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What's with the foghorns? I feel like I live next to a dock.

Original post made by Enjoy Silence on Jan 17, 2011

Been going on all Sunday morning to Monday morning so far.

Comments (49)

Posted by Nostalgia, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2011 at 8:34 am

I grew up and lived near the sea before moving here, I find the sound comforting and nostalgic, but I can understand how it can be annoying if you are very close.
Don't worry, when the fog goes away, the planes will start flying again and the noise will be back to normal.
We live in a busy area, noise is inevitable.

Posted by Palo Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 17, 2011 at 8:54 am

So where exactly are these foghorns and who are they warning about fog? I thought these were for shipping lanes and such. In this era of GPS positioning, aren't foghorns somewhat obsolete?

Posted by fogCity, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2011 at 10:10 am

When single, I used to live close to the Lands End, located on The Richmond District of San Francisco, foghorns is normal there. Now I am here in PA for the kids School, but I will come back to the city some day to walk to the grocery store and take public transportation again, and hear the distant foghorn by the Golden Gate Bridge.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2011 at 10:52 am

It's really irritating ... who needs a foghorn out here?

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Fog horns are required and maintained by the Coast Guard. The fog horns have been out on the bay since the technology was first distributed. There are shipping channels on the bay and you also have the bridges. GPS is only one method of navigation - and is not required. You also have navigational beacons (red or green buoys) and fog horns. These are redundant systems that help guard against grounding and or collisions with obstructions.

Get over it.

Posted by Palo Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Good answer CPD. The OP made it sound like the foghorns were in PA but it sounds like they were redundant warning systems for the Dumbarton Bridge.

By the way, I love the sound of foghorns, reminds me of HMB!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I was born in The City and lived there until moving to Menlo Park when I was 5. Then I lived up there again for a couple of years in the Presidio Terrace --- loved hearing the fog horns.

The GG Bridge has the best one I've ever heard. Now and then KFOG will bring out a recording of the horn as part of the station ID.

Regardless of romantic memories of SF...the fog horns are an important part of maritime safety. There are many boat pilots (especially small craft) out on the bay before the sun comes up (think fishermen). These guys do not have GPS or radar systems. The nav-beacons and the fog horns are essential safety measures.

Besides - how many times a year do we have the fog horns going off?

Posted by VoxPop, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I grew up in SF near the Presidio, we heard many foghorns -- Mile Rock, GG Bridge, and many more -- and we also heard the sunrise and sunset cannons. Imagine the comments those would provoke in present-day Palo Alto.

Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 17, 2011 at 11:07 pm

I love them. My guess is they are in the RWC harbor area, set by the Coast Guard.

Posted by ears up, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2011 at 2:29 am

the foghorns woke me up this early morning and I was concerned... thanks all for noticing and reporting. It's good to know what's up.

Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

While I love the sound of the fog horn, and while I heard the Golden Gate's fog horn when I, long ago, lived in the Marina District in the City, I think it is wise and logical to require any and all maritime craft to possess, use, and maintain a GPS device suitable for navigation. This requirement just, to me, seems wise. The cost is relatively small and the devices are quite accurate and precise.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Studies have shown that noticeable loud noises like this keep people away and interfere with their sleep, memory and concentration. It's a high price to pay so you jokers can enjoy some sound that you feel sentimental about.

I like the sound of fireworks too, but that does not mean I want to be kept awake all night by it.

But seriously, can anyone tell us where the foghorn we are hearing is located, exactly, and who is it supposed to serve?

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Anon. - I would wager that the foghorns have been around long before you lived here. It's part of living near a large body of water that is navigated by vessels as small as 10' up to tugs with barges. Just like the trains that run up and down the Peninsula (including the freights in the middle of night) and/or the 101 freeway "background" noise that floats around Crescent Park.

The foghorns serve any and all maritime traffic.

Here are some of the foghorn locations in the southern portion of the SF Bay:
Between Candlestick Point and Sierra Point
Adjacent SFO
(These two mark a dredged channel that runs between the two horn sites)
Just south of the Oakland Airport
San Mateo Bridge (multiple)
Entrance to the Redwood City Harbor
Dumbarton Bridge

BTW - every bridge on the bay has at least one foghorn.

