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What Type of Boats Require Navigation Lights?
In order to enjoy your time on the water, first and foremost you need to know that you and your passengers are safe. In addition to the usual safety procedures for boating, that means having the appropriate marine lights on your boat. The laws and regulations around boat navigation lights are detailed by the US Coast Guard and are designed to keep everyone on the water as safe as possible. Boat navigation lights are required between sunset and sunrise, and at all times of reduced visibility. Marine lights indicate the size of vessel, its activity, and direction of travel. Properly used boat navigation lights ensure that all vessels on the water can understand each other.
On all vessels, boat navigation lights will have a specific color, location, range of visibility, and arc of illumination as required by marine light laws and regulations. The basic rules for boats under 65.6 feet are as follows:
*All around lights. As the name implies, all around lights project a full circle of light. They are white and provide 360º of white light. They need to be visible for 2 miles.
*Masthead lights. These are also white. They shine from 112.5º on the port side of the vessel through dead ahead to 112.5º on the starboard side. Therefore, the arc of illumination is 225º. Masthead lights must always be located above side lights. For boats less than 39.4 feet, visibility range is 2 miles; for those over 39.4 feet, it is 3 miles.
*Sidelights. Sidelights are red and green, and the color matters. Red lights are located portside, and green are starboard.
The lights shine from dead ahead to 112.5º aft on either side of the vessel. On some boats, sidelights can be combined into one bicolor light. For boats less than 39.4 feet, the visible range should be 1 mile; for those over 39.4 feet, it is 2 miles.
*Stern lights. These are white lights that shine aft 135º (67.5º on each side). The visible range of illumination should be 2 miles.
Powerboats need to have a masthead light forward, sidelights and a stern light. Vessels less than 12 meters in length can have an all around white light and sidelights. Powerboats on the Great Lakes may carry an all around white light instead of a second masthead light and stern light combination. Sidelights may be combined into a single bicolor light fixed at the centerline of the boat.
For sailboats that are less than 7 meters long, the general boat navigation lights apply. If, however, regular marine lights cannot be used or installed practically, there is another option. Your sailboat must have an electric torch or lantern that emits a highly visible white light that you can deploy in time to prevent collisions.
As a responsible vessel operator, it is vital that you know how to interpret the lights that you see, as well as display the boat navigation lights you are required to have.
The marine lights are the sole responsibility of the owner/operator, not the manufacturer, importer, or dealer. Some boats come with lights that do not meet legal requirements. It’s also important to remember that the angles of visibility must be met when the boat is underway, and you may need to adjust your lights accordingly.
What are Navigation Lights?
Navigation lights are much like your headlights on your car. Essentially, they provide visibility for oncoming watercrafts in the water and help other boaters determine how much space to give you in the water. This is very important during times of low visibility, such as at night. Navigation lights prevent boat crashes, collisions, and save countless lives.
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All power-driven boats are required to have a bright, white masthead light. The masthead light must have an unbroken arc over the horizon at 225 degrees.
Sidelights are usually red and green and are located on the sides of the boat and toward the front sometimes. Red goes on the port side and green goes on the starboard side. Boats shorter than 39.4 feet are required to have sidelights that are visible from at least a mile away on a clear night. If the vessel is longer than 39.4 feet, the sidelights must be visible from at least 2 miles away on a clear night. The arc required for sidelights is 112.5.
Stern Lights are located in the back of the boat or vessel. These lights can only be seen from behind the boat. To be technical, it must show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 135 degrees. The light must also be fixed to show the light 67.5 degrees from right aft on both sides of the boat.
All vessels shorter than 39.4 feet may combine their masthead light and stern light to create a white light that shines 360 degrees around the boat. However, boats larger than 39.4 feet in length must have separate mastheads and stern lights. If the sidelights aren’t working, an all-around light is important for helping other boaters see you.
In addition to navigation lights, other lights may also be required for your boat or vessel. These include:
- Towing Light: A towing light is placed at the back of the boat near the stern. This will practically be right next to the stern light and follow the same technical requirements.
- Flashing Light: A flashing light that blinks at 120 flashes per minute.
Boat Navigation Light Types and Requirements
Navigation lights are a very important safety system on a boat. These lights help all boats navigating the waters between sunset and sunrise and in events with reduced visibility such as rain and fog. Using these lights appropriately helps boats navigate safely and identify the give-way vessel to avoid collisions.
Sidelights (or combination lights) are red and green lights that are only visible to approaching vessels. The red light designates the vessel’s left, or port, side, while the green light designates the right, or starboard, side.
A sternlight is a white light that is located at the stern of the boat and is only visible from behind the vessel.
A masthead light is required on all power-driven vehicles. This white light shines forward and to both sides and must be displayed by all vessels 39.4 feet in length or longer when under engine power.
An all-round white light may be used to replace the masthead light and sternlight in vessels less than 39.4 feet in length. This light can be seen by other vessels in any direction.
The rules to determine which navigation lights should be displayed depends on:
- The length of your vessel.
- How your vessel is powered—engine or sail.
- The location of your vessel—inland or international waters.
- Whether your vessel is at anchor.
Powered Boat Navigation Lights
The Powered recreational vessels, including sailboats while under power, are required to use the following navigation lights while operating between sunset and sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility.
Powered Boats Less Than 39.4 Feet, or 12 Meters
- One all-round white light that illuminates 360 degrees and for two miles.
- One pair of red and green sidelights that illuminate 112.5 degrees and for one mile.
The all-round white light needs to be positioned at least 39 inches above the sidelights.
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