. This scared us, but no lasting damage was done.

We mark FADs on our charts, and we publish those overlays on our website as GPX files for other cruisers to download (along with our tracks and other useful information, like depths over bars). But new FADs are constantly being built, and they’re not well anchored, so they tend to drift around.

In the Caribbean, the locals simply break down several cardboard boxes and spread them out on the surface. They come back after a few hours and troll around the outside of their floating mini-island, and then they’ve got dinner. Much less of a hazard for us, and much cheaper to make, but of course they only last a day.

—Jon Hacking sails with his wife, Sue, aboard Ocelot, their Kronos 48 Waquiez-designed cat.