I could be wrong - but I would expect that one of the purposes of the Dumbarton Bridge foghorn is *stop* ship traffic from going any further south. After the bridge the channel becomes too shallow for ship traffic (e.g. barges and light freighters - typically bound for the RC Harbor or waiting for a turn/permission to enter the harbor.

All of these horns are on automatic settings maintained by the US Coast Guard.

Even with today's technology and the assumed low-cost of maritime-grade navigation instruments - the foghorns serve as one of the safety nets for ship/boat pilots. If a ship's electrics fail or their nav-sys fail, they still have nav-beacons (lights) and foghorns as instruments to keep them safe and away from obstructions, reefs or other navigational hazards.

The reality is that we may have 6-10 days/nights per year where the foghorn pops on. Compared to the daily deluge of noise from the 101 and Caltrain, and that the foghorns actually serve a valuable function in keeping sailors, freight and vessels safe seems to be a decent trade-off.

Do you get upset every time Stanford scores a touchdown? You can hear their train "whistle" loud and clear in Crescent Park.

Frankly Shoreline is by far a greater noise nuisance than the foghorns.

Posted by sure beats a dog's bark, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2011 at 8:12 pm

The foghorns are temporary and remind me of living near the water and beach - a good and peaceful memory. They are a gentle sound.

As far as interrupting sleep, my neighbor's dog does wakes me up nightly and before dawn when they let him out to go and he barks a few times. I wonder if the foghorn whiners could take care of that year-round sound.

Posted by Wake Up Call, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 18, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Yes, the foghorns woke me up too. It's true, it's sometimes hard to go back to sleep. But there are ways. It doesn't seem to make much sense to complain about noise at night. Ever lived where the roosters crow at the break of dawn? Ever heard the animal noises the wilds? Ever lived near an airport? Ever lived in an apartment where someone plays a TV at top volume at 2:30 AM or a couple is screaming at each other at midnight?

Maybe you complainers should try some of the techniques people have used for thousands of years to get back to sleep and deal with things as they are.

Posted by LS, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 18, 2011 at 9:07 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Planes are much worse, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 18, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I find it astounding that people complain about fog horns at night but don't notice airplane noise. Airplane noise is much worse but you don't notice it. Maybe because you grew up with it? Until I moved to the US I lived in a place where airports actually closed at night. I have lived in the US for 30 years and I still can't get used to airplanes roaring overhead at the wee hours. The fog horns? No problem (although I did not grow up with them either by the way).

Posted by I hate foghorns, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 18, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Stop complaining about people complaining! Foghorns are ridiculously annoying. Especially for people who don't get enough sleep in the first place. I agree that foghorns are obsolete. If you don't get a gps you should run into a rock. Evolution. Get with it!

Posted by Anne, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2011 at 8:42 am

Try living near the train: you adapt. The level of whining really surprises me. Grow up, and realize that for all of our sophisticated technology goes down, which it will do every now and then, we end up needing candles, foghorns and other 'outdated' items.

We live near the Bay. The Bay gets foggy. Hence foghorns. No fog, no horns.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2011 at 8:47 am

I meant that 'for all of our sophisticated technology, IT SOMETIMES goes down'

Posted by Another Resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I hate to say this, I hate foghorns, but it's not all about you. Foghorns were made to save the lives of people who weren't in their comfy beds on a foggy night. It may be that people who created a device to make that penetrating noise thought that grown-ups could learn to deal with a bit of far-away noise for the safety of others.

Speaking of evoution, is whining a survival trait?

Posted by Not Complaining, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm

It is not as loud if you turn on your TV or Radio and close your windows and doors.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Fog Horns aren't much worse than a train or airplane. It's just one more thing to complain about.

Posted by Not Again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Foghorns are worse than a plane or train because they are continuous throughout the night.

Posted by Windows, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Get good double paned windows, you won't hear it, and you will save on utilities.

Posted by double paned, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

I have double paned windows, silicon earplugs and a fan running, and I STILL hear the foghorns which never used to happen over the last seven years I've been sleeping in the same room. Sadly, it wakes me up and keeps me up. I am wondering if the volume is a little louder than it used to be. There was a short period in 2009 when Caltrains were blowing the whistles more often and for longer and then went back to less often and long.

