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Navigation Light Requirements – Overview and Powered Vessels

Vessel operators must make sure that their vessels are equipped with the proper navigation lights and use the lights during these conditions:

When away from the dock between sunset and sunrise
During periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy rain
The different types of navigation lights are described in a previous unit. No other lights that may be mistaken for required navigation lights may be exhibited.

Blue or red flashing lights are restricted to use by law enforcement vessels only.

The required navigation lights differ depending on the type and size of your vessel. The common lighting configurations for recreational vessels are discussed below. For other configurations and requirements for larger vessels, see the U.S. Coast Guard’s Navigation Rules.

Power-Driven Vessels Less Than 65.6 Feet Long When Underway
If less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) long, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown in Figure 1. Remember, power-driven vessels include sailboats operating under engine power. The required lights are:

Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) long, at least one mile away—on a dark, clear night.
An all-round white light (if vessel is less than 39.4 feet long) or both a masthead light and a sternlight. These lights must be visible from a distance of at least two miles away on a dark, clear night. The all-round white light (or the masthead light) must be at least 3.3 feet (one meter) higher than the sidelights.
Figure 1: Navigation lights on power-driven vessels less than 65.6 feet
The red and green lighting must conform to the illustration. Red should be on the port (left side) of the bow and green on the starboard (right side) of the bow.

Requirements for power and sailing boats

Vessels underway at night must show navigation lights between sunset and sunrise. Navigation lights indicate:

  • presence of a vessel
  • approximate direction of travel
  • type of the vessel ie – power-driven or sailing.

Recent changes to the Inland Navigation Rules make them nearly identical to the International Rules, so we will describe the International Rules to simplify the choices.

Basic rules:

  • Side lights are red (port) and green (starboard) and shine from dead ahead to 112.5° aft on either side.
  • Stern lights are white and shine aft and 67.5° forward on each side. (Thus, the side lights and stern light create a full circle of light.)
  • All-round lights are white and shine through 360°.
  • Masthead lights are white and shine from 112.5° on the port side through dead ahead to 112.5° on the starboard side. They must be above the side lights.
  • Sailboats under power are considered powerboats.
  • Side lights may be combined into a single “bicolor” light.
  • Powerboats less than 20m (65.5′) in length need to show side lights, a stern light and a masthead light. Power vessels less than 12m may show a single all-round light in lieu of the separate masthead and stern lights.
  • Sailing vessels less than 20m in length need to show side lights and a stern light. These may be combined into a bicolor light and stern light, or a single tricolor light at the top of the mast. Sailing vessels under 7m must have an electric torch or lantern available for collision avoidance.
  • When anchored outside a special anchorage, power and sail vessels under 20m must display an all-round light. Vessels under 7m are exempt, unless anchored in a narrow channel or anchorage, or where other vessels usually navigate.

Small rowing and sailing boats

Small rowing and sailing boats are the only vessels that don’t need navigation lights when operating at night, but operators of these vessels must instead carry a torch or lantern showing a white light and show it in sufficient time to prevent a collision.

If you need marine led lights, please contact us at email: [email protected].

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