Boat Navigation Lights
One of the most important safety systems on your boat is your set of boat navigation lights.
Whenever you are operating between sunset and sunrise, or in other times of restricted visibility, such as in fog or rain, you need to display the appropriate navigation lights so that other boats can see you and take the appropriate action to avoid a collision.
In general, all navigation light systems include red and green sidelights, which indicate the port and starboard side of your boat, as well as one or more white lights.
It’s also important that you have a flashlight on board, as you never know when a navigation light might burn out. The rules for what navigation lights to display depend on a number of factors including:
The length of your boat: e.g. under or over 12 meters;
Whether your boat is being powered by an engine;
Where you’re boating, e.g. inland or international waters; and
Whether you at anchor.
For now, remember that it’s your responsibility to have the proper navigation lighting. Even if you just purchased a new boat, you should check to ensure that you’ve got the right lights for safe, and legal, boating.
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.
If you’re taking your boat out on a voyage and expect to be on the water well into the night or in periods of restricted visibility like fog or rain, chances are you’re going to need navigation lights. The water can be dangerous at under these conditions without proper illumination, resulting in a number of issues such as getting lost or getting into a collision with another vessel, rocks, or the docks.
For some boats navigation lights are just a helping hand that make sailing safer and easier. For other boats, however, navigation lights are required. In other words, it is mandatory that certain boats have navigation lights on board at all times to ensure the utmost safety of its passengers as well as all other vessels on the water. Not sure if your boat is among those that require navigation lights? Learn why navigation lights are so important and whether or not you own a boat required to have them.
Why Do We Need Navigation Lights?
It might seem like this goes without saying, but navigation lights are used to help prevent collisions, to illuminate your surroundings during times of obstructed or reduced visibility, and to keep you, your vessel, and your passengers safe. When you use navigation lights you are able to see other vessels, obstacles in the water (rocks, etc), and other vessels can see you. In addition to illuminating your surroundings, navigation lights also give information pertinent to safe travel: size of a course or fellow vessel, the direction you want to sail in, and activity in and around the water are all important factors to consider to ensure you arrive to your destination safely.
Without boat navigation lights, you vessel cannot get very far, and you may be subjected to hefty fines if you are caught sailing without the proper lights in place. What’s worse, if your vessel is not visible to others on the water, you are putting many lives in danger. Be smart and safe by securing the right navigation lights to your vessel at all times – it’s just common sense!
Boat Navigation Lights Rules
As we dive into which boat type require navigation lights, we must also look at navigation lights law. The United States Coast Guard navigation rules specify that you are required to have appropriate navigation lights on during the night and other times of reduced visibility on the water.
On all vessels, your navigation lights will have a specific color, range of visibility, location, and arc of illumination as required by navigation lights law and regulations. To comply with navigation lights law, you should be aware of the following basic rules:
Sidelights on your boat are red and green. The red lights are located portside, while green are starboard. The lights shine from dead ahead to 112.5 degrees aft on either side of the vessel.
Stern lights are white. These lights shine aft and 67.5 degrees on each side in order to create a full circle of bright, clear light to greatly improve visibility.
All around lights are also white. Like stern lights, the all around lights automatically project a full circle of light, giving 360 degrees of shine.
Masthead lights are also white. They shine from 112.5 degrees on the port side of the vessel through dead ahead to 112.5 degrees on the starboard side. Masthead lights must always be located above side lights.
On some vessels, sidelights may be combined in order to create a single “bicolor” light