Posted by James, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 5, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Fog horns are redundant and the Coastguard is slowly phasing them out. The Republic of Ireland acknowledged that technology had rendered them obsolete and stopped using them in Jan.2011.
All lighthouses are now electronic, and thats a shame! The Sensors they use are pathetic; they don't detect fog, they detect air particles and moisture which activates a siren. The sirens are sounding about ninety % of the time regardless of fog. Old fashioned lighthouse keepers did an infinitely better job. The Golden Gate Bridge has manually activated sirens. They tested electronic sirens and discovered they're completely useless pieces of trash and rejected them. All boats now carry GPS or Radar.

Posted by Commercial Mariner, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 26, 2012 at 8:11 am

GPS is only ONE tool for navigation and is NOT required by law.

Fog horns have been used for hundreds of years in various forms. They are part of the many tools that aid navigation. Those tools include buoys, beacons, lights, horns, dayboards, ranges, charts, electronic navigation systems etc. These are redundant systems that increase safety to the mariner and help prevent grounding and or collisions with obstructions.

Foghorns were made to save lives. When electronic means to navigation fail, it's nice to hear a fog horn and know where safe water is.

Solution: Get good double paned windows. If this doesn't help one can always relocate to a quieter location.

Posted by Ruth, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I understand the necessity of Foghorns BUT I selfishly wish they would stop. They really get on my nerves :(

Posted by James, a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Lighthouses genuinely help sailors but electronic fog sirens are only audible to those on land. A boat would need to turn it's engine off to hear one. Who knows why the coastguard the coastguard recognizes them as "obsolete" yet keeps on using them! Is there a "sweetheart contract" going on with the manufacturers of these devices?
If you're as tired [literally!] of these things as I am, then go ahead and sign this petition to our President. Web Link

Posted by retired merchant marine, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

"Electronic fog signals are only audible to those on land."...

Intersting comment, and, I would have to say the author has spent zero time at sea. San Francsico is one city in which fog plays a critical role in safe navigation. The arguement that a vessel would need to turn off its engine in order to hear a fog signal is competely invalid and must be based on a severe lack of sea time. Stand on the bridge wing of the largest container ship entering port or on the deck of a fishing vessel and I assure the engines do not muffle any fog signal.

If you simply want more sleep then say so, that's understandable, but don't attempt to comment on a topic for which you have little knowledge.

- a concerned former mariner.

Posted by Justin, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2012 at 11:20 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Quicksilver, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Since moving away from the bay area, have not head the sounds familiar to me like the bells on the cable cars and foghorns in person by the bay on kfog radio station. not unitl a visit to bay area to attend the native american film festival which guest actors were ones from Dances With Wolves did I hear the familiar sound which took me by surprise of calming me down and remembering performing for the De Young Museum's King Tut Exhibition honoring Cyril Magnin where paticipants were painted in gold, masks from Egyptian Era hold staffs of peacock feathers. the chill in the night went right to my bone, but the confort of the foghorn and remembering going to Tosca's, Enricos, Baby Joe's of Broadway brought me home. I wish to get a copy of foghorn sounds, but adah, can't figure out how unless i contact the kfog radio station directly. Home is home and they say the years get longer, not shorter (from Jimmy Buffet song) and you wonder why you can never go home. I went home and want the sound to be with me in the lizzard desert where I live now. Thank you Twins Amore, Carol Doda, Crissy Fields,Presdio of San Francisco and Sacramento and Fillmore, and Japan and Chinatown and North Beach, Cliff House, Playland, etc.

Posted by Mike, a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Unbelievable I can hear a fog horn loud and clear in San Anselmo. I love it. It soothes me to sleep. It soothed me to sleep when I used to hear it rolling through the hills when I lived in the Oakland hills.

I have a pet peeve! People who move to the Bay Area and gripe about it! GO AWAY!!!

Seriously, though, I wound up laughing over these posts and saying to myself, "OMG these people are so NEUROTIC!"

Sorry you have problems sleeping. Insomnia is a b....! I submit it's your insomnia more than it's the fog horns.

