Boat Navigation Lights
One of the most important safety systems on your boat is your set of 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.
Powered Boat Navigation Lights
When operating between sunset and sunrise, or in periods of restricted visibility, powered recreational boats require the following set of navigation lights. Remember, these power boat light requirements also apply to sailboats when using a motor.
For powered boats less than 39.4 feet, or 12 meters, you need to have the following set of navigation lights.
- One all-around white light that you can see from 360 degrees and from two miles away;
- And one pair of red and green sidelights that are visible at 112.5 degrees and from one mile away.
For boats of this size, the all-around white light needs to be positioned at a height of at least 39 inches above the sidelights.
Figure A shows a boat with this setup.
- All-around white light — 360 degrees visible from two miles.
- Sidelights — 112.5 degrees visible from one mile
If your boat is greater than 39.4 feet but less than 65.6 feet, or 20 meters, you need the following set of navigation lights:
- A masthead light is a white light at the front of the boat. The masthead light needs to be visible across 225 degrees and from two miles away.
- A stern light, which is a white light at the rear of the boat. The stern light needs to be visible across 135 degrees and from two miles away. When the masthead light and the stern light are combined, that makes up 360 degrees.
- Finally, you need one pair red and green sidelights that are visible across 112.5 degrees and from a distance of one mile.
For boats of this size, the masthead light must be positioned at a height of at least 8 feet above the gunnel.
Figure B shows this configuration.
- Masthead light (forward) — 225 degrees visible from two miles.
- Sternlight (aft) — 135 degrees visible from two miles.
- Sidelights — 112.5 degrees visible from one mile.
Boat Navigation Lights at Anchor
We've covered what navigation lights you need to have when you are underway, but what about when you're at anchor?
When your boat is at anchor, but you are not in a designated anchoring area, like at a marina, you need to make sure that you are visible to other boats that may be operating nearby.
When anchoring in these areas, you are required to display an all-around white light where it will be best seen by any other boats in the area.
Navigation Light Requirements for Anchored Vessels