Posted by James, a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 9, 2014 at 12:12 am

"Retired Merchant Marine"; I've just now read your comment about my post. Yes its true that I've spent only a little time at sea; and yes, sleep is the issue for me, and yes I do get pissed off when I hear the electronic fog sirens high pitched whine 24/7. The worst part of this is that their sound travels farthest loudest in clear fog free weather.

In spite of not having your maritime experience, I've done plenty of research on Sensor/Siren foghorn combos, and can say with confidence that they're notorious for malfunctioning, which means in this case that they often sound in fog free weather and are a veritable pain in the ass to anyone who doesn't care to hear them four times a minute!

Let them sound in foggy weather as a back up system, [though sailor acquaintances tell me virtually no boat lacks radar or GPS nowadays], but question it when they sound in bright clear sunny weather, and realize that a person's own eyes are superior "fog detection tools" to the hyper sensitive sensor beam which activates the siren because theres a few dust particles or a tiny bit of smog or moisture in the air. The Golden Gate Bridge relies on an Engineer's intelligence to make the decision to use the fog horns [Bass toned, compressed air horns] or not; this seems to work perfectly. In fact the GG Bridge team made the decision a few years back to not use electronic Sensor/Siren combos after tests revealed they usually sounded in the absence of fog.

At least one maritime nation [Ireland], stopped sending fog signals in recent years and has done perfectly well without them. Given the fact that the U.S has 70% of the world's lawyers, I doubt we'll ever dare to make such a common sense decision here. The Coastguard might fear being sued for that one in one billion chance that a boat may run aground because its radar goes out at the same time its GPS satellite falls out of the sky on a foggy day when nobody on board notices a lighthouse's light or any other landmarks, and theres no fog siren to "save the day".

Sorry, I admit that was sarcastic of me, but if one entire maritime nation can get on just fine without fog sirens, then most likely any nation can. Ireland wouldn't have made the decision to stop using them unless it's maritime authority felt wholly confident they weren't necessary.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Mar 9, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Look at the date of this article --- 2011 !!! And 3 years later, folks are still discussing this? Get real.

Posted by Enjoy Silence, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 9, 2014 at 11:22 pm

@neighbor: I love that my thread is still relevant, yet I would prefer that it wasn't because it would mean the foghorns have silenced. I enjoyed reading James' posting. Those who don't live in Palo Alto always love to criticize us. I don't know why they choose to read our forum if they despise us.

Posted by Crescent Park dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 10, 2014 at 9:58 am

Just because it's sunny over on Churchill Avenue, doesn't mean there's no fog on the bay.

Just like buying a home that can hear CalTrain or hear 101...the fog horns were here long before most residents. Compared to other issues in town this just doesn't appear to be a big deal.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2014 at 10:48 am

To "Enjoy Silence" You wrote...."Those who don't live in Palo Alto always love to criticize us. I don't know why they choose to read our forum if they despise us."

On the contrary, I love Palo Alto and spend a lot of time there even though I live in a nearby community. In fact, I am so close that borders between our towns are kind of shaky.

I've always regarded PA as a gem for both physical attractiveness and community lifestyle. It's an attractive and lively place, with an educated and sophisticated population. People I know and have met in PA are broadminded and support their town. I'm not alone in these feelings about PA.

However, the image on these pages is quite different. The acrimony and just plain whining over trivial issues on this website has grown exponentially in recent years. Often it is clearly stimulated and manipulated by editors who select/resurrect topics (like this one from 2011) that will generate negative comments. Disturbingly -- articles have been placed that even stimulate racial -- particularly anti-Asian -- acrimony.

In truth, not much happens in the way of hard news in this area -- and, sadly, when it does, it is reported first on other news sites.

BUT, overall life is actually pretty good here. And, there lot of good news that happens here. A community spirit of tolerance is longstanding -- as shown in the terrific developments, organizations and events. The brainpower here in SV and at SU is clearly world class, and we are admired and make news all over the world. This community has a LOT of positive energy going on.

Most people know they are lucky to live here. But the local newspapers/websites portray the area as disintegrating. It IS changing, but it is NOT disintegrating.....and it's changing because it needs to manage its new growth and wealth to maintain the quality of life.

Every town should have such problems.

Whining about the sound of train whistles (that have always been here), arguing about an approved market sign that is 2 feet larger -- and arguing that police and fire personnel are unnecessary and overpaid -- is misguided. How about discussing how to actually accommodate growth because you will have to plan for growth, you can't just take the benefits.

Meanwhile, don't waste time whining about train whistles.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 10, 2014 at 11:16 am

That market sign is THIRTY TIMES the legal limit. That's the same as driving 1000 mph on Alma Street.

Posted by Enjoy Silence, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2014 at 11:39 am

@neighbor: Ha, I agree there is a lot of venting about trivial things on this forum. However, the issue with foghorns is that they are apparently not necessary, so why disrupt our sleep unnecessarily? They have woken me up at Midnite, throughout the night, and early morning. Sleep is a health issue and we should all be allowed to get a good night of sleep if we desire it.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Don't buy a house next to a freeway, don't live near an airport, don't buy a house near train tracks --- and if your especially sensitive, don't buy a house near a foghorn.

In other words, sleep with the windows closed or use earplugs --- OR BETTER YET, don't buy a house in a metro area.

Your Palo Alto real estate profits will buy a palace in a quiet rural area.

Posted by Enjoy Silence, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

@neighbor: Love the sarcasm. I am a block from 101 and can hear the trains at times. However, the foghorns are the only bothersome noise affecting my sleep. We don't need foghorns, while we need the freeways and trains.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Mar 10, 2014 at 2:06 pm

"Enjoy Silence"
Not being sarcastic at all. Don't understand where that came from.
We live in a metropolitan area and have metropolitan noises -- less noise than in SF, but we still have urban noise.

Posted by Jetman, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2014 at 1:34 am


When was the last time you actually spent 24 hours in SF?

I am in SF for 1-3 days once a month, in an area comparable in density to Palo Alto (around 8th and Balboa). I am always surprised how much more quiet and peaceful it is than Palo Alto. No blaring train whistles, no highway noise (some street noise), no shrieking leaf blowers, and no incessant rumble and whine of commercial jets overhead.

Only by going to a much higher density area like Union Square or the financial district do you meet, or possibly exceed, the noise level of Palo Alto. Even then, it is mostly street noise and cable-car bells which die down later in the evening. On a weekday, after about 10;00, it is really pretty quiet.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 11, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Jetman - I don't think you've been around The City and its neighborhoods if you think that only Union Square and the Financial District are the only noisy parts of SF.

If you live in the Avenues and you're near Geary --- there is constant noise as Geary is a major East/West thoroughfare. Including the Muni.

SOMA - near the ballpark or along anywhere between CalTrain/King St./Embarcadero. Enough said on that.

North Beach.

Marina - anywhere near Lombard or out by the Safeway.

19th Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods alongside Van Ness.

The Haight.

I can go on...

Posted by leaf blowers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

Crescent Park Dad,

Yes, you can go on to list every SF neighborhood, but I agree with Jetman that Palo Alto has more noise than many SF neighborhoods.

Noise from cars is white noise, trains and foghorns are actually fairly infrequent. Whereas airplane noise is like leaf blowers.

SF does not have the airplane noise which happens to be concentrated in your neighborhood actually because you are closest to EPA and EMP.

There are dedicated runways at SFO that are routed over Crescent Park, and that is something that no SF neighborhood enjoys.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2014 at 11:23 am

Clearly you have not lived in an SF neighborhood that is serviced by Muni diesel buses. Especially along the highly traveled routes, such as Van Ness, Clement, Geary, California, Divisadero, Columbus, 19th, Filmore, Gough, Broadway, Union, etc.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Foghorns used to bother me in January but I did not hear them this year. Maybe this thread is moot? Agree, white noise from freeway is easy to block out.

This thread digressed. If one knowingly buys a house near buses or tracks, it's quite different than buying a house in a quiet area and then being awakened by foghorns.

BTW, for our train track friends, double-paned windows lined with vinyl inside for extra noise-resistance is supposed to help vs plain double-paned windows.

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